don't stay the course

  1. 5,748 Posts.
    Sep. 8, 2003
    Editorial: Don't stay the course

    Following Israel's attempted killing of Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin and Mahmoud Abbas' apparent resignation, a White House spokesman had this to say, "At this critical moment, it is important that all parties consider carefully the consequences of their actions." This is a very useful piece of boilerplate because it conveys three messages at once. First, it tells the Palestinians they had better reconsider the booting of Abbas because "the creation of the office of prime minister was a key turning point for the Palestinian Authority in the development of new institutions to serve all the people, not just a corrupt few tainted by terror." Second, absent any statement of endorsement, it serves to distance the US ever so slightly from Israel's attempt to eliminate the Hamas leadership with a surgical strike at its meeting place in Gaza.

    Third, it suggests that Israel had better think twice about the growing consensus that, one way or another, Yasser Arafat must be taken out of the picture.

    Delve deeper, however, and the statement makes much less sense. This is a critical moment, no doubt, yet what should be carefully considered are the consequences of inaction. The US agrees completely with Israel that Arafat is doing his best to ensure that Abbas and the road map fail, and therefore is working directly to undermine the policy of President George W. Bush. Yet the US reportedly remains opposed to expelling or killing Arafat.

    Why would the US stand by and watch its policy go down in flames? The most likely explanation is timing: Right now, given the delicate situation in Iraq, the White House is loath to stir another pot. Maybe, if the pot is not touched and no ingredients are added, it won't boil over.

    This is not a serious approach and it will not work. Following the war in Iraq, the US has placed its prestige behind two efforts, the democratization of Iraq and the road map to Arab-Israeli peace.

    At this writing, we do not know what Bush said in a speech on Iraq scheduled for last night, or to what extent he touched on the situation here. We are confident that in the case of Iraq, Bush understands that failure is not an option. We hope he understands that the nations that are working hardest to prevent America's success, Iran and Syria, must themselves be put on the defensive, or they will continue to destabilize Iraq.

    What we are not sure he understands is that Israel's struggle to defend itself against terrorism cannot be put on hold. Before the war in Iraq, Israel waited patiently and did not take decisive action against either Arafat of the Hamas leadership. Now, after the war, Israel is still being effectively asked to wait until Iraq is stabilized.

    The problem is that a stay-the-course approach here will not lead to stability, but to greater instability, because the policy is fundamentally off course.

    On June 24, 2002, Bush called for a new Palestinian leadership, not compromised by terror. He subsequently let himself be persuaded that the Arafat/Abbas combination fit the bill, but the Abbas resignation, whether or not it sticks, proves it does not.

    Bush was right then. He is wrong now. This leadership has got to go, or his vision of peaceful, democratic Palestine living next to Israel will go up in smoke.

    The Palestinians need to be told again that they must choose between Arafat and statehood. Without a serious policy adjustment, the road ahead will become rockier. This situation will become more, not less, of a distraction from America's critical work in Iraq if left unattended. The usual boilerplate is not enough.

    What is needed is for Bush to return to the moral clarity of his June 24 speech. This means, at least, pulling the plug on the road map until a Palestinian leadership truly committed to combatting terrorism emerges. At a minimum, that means a leadership that does not include Yasser Arafat. It would be greatly preferable if the US and Israel were to come to this conclusion together. But even if the US refuses to join us or lead the way, Israel should lead the way in the hope that the US will follow.

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