May 1, 2003
So Bush has finally spread out his so-called road map for Middle East peace. But this road map will lead nowhere unless Bush is prepared to use the weight of the U.S. government to persuade Ariel Sharon to fulfill his part of the bargain.
According to the road map, Sharon must end all new settlements on Palestinian land and dismantle those it built up over the last two years. While this is a far cry from coughing up all of the occupied territories, which Israel has now held illegally for 36 years, it would be a start.
Problem is, Ariel Sharon has shown no sign of wanting to go along with this. Quite the contrary. He's been one of the biggest proponents of settlements from the very beginning. And as he showed last year when he rolled the tanks into Arafat's compound, he's perfectly capable of openly defying Bush.
For doing so, he pays no price.
Israel gets more than $3 billion in aid from the United States every year, most of that military. The allowance should not be open-ended. Bush should warn Sharon that if he continues on his obstinate way, he'll lose his allowance.
But I doubt Bush has the inclination or the guts for that. Last year, he amazingly called Sharon "a man of peace," this for the man responsible for the massacres at Sabra and Shatila. And Bush doesn't want to alienate the neoconservatives and rightwing evangelicals who have made an unholy alliance over unconditional support for Israel.
The Palestinians, for their part, are hardly blameless. Armed militant groups continue to commit utterly inexcusable and reprehensible acts of terrorism. Indeed, one suicide bomber punctuated the day of Bush's announcement by killing himself and three Israelis outside a jazz bar in Tel Aviv.
The day before, Sharon's forces also carried out violent acts of provocation, assassinating four Palestinians.
Those who favor violence--on the Israeli and Palestinian sides--are in a sick, symbiotic relationship with each other.
To get off that bloody dime, both sides need to give ground.
Palestinian officials are the ones who have already done so. By choosing a prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, they acceded to a major U.S. demand.
It's Israel's turn to accede now.