The difference a year makes in the Mideast
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.
Tuesday, June 24, 2003
One year ago today, George W. Bush strode into the White House Rose Garden to unveil what he called a "vision" for Mideast peace. At the time, the June 24, 2002, address garnered wide attention for the willingness it formally expressed -- for the first time by any U.S. President --to recognize a Palestinian state. Ever since then, proponents of such a state have been working assiduously to water down, ignore and, if possible, eliminate the important caveats Mr. Bush made clear would have to be satisfied before he would support its establishment.
The anniversary of the vision speech is an appropriate moment to reflect on both the current status and abiding salience in particular of three of these caveats. They exemplify the President's original determination to ensure that a new state of Palestine would not simply amount to a new terrorist-sponsoring nation in a region still populated by too many of them.
- On June 24 last year, Mr. Bush declared: "Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership, so that a Palestinian state can be born. I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror."
This was a stunning, yet absolutely sensible, precondition. The President had, from the beginning of his administration, understood that the old Palestinian leadership under Yasser Arafat was part of the problem, not the solution. In insisting that a new leadership -- uncompromised by terror and enjoying a popular mandate -- precede a new state, Mr. Bush recognized that only if the Palestinian people wanted an end to terror and true peace with Israel would these goals be achieved.
In the intervening months, though, the President was prevailed upon to declare Yasser Arafat's right-hand man for 40 years, Mahmoud Abbas, the "new and different" leadership he had in mind. He has legitimated him with a summit meeting and pledged inestimable support, both politically, financially and in the ominous rebuilding of Palestinian "security" forces -- even though Abbas was not popularly elected and has acknowledged the obvious: Arafat remains in control.
- A year ago, President Bush said: "Today, Palestinian authorities are encouraging, not opposing, terrorism. This is unacceptable. And the United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure."
Over the past 12 months, President Bush has embraced a "road map" that ostensibly implements his vision for Mideast peace. Nowhere is the difference between the original plan and the so-called implementation more stark, however, than with respect to the precondition that Palestinian terror must be dismantled before the United States would "support" (let alone recognize) a new state. According to the road map, the United States is committed to endorse the establishment of a Palestinian state -- starting with something called "provisional boundaries" by the end of this year -- even if the Palestinian leadership continues to refuse to fight terrorists.
- Last year, the President declared: "I've said in the past that nations are either with us or against us in the war on terror. To be counted on the side of peace, nations must act. Every leader actually committed to peace will end incitement to violence in official media, and publicly denounce homicide bombings."
Today, official incitement in support of anti-Israeli and anti-Western terror continues in virtually every Arab capital except, notably, in Baghdad. In particular, Arafat's Palestinian Authority (PA) persists in its use of maps, television and radio broadcasts and print media that conveys the proto-government's abiding determination to "liberate" all of "Palestine" -- including the land Israel "occupied" before the 1967 Six Day War. The Bush administration has been reduced to accepting as sufficient mumbled denunciations in English by Abbas of continuing Palestinian terror attacks. Lest the road map come a cropper, however, the U.S. government is ignoring the fact that those who perpetrate these "homicide bombings" (even ones that kill American citizens) continue to be lionized in Arabic via PA outlets as "martyrs."
Interestingly, the results of a new opinion poll of Americans performed by Luntz Research Companies for the Center for Security Policy shows very strong popular support for each of these visionary Bush caveats. By a 61% to 21% margin, the American people do not think Mahmoud Abbas represents new Palestinian leadership untainted by terror. Seventy-three per cent agree (46% "strongly") with the precondition that the Palestinian terror infrastructure must be dismantled; only 18% disagree. And 73% think it "fair" for Israel to insist that Palestinian incitement against it must stop before there can be any hope for a true peace. Only 16% think such insistence to be "unfair." Such sentiments are even more pronounced among Christian conservatives central to Mr. Bush's political base.
George W. Bush's success as President to date has been rooted in his firm attachment to clear principles. One of the most important of these has been that terror against free peoples is terror; it will be fought everywhere and not rewarded. The road map has already proven a futile and potentially dangerous diversion from that path.
Before more damage is done to the coherence and integrity of U.S. policy in the war on terror; to the prospects for realizing a genuine and durable Mideast peace; and perhaps to the Bush presidency itself; a course correction is required that moves once again in the direction laid out by the President a year ago today.
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is the President of the Center for Security Policy in Washington.