All Writings
November 17, 2002

A Strategy Of Retreat

President George W. Bush's road map to a Palestinian state has become, as soon as it was made public, partly outdated, partly impractical and it will soon be partly irrelevant if the relentless violence between Israel and the Palestinians does not end immediately. The only element that is valid in the document is its vision of a Palestinian state to exist side-by-side with Israel.

The document lacks decisive, bold steps and a coercive strategy to force a change in attitude in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and such factions as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The United States, therefore, must adopt a new strategy consistent with its stated objectives:

First, although the document calls for the resumption of cooperation over security issues, neither Hamas nor Islamic Jihad has any desire to end attacks against Israeli targets under any circumstances. They are bent on undermining the peace process until Israel is destroyed. These groups should be dealt with in the same way as we are dealing with Iraq's Saddam Hussein; they can either end all violence and join the centrist political process or face destruction. As long as they continue to operate without any threat to their very existence, there can be no peace in the Middle East. In fact, their threat to regional stability is far greater than that posed by Iraq's president or al Qaida at this juncture.

The Palestinian Authority is unwilling or incapable of reining in these two groups; the United States, although declaring them to be terrorists, is treating them according to a different standard than al Qaida, while Israel, constrained by American pressure and concerned over mounting casualties, is reluctant to take them on.

The United States, aided by the Palestinian Authority and fortified by a U.N. Security Council resolution, must demand the immediate cessation of violence by Hamas and IJ, informing them in no uncertain terms that they will suffer the consequences if they continue their violence. The administration needs to understand that if violence continues between now and the Israeli elections, scheduled for late January — even if only soldiers and settlers in the occupied territories are targeted — the electorate will move further to the right-of-center. The result will be a decisive victory for Israel's right-wing parties which will then be able to muster a solid parliamentary majority and probably be led by Binyamin Netanyahu rather than Ariel Sharon.

If this scenario unfolds, it will effectively end the prospects for any meaningful peace negotiation.

Second, the Bush administration must make clear its expectations of the newly elected Israeli and Palestinian governments immediately after January 2003. Both governments must know with absolute clarity where the United States stands and what kind of policy we will pursue to achieve peace. If this suggests our attempting to influence the outcome of these elections, so be it; we can ill afford to remain on the sidelines and let the political chips fall where they may. Although we must accept the result of democratic elections, we need neither cooperate with nor assist one — or both — of the new governments if it is unwilling to commit itself to peaceful coexistence based on the principle of a two-state solution. It is time we stop paying lip service to ending this harrowing conflict and do something concrete.

The Bush administration must be willing to plunge into the fray as a full and active partner in the peace process so that a lasting solution is achieved. There must be consequences both sides recognize as real for refusing to cooperate with such an agenda. It is the only way we can compel them to give up their pipe dreams and adjust to the sole reality that will permit them mutual survival.

Third, Bush must assign a special presidential envoy with undeniable stature to act on his behalf and report directly to him. If there has been one critical factor behind the lack of progress since the eruption of the second intifada, it has been the absence of such an individual.

Another has been the absence of a sense of continuity and coherence in our approach. During the past 30 months, six American emissaries have been thrown into the Israeli-Palestinian mix with no success. Starting with former Senate majority leader George Mitchell, they have included in sequence, CIA Director George Tenant, Gen. Anthony Zinni, Under Secretary-of-State William Burns and currently Deputy-assistant Secretary-of-State David Satterfield.

Although Secretary of State Collin Powell has tried his hand in mediation several times, he has generally kept his distance, fearing complete failure. For all these reasons, the Israeli and Palestinian officials I have talked with do not believe that the administration is serious and of course, feel the same way about each other. Still, they recognize that only the United States can exert the necessary pressure to make a real difference. To suggest, as some officials do, that it is impossible for us to accomplish what the Israeli and Palestinian governments do not want to do for themselves is a both a copout and disingenuous. Rather than moving the peace process forward, our half-hearted involvement is simply prolonging the agony of the two peoples.

Finally, once Hamas and Islamic Jihad have been put in place, the United States must push for the stationing of monitors in Palestinian cities, comprised of European, Russian and, of course, American soldiers and under our command. Their task would be to observe and report on violations of a negotiated truce. Moreover, the monitors can be an extremely helpful during the Palestinian elections, insuring order and full participation by the electorate. The United States might seek a U.N. Security Council resolution in support of monitors, thus providing an international umbrella that could ease some Palestinian concerns.

Now that the Bush administration has publicly committed itself to a specific outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it needs to demonstrate boldness and decisiveness if there is to be any permanent solution. Israeli and Palestinian authorities, for their part, must deal decisively with internal extremist groups. Their governments will need us to provide them with a cover, especially if they have to confront these groups by force.

Without such a new American strategy, the president's desired goal will remain illusive, while our efforts to engage the two peoples in a peace process will continue to flounder and be seen as nothing more than a camouflage for a strategy of retreat that has the potential for the most dire of consequences.