Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Good Fences and Good Neighbors

If a fence is to have even a shot at making good neighbors, it better not be built by one neighbor on the other neighbor's land.

The Palestinians call it a wall. Check out the picture of it in this BBC article; what would you call it? Bush seemed to understand why this fence/wall, depending on which side of it your standing on, is such a problem for Abbas, but according to this BBC report of the Bush/Sharon meeting, Bush stayed on the fence, if you will, for now.

I've mentioned before I don't doubt that President Bush wants his roadmap, a genuine achievement, it should be acknowledged, to lead to where he's promised it will, to a secure Israel, side by side with a viable Palestinian state. Or that he's willing to put forth the kind of personal committment without which nothing will genuinely change.

My skepticism that he can achieve what the roadmap promises is not wishful thinking. This dangerous, tragic conflict needs to get solved, for the sake of all of us. If solving it rebounds to President Bush's credit, so be it.

This conflict should have been at the center conceptually of how we viewed the Middle East in the context of 9/11 from the day after that attack. That was the consensus of Arab leaders, including, astonishingly, the Saudis. Remember, at that Arab summit in the Spring of 2002, for the first time since Israel's creation, the Arab world stood ready to extend recognition to a Jewish state, a possibility that was ignored. The administration already had its sights trained on Iraq.

Of course, it's now a fundamental administration talking point that regime change in Iraq has paved the way for inplementation of the roadmap. That may have been Sharon's demand, but we were not required to accept his view. But it wasn't only Sharon. His view is shared by the chief architects of policy in this administration. And as long as Bush brings those neo-con assumptions to solving this conflict, which is drenched in history, not in ideology, I fear he can't succeed.

An astonishing example of a policy based on those assumptions was flagged by the usually estimable Matthew Yglesias, who remarks that it's author, Michael Totten, is "making sense."

Wow, not to me. After explaining his roadmap skepticism, Totten lays out a different approach, one that places the Palestinian's in the larger matrix of international terrorism.

It is time to ask ourselves honestly: Is it possible to support a Palestinian state without encouraging terrorists elsewhere?


Lest the Arab-Israeli conflict grind on indefinitely, Palestinians eventually need their own state. But we need to find a way to get them that state while discouraging bad actors elsewhere.

Though it looks good on paper, the current "road map" to peace won't cut it.


The trouble with the road map isn't that Palestinians won't cooperate. The problem is there's no punishment if they don't.


Here's the way an effective solution might work. First, defeat terrorism. Second, nurture democracy. Third, negotiate a settlement.

The first phase should be simple. Terrorism must be punished. And anti-terrorism must be encouraged. The Palestinian Authority should be given one last chance to eliminate terror. And if the PA refuses, the U.S. must do the following:

Classify the Palestinian Authority as a terrorist organization.

Declare "regime change" in the West Bank and Gaza the official United States policy.

Support to the hilt every anti-terror operation by Israelis short of war crimes.

The first phase would not be complete until the enemies of peace are defeated, deported, imprisoned, or killed. These include Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Yasser Arafat's Fatah, the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigades, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. It may also include the Palestinian Authority.

Takes one's breath away, doesn't it? Why even bother with giving the Palestinian's that one last chance? In fairness, the analysis is a good deal more detailed than these quotes might suggest. But it's PNAC neo-con essence is contained in that italicized three step outline.

As Kevin Drum notices in an interesting discussion of the same Totten essay;

And while Michael does say that there would be subsequent phases in which we would dictate the terms of a Palestinian democracy, that only comes later. In the here-and-now, there's little question that his plan relies entirely on a massive application of military force, and the followup depends on a continuing military presence as well.

As Kevin rightly complains, whenever anyone questions this reliance on a kind of total war waged endlessly into the future as our chief means of defending ourselves against terrorism, even when the commentator is, like Kevin, mildly hawkish, he's told he's setting up a straw man.

What I take that to mean is that the Krauthammes and Kristols, and Tottens of this world aren't prepared to travel their own roadmap to it's logical conclusion. However, I think they do mean what they say about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

They, at least, view their approach as an alternate to the President's.

What worries me is that Bush himself retains those same PNAC assumptions, without realizing that they are incompatible, not only with his specific roadmap, but also with arriving anywhere that this country, Israel, the Palestinians and the rest of the world are going to be happy to find themselves.