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Time to Step In | The Nation

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Time to Step In

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The recently announced plans for an international conference on the
Middle East confront the Bush Administration with a major test of its
capacity for international leadership. The question is whether it will
establish an agenda for the conference that will bring peace and justice
to the region or whether it will allow American and world policy again
to be dictated by Ariel Sharon's government. The atrocious suicide
bombing near Tel Aviv, which coincided with the Bush-Sharon meeting,
must not be allowed to derail international efforts to achieve a
political settlement--one that guarantees a viable Palestinian state,
which will give Palestinians a stake in peace and in the renunciation of
violence.

Given this Administration's track record, the prospects of its standing
up to Sharon are not encouraging. Recall the shameful way it allowed him
to ignore UN resolutions calling for withdrawal from the West Bank and
to stop a fact-finding mission to investigate the destruction of Jenin,
despite a Human Rights Watch report adducing evidence that the Israeli
forces had committed war crimes--using Palestinians as human shields and
wreaking disproportionate destruction on civilian habitations.

Adding to the congenital White House tilt were the one-sided House and
Senate resolutions of support for Israel adopted on the eve of Sharon's
arrival in Washington. The one in the House, steered through by whip Tom
DeLay, echoed the Sharon line that Yasir Arafat isn't a "viable partner
for peace." An idea of where DeLay is coming from was provided by his
soulmate, GOP majority leader Dick Armey, who told Hardball host
Chris Matthews that the Palestinians should be expelled from the West
Bank and Gaza. The endorsement of ethnic cleansing by leading
conservatives went almost unnoticed by the mainstream media. As Peter
DeFazio, one of fifty House members who opposed the resolution, said,
DeLay put Congress on record "somewhere to the right of the Likud."

In fact, all of Washington is caught in the iron grip of pro-Likud
sentiment, which prevents the United States from acting in the world's
interest, let alone its own. As Anatol Lieven of the Carnegie Endowment
recently put it, "To call this a case of the tail wagging the dog would
be inadequate--it is more a case of the tail dragging the dog around the
room and banging its head on the wall."

That is why an international conference is so crucial. The concept
recognizes the importance of inserting other critical players in the
international community into Middle East diplomacy. The purpose of the
conference should not be to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. It
should be to win adherence to a US-European-Russian-UN plan for the
implementation of a settlement as provided for in UN Security Council
resolutions and by the recent Arab League resolution calling for the
recognition of Israel in exchange for its withdrawal from the occupied
territories.

This plan is one that nearly all sane people have come to recognize as
the basis for peace in the Middle East: two states living side by side;
dismantlement of the Israeli settlements; Palestinian sovereignty over
East Jerusalem; and recognition of the right of return of Palestinian
refugees while limiting their numbers. But it is one the parties
themselves have not been able to agree to, and in the current
circumstances cannot be expected to negotiate seriously.

A reasonable interim stage could involve placing the occupied
territories, including Israeli settlements, under international control
pending the establishment of a Palestinian state and stationing
international forces drawn largely from NATO countries to maintain order
and security during the transition. The purpose of this agenda would be
to take the peace process out of the hands of an Israeli government that
may not want peace and to internationalize responsibility for security
in the West Bank and Gaza. It is not Israel's prerogative to determine
whether a Palestinian state should exist; that is a matter for the
international community to decide. Only the international community--in
particular, the US in cooperation with the EU, Russia and the UN--can
forge a settlement that will bring peace at last to both Palestinians
and Israelis.

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