The Bush initiative

Posted: Jun 27, 2002 12:00 AM
The dreams of George W. for the Mideast are gratifying, but has he done anything to advance them?

Some weeks ago in this space, after the Passover massacre, we suggested that the Israelis reach into the compound, extract Arafat and his closest advisers, and shoot them. Guilty by association with terror. Mr. Bush is asking for something much more difficult, which is to replace Arafat as if he were merely this season's ambassador from Palestine, declared, after much deliberation, persona non grata.

The leverage we have on internal political arrangements in Palestine is very slight. When President Mubarak of Egypt was here, what he said was what the Saudis had been saying, namely: Give the Palestinians statehood and reforms might then be expected. We haven't done that, except prospectively. "When the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbors, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state --." The 1967-border state? No, a state "-- whose borders and certain aspects of its sovereignty will be provisional until resolved as part of a final settlement in the Middle East."

The immediate objective, since the flowering of terrorist practices, has been to extirpate terrorism. Gen. Sharon has thought to do this by reaching into the West Bank's "infrastructure," as he so often calls it, and rooting terrorism out with mailed fists. That hasn't succeeded, though it's not to be ruled out that it can be done. The Germans taught us at Lidice one approach to terrorism: They just killed everybody in town.

Another approach has been to try to neutralize the incendiary call to terrorism by giving the enemy that which we thought it reasonably entitled to, namely its own state. We have to assume that terrorism is not absolutely foreordained given that until 21 months ago, the division between the two entities was fought out without terrorism, sometimes in full-scale wars, mostly in diplomatic wrestling matches. If terrorism of the kind we now see began less than two years ago, why can't we get on without it?

We have advised the people of the West Bank to depose the leader they have got on with for 30 years. Do we expect that the Palestinians will take the Ceausescu road to this end? Just shoot Arafat?

Then we ask them to eliminate corruption. If they can manage to do this, and to bottle the formula, they can get in exchange for it from the Russians, Lenin's tomb, and from the Chinese, the Forbidden City. Meanwhile, the Palestinians are to get new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbors. (Are they to have new security arrangements with Egypt, Jordan and Syria?)

All this, it is hoped, can be accomplished in three years; whereupon the Palestine state will be born. By recent historical standards, that is a moderately fast schedule. We occupied Japan and Germany not for three years, but for 10, generating and refurbishing democratic institutions. And we had overlords in place, superintending the process, men of the character of Douglas McArthur and John McCloy. Do we propose to send someone to Ramallah to take the place of Arafat? Who? George Tenet?

What is it expected that the United States will do if Arafat is deposed tomorrow, and terrorism nevertheless goes on? The spiritual leader of the Hamas movement has been confined to his quarters by the government of Arafat, suggesting that Arafat is genuinely opposed to continuing suicide raids. But can he end them?

For all that it is our objective, strategic and emotional, to deny the stated objectives of the terrorists, it is precisely they who have moved us to new and strenuous diplomacy and to the language of ultimatums. Mr. Bush managed to say to the Palestinians on Monday that the thing they most specifically desire, which is statehood, they will specifically not achieve until there is a cultural revolution in the land.

What will come of President Bush's initiative? Probably more terrorism.