Road map for Israel

Posted: Apr 17, 2003 12:00 AM

There is commotion on the matter of U.S. affinity for Israel, and it is not only within the right wing, as would be expected. At left-minded demonstrations in the weeks before we conquered Iraq, banners and graffiti were displayed which could be read as betraying hostility a) to Jews, b) to Israel, c) to the United States, d) to Israel-U.S. friendship/affinity/alliance/dependence, and e) to all of the above. On the right, the charge made by the so-called paleoconservatives is here and there reasonably interpreted as anti-Semitic in inspiration, but it rests reasonably on the simple complaint that United States policy is askew on account of the bearing, in that policy, of consideration for Israel.

A poll not greatly noticed a few weeks ago was to the effect that only 58 percent of U.S. Jews favored going to war against Iraq. That datum should have been more widely examined, because it is confounding in its implications. If there was less than solidarity among Jews in favor of war in the Mideast, how is it explained that the entire enterprise was said to be a Jewish operation?

Difficult to explain, but so are corollary questions. If Israel did not exist, and our governors were looking only at threats of terrorism and of the accumulation of weapons of mass destruction, how would our policies toward Afghanistan and Iraq have altered? Iraq had not directly threatened Israel, besides which a move preeminently designed to reassure Israel would have aimed first at Syria, not Iraq. When Mr. Bush spoke the words about the axis of evil, he can be said to have been thinking loosely by singling out Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, but there was no inner-driven orientation there to suggest that Israel endowed us not only with the Ten Commandments, but with an explanation of the locus of evil in the first part of the 21st century.

All this said, what can't be disputed is that Israel is, if not the cause of perpetual friction in the Mideast, an unimaginative agent of it. In analyzing the so-called road map, which is an attempt at strategic deciphering of a plan designed to diminish tension and create a Palestinian state, one has to begin with an absolute given, which is the survival of the Israeli state. But, immediately, one founders on the question: What are the borders of the Israeli state we are determined should survive?

And we bump immediately into the question of the Israeli settlements. Keen students of the conflict, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times an example, have said it quite simply: Unless Israel retreats from the settlements, a coherent Palestinian state cannot evolve to the endurance of enclave states. There are historical exceptions, Goa in India, Hong Kong in China, which are now gone, and Gibraltar in Iberia, which time has stabilized. But the Israeli settlements are a pullulating sore, attracting terrorists, requiring Israeli security, and seeking always, expansion. Israeli leaders are always promising to check increases in the settlements, but only Amram Mitzha, and he was soundly defeated at the last Israeli election, has spoken of the dissolution of some of the settlements. There is too much pride invested in those settlements, and 250,000 settlers directly involved in any proposal to dissolve them.

"But what would the Israelis get in return?" the British historian Alistair Horne commented when the proposal was ventilated at a forum. That isn't easy to answer, because although Israel is well protected against massive military aggression, its fear, today as it was yesterday and will be tomorrow, is of individual terrorists working havoc on Israeli men, women, and children, robbing the state of any wholesome security of life.

The new Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas is struggling to put together an imaginative cabinet, but suffers from the authority of old man Arafat to disband that government, lest it jeopardize Arafat's predilection for terrorism and the implied goal of the elimination of Israel.

But President Bush's road map has to put it this way to Tel Aviv: We cannot promise that the Palestinians will stop their suicide attacks, but we can tell you that the settlements are disruptive of any approach to a strategic arrangement. The settlements are impassable road blocks on the road map.

Although the liberation of Iraq was not undertaken merely to guarantee Israel's survival, that liberation removes a potential military aggressor and so fortifies Israeli security. The time then comes to establish that the United States government is not a creature of parliamentary coalitions in Israel, which have given to minority parties unbalanced leverage over government policies. The sooner Mr. Bush brings up this point, the sooner we can progress to making policy in that part of the world that earns the respect of the broader community.