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Jewish World Review June 27, 2002 / 17 Tamuz, 5762

Michael Kelly

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An end to pretending | In the wake of the extraordinary speech George Bush gave in the Rose Garden on Monday afternoon, here are several modest predictions:

  • Yasser Arafat will be gone as the leader of the Palestinian Authority within a year -- probably within six months. And he will be gone in the best possible manner: not made a heroic "martyr" by an Israeli bomb or bullet, nor sent into yet another forced exile to wreak more destruction as a heroic leader-in-exile. No, this time the tired, old, failed, disgraced little tyrant without a country will leave as the loser he is; he will be forced into retirement by his own long-suffering people.

  • The Palestinians will elect leaders who at least credibly promise a representative government of laws, who at least credibly promise to reject terror and murder and war as the means toward statehood, who at least credibly are committed to achieving a workable two-state, side-by-side peace with Israel. The peace process will begin anew, with some (fragile) hope.

  • Israel and the United States will respond by supporting the development of something that has never existed in history, a functioning Palestinian state. While taking heroic measures to protect itself, Israel will support this development with major concessions. The Palestinian people will also support this process. So will the important Arab states. A nascent peace will take hold.

  • In a matter of only a few years, Palestine will be one of two new Arab democratic states. The other neonatal Arab democracy will be Iraq. These unthinkable developments will revolutionize the power dynamic in the Middle East, powerfully adding to the effects of the liberation of Afghanistan to force Arab and Islamic regimes to increasingly allow democratic reforms. A majority of Arabs will come to see America as the essential ally in progress toward liberty in their own lands.

Within the boundaries of gambling and guessing, I believe all this might really come to pass. The reason I do is that George Bush believes it might.

There is some limited truth in seeing what Bush is trying to do in the Middle East in traditional terms -- hard-liners vs. State Department softies, etc. -- but this is missing the elephant on the settee. For better or worse -- a great deal better, I think -- Bush has set the Palestinian issue within the context of a larger approach that is fundamentally, historically radical: a rejection of decades of policy, indeed a rejection of the entire philosophy of Middle East diplomacy.

This philosophy has rested on a willingness to accept a U.S. role as a player in a running fraud. In the interests of "stability" and cheap oil and concessions to American military needs, the United States chose to recognize all regimes (except those such as Iran, Libya and Iraq who openly attacked us or the regional status quo) as more or less legitimate. Successive American administrations looked the other way as regimes established gangster states, police states, fascist theocracies; as they erected democracies that were dictatorships; as they looted and tortured and killed vast numbers of their own; as they provided crucial territorial, financial and logistical support to terrorists who murdered Americans. We pretended that these regimes were honorable and that we could do honorable business with them.

The Oslo peace process, which ended in a self-made disaster, was the perfect fruit of this tree. The administrations of Bill Clinton and Yitzhak Rabin knew of course that Arafat was wholly duplicitous, wholly incompetent and a delusional murderous schemer. They knew his people knew this. They knew he was lying when he pretended to want a workable peace. They knew his people knew this too. Yet they treated him as an honest man upon whom could be built a decent peace and a decent state.

To the Palestinians, this said that the Americans were stupid and weak. It also said that they were corrupt. As they had in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, the freedom-trumpeting Americans were happy to support tyrannies whenever it suited Washington's interests. And so they were doubly worthy of contempt.

In his Monday speech, as in his policy as a whole, Bush is announcing an end to all this. He is saying, repeatedly and clearly, that the United States will -- seriously, on principle -- support all genuine efforts at peace and toward democracy and human rights in a Palestinian state and in all the countries of the Middle East. And the United States will -- seriously, on principle -- support a real Palestinian state, with whatever reasonable concessions from Israel that requires.

But the United States -- for the next three years at least -- is out of the old fraud game. From now on, we do business with people who do honest business with us. That is radical, and it will produce radical results.

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Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

© 2002, Washington Post Co.