To criticisms that he is inattentive, he replies with some asperity that he could hardly be more attentive than to spend the entire morning of Holy Saturday in a trailer in Crawford, Texas, talking to political leaders abroad.
To this it's said: But he hasn't talked with Ariel Sharon in days, or with Yasser Arafat, ever.
Why? It is suggested that Mr. Bush doesn't want to jeopardize presidential heft by calling one of the principals and being either ignored or rejected.
Impatience mounts; so also, the casualties.
The missing element in the rehearsal, and others like it, is: What is Bush supposed to say? If he tells Sharon to stop killing Palestinians, Sharon understandably replies: "Why do you, Bush, keep on killing Afghans? Well, our motives are identical."
At the most obvious level, this would appear to be insurmountably logical. At another level, it leaves unremarked a critical difference between the Taliban and the Palestinian insurgents, which is that the Taliban have no case, zero case. The Palestinians do have a case, never mind how they assert it.
What would Bush say to Arafat? We know what Arafat would say to Bush, which is some version of: I don't encourage terrorism, in fact I have denounced it. But how to end it? Only by Israeli concessions that are reasonable and congruent with international law and U.N. resolutions. Mr. Bush, presumably informed in these matters, could find himself saying to Arafat, How do you expect me to force Israel to make those concessions? Send in the Marines?
One aches for olden days, when deadlocks and insurgencies could be left to others to worry about. Great Britain, a hundred years ago, might have extended her imperial hand into the situation and tranquilized it. Imperial China had her warlords and somehow survived as Great China, without even the need for a U.S. battleship. When we did involve ourselves, notably against Spain in the Philippines and Cuba, we made quick strikes and then nicked off residual diehards, even occasionally treating them honorably, as we managed to do, 40 years later, to the pilots who dropped their bombs on Pearl Harbor, acting as infamously, we were then sure, as the Palestinians are now acting.
We have some intimation of how badly strategic interests are threatened elsewhere in the neighborhood. Egypt is roiling, and even Hosni Mubarak, whose predecessor initiated conciliation with Israel 25 years ago, feels threatened. Pervez Musharraf is clearly the target not only of such riflemen as did in Sadat, but of restive Muslims who feel that Pakistan's identification as a friend of the United States is heretical and cruelly indifferent to legitimate Palestinian ambitions. Saudi Arabia, with its pompous extravagance and perfidious subsidies of Wahhabist extremism in every corner of the globe, is by no means secure against a tidal wave of opposition seeking shared custody of Mecca and 8 million barrels of oil revenue every day.
So then a U.S. initiative is needed, but it has to be more than a papal incantation on the virtues of peace. President Bush should declare that the cause of a free and united Israel depends morally and strategically on the retrenchment of the settlements in the West Bank. Discounting East Jerusalem, we are talking of 200,000 settlers whose existence here and there in the West Bank is a nightmare for their own security and a pulsating trauma to Palestinians who yearn to govern territory that is theirs not only by U.N. resolutions but by the logic of the strategic wheel.
If Bush were to call on Sharon to schedule a repatriation of the settlers by a fixed timetable, he could say something to the Palestinians that would register American willingness to see with both eyes open what is a critical cause of the daily terror.
Meanwhile, on the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ, tanks and armed carriers were moving into Bethlehem.