Tuesday, March 19, 2002
Israel again. Andrewsullivan.com, The Weekly Standard, The National Review, The Wall Street Journal and other denizens of what Pat Buchanan calls Israel's "amen corner" in the U.S. are in "say it ain't so" mode over Bush's and Cheney's recent moves vis-a-vis Israel. But the ultra-hawks at DEBKA don't seem so worried - and I don't think they are just whistling past the graveyard. I hate to get involved in a Kremlinological analysis of my own government's diplomacy - after all, what's been so pleasing about this Administration is its straight talk - but I do think the DEBKA-oids have a point. A synopsis: (1) Cheney has specifically placed the onus on Arafat to implement a cease-fire, and has given him a deadline of a week in which to do so. (2) Tenet's requirements, which Arafat has to achieve, or at least make progress towards, before any talkof resuming the peace process can be entertained, include shutting down terrorist organizations that now include Arafat's own faction. (3) Cheney referred specifically to Israel's right to be a Jewish state within secure borders. This is clarifying in that it has a direct bearing on the so-called right to return. (4) Cheney made it clear that while a 2-state solution is the core of America's vision for solving the Arab-Israeli conflict, such a solution can only be implemented if the Israelis "have confidence that their existence as a Jewish state within secure borders is accepted by all, first and foremost, by Israel’s neighbors in the region.” This effectively turned the tables on the Saudis: they presented their plan for region-wide normalization as a reward for Israel's withdrawal to the '67 borders and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state; Cheney has made it a precondition for a 2-state solution. (5) Cheney declined to meet with Arafat and has suggested, in effect, that the onus is on Arafat to prove whether he is fit to remain the putative head of a future Palestinian state by ending terrorism. All of these points bolster the Israeli position diplomatically and put Arafat on the defensive. What Arafat has been offered is only what America had already given him more than two months ago when they asked Sharon not to attack Arafat personally: one last chance.
It is reasonable to assume, as the DEBKA-oids do, that Arafat cannot abide the conditions that Cheney and Sharon have required for any negotiations beyond those pursuant to a cease-fire. It is also reasonable to assume that Cheney and the Bush Administration know this. So what is going on? I think the Bush Administration must be talking frankly to other Arab countries about a post-Arafat Palestinian government, but they need to lay the groundwork. The Bushies don't think Sharon can win his war militarily. That's a very damning thing, but I also think they are right. Sharon can only win if he is willing to reconquer the territories, kill the terrorists, exile or kill Arafat, and even then he will not have won because the Palestinians are not submitting to Israeli military rule. That means Israel would either have to expel them, or make them citizens, or trade the territory away with one of Israel's neighbors. The first and second are unthinkable and the third cannot be achieved without diplomacy, and American-sponsored diplomacy at that. So Bush is trying to lay the groundwork.
I am very pleased that so many conservative voices have been raised in defense of Israel. I hope those who love Israel in this country are aware of who have been her staunchest defenders. But the fact remains that Israel, while she will not lose this war, is proving daily that she cannot win it. I was reminded recently of something Johnson said during the Vietnam War. He explained that the U.S. was going to convince the North Vietnamese that they could not defeat us by force. That's pretty much what Sharon is saying to Arafat. And the translation is: give us your best shot. We can take it; we can outlast you. It worked for Ali against Foreman. But look what it cost him. Far better to say: we're not trying to convince you of anything. We're trying to kill you before you kill us.