five missing words

  1. 5,748 Posts.
    Jul. 31, 2003
    Five missing words
    By Saul Singer

    Everyone knows that the US Congress supports Israel. But behind those near-unanimous votes of support, there are at any given time only a handful of congressmen who really care about this country and who believe so strongly that supporting Israel is in America's interest that they will press their own administration behind the scenes.

    House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), as can be discerned by his op-ed on these pages, is such a leader. One line, which may be glossed over by some as boilerplate sentiment, is especially worthy of note: "Israel's fight is our fight."

    Five simple words.

    A concept so basic it seems hardly worth mentioning.

    Yet, to my knowledge, even President George W. Bush, who is undeniably pro-Israel in his instincts and actions, has never uttered them. If he has, the message certainly has not gotten through.

    Bush, of course, repeatedly endorses Israel's right to self-defense and has just reiterated his demand that the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure be "dismantled." There is no doubt that he sympathizes with Israel's fight, and could himself be no greater foe of terrorism everywhere.

    It is therefore tempting to assume that the lack of such an explicit Bush statement equating Israel's fight with America's own is an oversight, a rhetorical happenstance that would be automatically corrected if anyone bothered to ask. Perhaps it is, but I fear not.

    Further, if DeLay suggested to Bush that he make such a statement, Bush would be particularly hard pressed to do so at this time. The reason is that Bush is now trying his hand at Middle East peacemaking, and the first rule of peacemaking, ostensibly, is not to take sides.

    This rule is mistaken in its own right the prospects for peace leap forward precisely when the US is perceived as taking Israel's side, as Bush did in his "new Palestinian leadership" speech of June 24, 2002. But the wider point is not what Bush's tightrope act means for peace, but what it means for the global war on terrorism.

    Three months ago, Bush declared the end of the war in Iraq. Since then, the United States has been preoccupied with two major tasks: consolidating its victory in Iraq and jump-starting a peace process between Arabs and Israelis.

    Let's say, for a moment, that America's problems in Iraq are greatly exaggerated, and that the process of building democracy there is on schedule. It took longer, arguably, in post-war Germany and Japan, and there never has been an Arab democracy, so some patience is certainly in order.

    But the fact remains that, since the war in Iraq, the US has moved from taking the battle to the enemy to tending or attempting to reap the results of victory. Like the Madrid conference after the first Gulf War, the road map is an attempt to capitalize on a major defeat for Arab radicalism that has improved the regional climate for peace.

    After a victory as stunning and precedent-setting as America's in Iraq, some consolidating and reaping would hardly be out of place. There are, however, two major problems with where we are now that should raise concern.

    The first is that the road map, regardless of whether it is working or not, is being handled in a way that is a setback for Bush's message about terrorism. Bush cannot say that "Israel's fight is our fight," because Israel is not supposed to annihilate terrorists itself, but persuade those terrorists' former (we hope) Palestinian allies to do so.

    More fundamentally, Bush finds himself treating his good friend Israel equally to the Palestinians, who at best have just finished a vicious terrorist war. At the same time, he is assiduously defending the right of the Palestinians not to pay a possible territorial price for that war in the form of the security fence Israel is building. Bush has even helped press Israel on prisoner releases, which feeds directly into the Palestinian notion that terrorists are legitimate prisoners of war rather than war criminals.

    The second concern is that, in contrast to the relatively long gap between the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is no obviously designated next step in the war against terrorism. The road map cannot be it, and neither can democracy-building in Iraq. Bush has to some extent laid down the gauntlet to Iran and Syria, calling their support for terrorism "unacceptable," but there is no visible concrete goal, let alone visible strategy, for achieving it, concerning either regime.

    The net result is that, at a time when the US might be expected to be building on the momentum of its Iraqi victory, the playing field has shifted to where the US is unsure and on the defensive.

    After every great battle, there is a time for everyone to peer through the dust to see where it settles. This is a critical time for forging new realities. Who knows, for example, what would have happened if, right after the 1967 war, the US had moved its embassy to Jerusalem, defended Israel's right to retain territory acquired in a defensive war, and pressed relentlessly for the Arab world to make peace with Israel as required by UN Security Council Resolution 242?

    The question now is not just whether muddling through is enough, but what opportunities we are missing. Why not suggest, for example, that the Arab nations not just stop funding terrorist groups, but take positive steps toward normalizing relations with Israel?

    Why not say that the US utterly rejects the notion of a "right of return" to Israel?

    To the extent that the US is bogged down with the road map and in Iraq, the tyrants in Teheran and Damascus can breath a sigh of relief. Yet relief is the last thing they should be feeling now. Bush can take a thousand small steps that keep the momentum in his court, and keep the other team off balance. A campaign to boot Syria from Lebanon and inviting Iranian dissidents to the White House would be a good start.

    No matter how many tyrannies fall, the first course of action of those remaining will be to see whether America can be stopped in its tracks. Regimes fighting for survival are highly motivated. Momentum that is not used will dissipate or worse.

    The writer is the author of the upcoming "Confronting Jihad: Israel's Struggle & The World After 9/11". [email protected]

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