Facing a Crisis of Leadership
Both Prime Minister Sharon and Chairman Arafat owe it to their own people to provide the Arab League meeting in Lebanon with an opportunity to deliberate Crown Prince Abdullah's peace proposal in an environment not poisoned by the mounting body count. President Bush's belated decision to change his strategy and take a more active role to end the bloodshed is welcome. We must exert all necessary pressure on Sharon and Arafat to prevent the premature death of the peace initiative because of the continuing violent extremism. If there is a time for the three leaders to demonstrate leadership, that time is now.
Prime Minster Sharon must not allow this opportunity to slip by him. He must immediately allow Chairman Arafat to travel to Beirut and join in the Arab League's deliberations on the most significant peace proposal ever to emerge from an Arab state since President Sadat visited Jerusalem 1n 1977. The prime minister must concurrently completely cease all violent retaliation, unless it is in self-defense, against the Palestinians to allow the Arab states to deliberate without their being sidetracked by the daily and mounting senseless violence. Sharon stands before the world. Will he rise to the occasion and contribute to the Saudi overture for peace, however faint the hope is for a real breakthrough, or will he allow the tragic events to sweep him away and so lose sight of a potentially real chance for peace? If Sharon fails to seize the opportunity, he will be as guilty as those right-wing extremists on both sides who happily sacrifice the welfare of their own people on the altar of their warped egos and their perilous agenda of all or nothing.
Arafat, who has been singing the song of peace, must now prove he means it. If he wants to attend the Arab League meeting, he must immediately issue strong and unequivocal orders to stop any new violence against Israeli targets, be they civilians, soldiers or settlers. Arafat must understand that his chances not only of going to Beirut, but of allowing the heads of Arab states to endorse the Saudi peace proposal, depend largely on the atmosphere in the territories in the days before and during the meetings. He must not provide Sharon with any excuse to retaliate. The Palestinians have missed many opportunities to achieve peace with dignity, starting with their rejection of the United Nations partition plan in 1947 and continuing through their rebuff of former Prime Minister Barak's offer at Camp David in the summer of 2000. Arafat must not miss this new opportunity by failing to assert himself as the real leader of his people.
As for the Bush administration, the decision to dispatch General Zinni back to the region has not come a minute too soon. It might have made some sense in the past to let the Israelis and Palestinians slug it out with one another until they came to their senses and realized that the consequence of their policies would lead to nothing but more bloodshed and senseless destruction. But now the situation is different. There is a golden opportunity to capitalize on the Saudi proposal, especially since there is no other prospect in the offing for a negotiated settlement. Obviously, it is not enough to call on Sharon and Arafat to reexamine their policies. The United States must demand a substantial reduction in violence and warn that, unless they heed this call, they stand to seriously undermine their bilateral relations with us. General Zinni must remain in the region as long as it takes to do whatever arm twisting is necessary to pull both sides out of the abyss in order to give the Saudi proposal a chance. Waiting for conditions to improve before we became more directly involved or before we ensured that our efforts would be successful was a shortsighted policy. The less involved we have been, the more intensified the violence has become. The President must now use the full weight of his office to change the political dynamics to support a solution.
In the Old Testament there are many references to Land of Israel (Palestine). In some passages it is referred to as the "land of milk and honey," and in another, as the land that "consumes its inhabitants." In explaining these apparent contradictions, many sages suggested that God intended it to be so. How the land reacts to its inhabitants depends on the righteousness and the wisdom of its leaders and the paths they choose for their people. If they lead them astray and lose sight of their own humanity, they will be consumed by the land and perish. But if they wisely lead while embracing human virtues, then the land will yield its milk and honey to feed its inhabitants.
There is a crisis of leadership: Israeli and Palestinian leaders must not allow the events of the day, however tragic and disheartening, to cloud their vision. President Bush too must show leadership by seriously prodding Sharon and Arafat to do what is required of them to fulfill the biblical promise. It is up to them to choose either the path of self-destruction or the path to the promised land of milk and honey.