Even as the Middle East plunged deeper into the maelstrom of fear, hatred, violence and despair, recent diplomatic developments, ironically, made the conditions for achieving peace tantalizingly real. Most notable, there was the declaration by the Arab nations meeting in Beirut of their willingness to recognize Israel, after fifty years of denial of its right to exist.
Predictably brushing aside the Arab vision, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon revved up his tanks for a military solution, declaring a “state of war” with the Palestinians and invading the West Bank. Their nation, he told Israelis, is “at a crossroads.” So it is. The road down which Sharon is taking them, with a green light from the Bush Administration, leads to more deaths, more brutalizing of civilians, more violations of human rights–and answering violence and anger by the Palestinians, with more suicide bombers making barbarous war on Israeli civilians.
The other road, the road to peace, leads toward the goal, articulated anew in Beirut, of a complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, making way for a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem, in return for normalization of relations with the Arab states.
At Beirut, in another step for regional peace, the Arab nations brokered Iraq’s recognition of Kuwait’s sovereignty, called for an end to UN sanctions, for dialogue between Baghdad and the UN and for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction in the region. Most significant, they expressed united opposition to US military action against Iraq. This move undercut the Bush Administration’s political rationale for attacking Iraq and in effect denied it the regional bases and logistical support essential to success in such a war.
Faced with those impediments, the Administration put its Iraq plans on hold and turned to the crisis in the Middle East. But Bush seems more concerned with maintaining the domestic political momentum of his war on terror (just as Sharon is driven by the harder-line challenge on his right from Benjamin Netanyahu) than he is with making the tough political choices that would lead to a just settlement.
Bush still could choose the road to peace, whether or not Sharon takes that same road. He could reaffirm the US commitment to the March 12 UN resolution calling for a two-state solution, adopt the Arab peace scheme as a vision that could give Palestinians hope of an independent state, re-endorse the recent Security Council resolution calling for Sharon’s withdrawal from Palestinian cities and dispatch the Secretary of State to the region with a plan that guarantees Israel’s security, calls for abandonment of Israeli settlements and the withdrawal of Israel to 1967 borders–a plan backed up by firm promises of monitors and the material and financial resources necessary to make it work.
Does Bush have the courage to take that road–to risk the prestige of his Administration and the resources of the United States in the cause of achieving a just peace? The State Department mildly criticized Sharon’s incursion, but Bush seems to be giving Sharon free rein. The only hope is for the thus-far-small opposition in this country to build pressure on him and make clear that Sharon’s way condemns both Israelis and Palestinians to more suffering and bloodshed. We in America must add our voices to the burgeoning protests in the Middle East, Europe and Asia and to the eloquent warnings voiced by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Pope John Paul II and other world leaders. Only a US-led third-party intervention can forge a settlement that will end the violence.