Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made a fateful decision last week when he embraced the so-called "road map" developed by four entities with long histories of hostility to his country: the United Nations, the European Union, Russian and the U.S. State Department (a.k.a. "the Quartet"). If, as seems likely, this latest diplomatic fandango winds up like all of its predecessors -- producing Israeli territorial and other concessions that jeopardize the security of the Jewish State in exchange for little more than empty promises of Arab non-aggression against it -- most of the terrible costs will be borne by the people of Israel.
Yet, Americans should be under no illusion: What might more accurately be called the "road trap" will probably have dire consequences for this country's vital interests, as well. Specifically, if a new, sovereign safe-haven for terrorism called "Palestine" emerges, the road map will prove to be at cross-purposes with practically everything the Bush Administration has been trying to do since September 11, 2001 to destroy terrorist organizations and the rogue- state regimes that sponsor them.
Such a Palestinian state would have at least three adverse repercussions for us in the United States:
1) It would be the most tangible refutation to date of the Bush Administration's claim to have terrorists on the run around the world. In fact, Yasser Arafat and his chief lieutenant and hand- picked Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, would be rewarded for the intifada they unleashed against Israel after abandoning the last phase of what is euphemistically called the Israeli- Palestinian "peace process." The message would be clear: Terrorism pays.
One of the Administration's most knowledgeable Mideast hands, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, has observed that -- contrary to conventional wisdom -- terrorism is not born of despair, but of hope; hope that murder, mayhem and "martyrdom" will produce desired political and strategic results. While the Palestinian terrorists seek, first and foremost, the destruction of the State of Israel, make no mistake: They and their comrades-in- terror around the globe will be emboldened by even piecemeal progress toward that end and encouraged to seek to take on (if not take down) others who share Israel's civilization, democratic form of government and values. That would inevitably include us.
Far from securing the favor of active or passive (for the moment, at least) enemies of Israel, our willingness to urge an ally to make possibly fatal concessions -- in the face of nothing more than diplomatic pressure and negative public attitudes in the Arab world -- will breed contempt for America's power and our will to use it. We thus risk squandering the opportunity afforded by the recent demonstration of both in Afghanistan and Iraq.
2) It would weaken one of this country's most important allies in the war on terror. In 1967, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff determined that Israel needed the West Bank and Golan Heights to assure its security from conventional threats. The effect of compelling Israel to relinquish such territory risks transforming Israel from a strong, self-reliant and independent actor into one whose strategic posture is seriously degraded -- possibly to such a degree that it will find itself increasingly preoccupied with existential threats, and more and more dependent (foolishly so) on U.S. security guarantees and assistance. The end result could be a net-drain on our defense resources at a time when we are overstretched and need all the help we can get.
3) It would undermine the moral imperative behind this war: Nations that are the targets of terror are not morally equivalent to the terrorists. President Bush clearly understands that free people and their governments are entitled to use force to protect themselves. When they do so, it is not part of a "cycle of violence"; it is a legitimate defensive action -- even when used preemptively -- to counter and defeat murderous enemies bent on destruction. To accept that this is untrue for Israel will ultimately make it untenable for the United States, as well.
On June 24, 2002, President Bush enunciated his "vision" for Mideast peace. One of its central tenets was the unequivocal statement that "The United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure." This was the correct principle then, and it remains so today.
On Sunday, the Israeli cabinet explicitly reasserted this precondition (along with thirteen others) in its acceptance of the road map. Unlike the President's vision, however, the Quartet's road map says "provisional" boundaries for the Palestinian state will be established by the end of this year, whether terrorism has stopped or not. And Secretary of State Colin Powell insists that, while the U.S. will address "fully and seriously" Israel's concerns, there will be no changes to the road map,
Abandoning the precondition that Palestinian terror must stop before there is a Palestinian state certainly risks material, and possibly existential, harm to Israel. Even if that reality were not grounds enough for the United States to eschew an unaltered "road trap," the fact that it will also cause material harm to U.S. interests should be.