WASHINGTON--President Bush's Monday statement was the most clearsighted U.S. intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in the 35 years since the 1967 war, and perhaps in the 54 years since the founding of Israel. It enunciated a policy that makes eventual peace at least conceivable, and meanwhile frees the president to pursue the global anti-terrorism agenda articulated in five other speeches this year.
Eighty-one days had passed since the president's last intervention, which was the last gasp of the bankrupt policy of attempting to be an ``honest broker'' between terror and its victims. That April 4 statement was an uncertain trumpet, as in its absurdly mild chastisement of Yasser Arafat for not ``consistently'' opposing terrorism. Since then, better administration thinking has been signaled by frequent references to the ``corruption'' of Arafat's Palestinian Authority, a thugocracy that has been the real occupation force since it came from Tunisia to Gaza and the West Bank eight years ago.
On Monday the president said that the primary prerequisite for peace is change not in Israel's policy but in Palestinian leadership, and sweeping ``reform and institution-building.'' Almost everyone relevant--including the president, most Israelis and Prime Minister Sharon--believes that a Palestinian state is desirable. But it is desirable only if its values are not those of founding fathers who dispatch suicide bombers to school buses, are not the toxic brew of Arafatism--terror and corruption.
The policy of ``land for peace'' produced peace--Israel yielded the Sinai, 91 percent of the land captured in 1967--with a peaceful man, Anwar Sadat. But that policy is a sterile irrelevance as a response to Arafatism, which does not disguise its objective of acquiring all the land of Israel.
A slice of Czechoslovakia in September 1938 inflamed the recipient's appetite for the rest of it six months later. Today, only the delusional can believe that gratitude for the powers granted to a ``provisional'' Palestinian state will predominate over resentment about powers withheld. Furthermore, the withheld powers that would make a Palestinian state provisional will not be withheld for long. Who will enforce any restrictions on the ``provisional'' state's armaments or diplomacy? The ``world community''? The United Nations with its animus against Israel?
So in making even a ``provisional'' Palestinian state conditional on the selection of new Palestinian leadership ``not compromised by terror,'' and on the establishment of democracy and a market economy, the president has tried to make extreme noncompliance less probable. He also has kicked the can of this crisis down the road. Hence he can devote his attention to the anti-terrorism agenda he has stressed in five major speeches in the last six months.
In his Jan. 29 State of the Union address, the president said: ``We'll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events while dangers gather.''
On Dec. 11, at The Citadel, he said: ``For states that support terror, it's not enough that the consequences be costly--they must be devastating.''
On April 17 at Virginia Military Institute he said the Taliban was only ``the first regime to fall in the war against terror.''
On May 23, in Berlin, he said: ``Regimes that sponsor terror are developing these weapons (of mass destruction) and the missiles to deliver them. If these regimes and their terrorist allies were to perfect these capabilities, no inner voice of reason, no hint of conscience would prevent their use.''
On June 1 at West Point he said that at today's ``perilous crossroads of radicalism and technology,'' Cold War doctrines of containment and deterrence are inadequate: ``We must take the battle to the enemy ... the only path to safety is the path of action.''
But for many months the Middle East crisis--more precisely, the war against Israel's homeland security--has threatened to paralyze U.S. action on this larger imperative. Paralysis is the aim of terrorists for whom chaos is a strategy.
Writing in Parameters, the journal of the Army War College, P.H. Liotta of the Naval War College warns against enemies who target not America's military but, among other things, America's ``national security decision-making process.'' Such enemies seek to ``induce decision paralysis.'' Liotta cites an adage from India: ``One way to kill a tiger is to distract it from so many different sides that it tries to run in every direction at once.''
On Monday the president effectively circumscribed the Israeli-Palestinian distraction. The path he has charted to peace through Palestinian regeneration is a long one. Meanwhile, for the president there is, elsewhere, ``the path of action.''