George Bush: like father like son
By Thomas L Friedman
With the US having eliminated the most powerful threat to Israel — the regime of Saddam Hussein — one would think Mr Sharon would pounce on this opportunity. Instead, he has thrown up all sorts of delaying tactics. Alas, Mr Sharon is following one of the iron rules of Middle East politics: When I am weak, how can I compromise? When I am strong, why should I compromise?
Reading today’s news, I think there should be little doubt that President Bush will go down in history as the most pro-Israel president of all time.
No, no — not this President Bush. I’m talking about his father, George Herbert Walker Bush.
This President Bush — Dubya — if he keeps going in the direction he’s been going, will be remembered as the president who got so wrapped around the finger of Ariel Sharon that he indulged Israel into thinking it really could have it all — settlements, prosperity, peace and democracy — and in doing so helped contribute to the slow erosion of the Jewish state.
The first President Bush, by contrast, was ready to tell Israel and the Jewish lobby some very hard truths after the first Gulf war: that expanding settlements would harm Israel’s long-term interests, would shrink the prospects for peace and would help undermine America’s standing in the Arab world. And it was also the elder Mr Bush who backed his secretary of state, James Baker, enough for Mr Baker to twist Arabs’ arms to get them to sit down, en masse, for the first time with Israel at the Madrid peace conference.
The younger George Bush is going to get a second chance to wrestle with this issue, now that the peace process is being revived. And the question for me is: will he show up as Bush 41 or Bush 43?
This is a critical moment. For the first time, the Palestinians have produced a prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas; a finance minister, Salam Fayyad; and a security chief, Muhammad Dahlan, who understand how badly the Palestinian Authority lacked proper institutions and how disastrous for the Palestinian people was the Arafat strategy of suicide terrorism and double talk with Israel.
When US officials speak about the importance of reform in the Arab world, this new Palestinian team — even with its warts, and it has plenty — is the kind we should want to see empowered. But Mr Abbas’s success is not assured. Yasir Arafat and his cronies are still in charge and they want Mr Abbas, Mr Arafat’s former underling, to fail. Mr Abbas must deliver Israel security, but Mr Sharon also needs to deliver for him, by improving Palestinian daily life and rolling up some of the renegade outposts that Mr Sharon just let Jewish settlers erect in the West Bank, without a peep from the Bush team.
And this takes us back to this President Bush — 43. He helped create the conditions to bring Mr Abbas to power, both by refusing to deal with Mr Arafat and by deposing Saddam Hussein. And Mr Bush’s speech on Friday laying out a vision for a new Middle East, based on free trade, was excellent. But from the start, his administration has been long on road maps and short on drivers. If Mr Bush is going to travel the road he has paved, he is going to have to step up his Middle East diplomatic game, with sustained energy, focus and toughness.
He will have to halt the attacks on Colin Powell from the Pentagon and make clear, for once, that he stands behind his secretary of state; tell both the Christian right and the Likud-run Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that he is not going to let them block his path by their support for the lunatic Israeli settler movement; and tell the Arab leaders it is put-up-or-shut-up time: that means helping to ease out Mr Arafat and taking steps to accept the Jewish state. We know the way. The question is, does Mr Bush have the will?
With the US having eliminated the most powerful threat to Israel — the regime of Saddam Hussein — one would think Mr Sharon would pounce on this opportunity. Instead, Mr Sharon has thrown up all sorts of delaying tactics. Alas, Mr Sharon is following one of the iron rules of Middle East politics: When I am weak, how can I compromise? When I am strong, why should I compromise? If this opportunity is lost, it could be the end of the two-state solution. The Jewish settlers will have won, and Israel will de facto retain all the territories. The Arab world will disengage from the whole peace process, and the Iraq war will be interpreted as a US move to make the Middle East safe for Mr Sharon’s housing settlements, not for a peace settlement. The radicals will completely take over in the Palestinian camp. And more and more young American Jews will quietly drift away from Israel, as they see Israel turn from a Jewish democracy to a country where a Jewish minority forcibly rules over a Palestinian majority.
So, for all these reasons, I’m hoping the younger Mr Bush is listening to the elder Mr Bush. —Courtesy New York Times