The latest installment in Thomas Friedman‘s series on the Middle East is, frankly, rather bizarre.

Can anyone look at what is happening — Palestinians, gripped by a collective madness, committing suicide, and Israelis, under a leadership completely adrift, building more settlements so fanatical Jews can live in the heart of Palestinian-populated areas — and not conclude the following: That these two nations are locked in an utterly self-destructive vicious cycle that threatens Israel’s long-term viability, poisons America’s image in the Middle East, undermines any hope for a Palestinian state and weakens pro-American Arab moderates. No, you can’t draw any other conclusion. Yet the Bush team, backed up by certain conservative Jewish and Christian activist groups, believes that the correct policy is to do nothing. Well, that is my definition of insane.

Huh? The policy isn’t to “do nothing.” Does anyone remember the Road map for Peace? But it’s rather difficult to get much done with Yasir Arafat still pulling the strings and fanatics convincing women and children to strap bombs to themselves to blow up innocent Israeli civilians.

Israel must get out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as soon as possible and evacuate most of the settlements. I have long advocated this, but it is now an urgent necessity. Otherwise, the Jewish state is in peril. Ideally, this withdrawal should be negotiated along the Clinton plan. But if necessary, it should be done unilaterally. This can’t happen too soon, and the U.S. should be forcing it.

Why? First, because the Arab-Muslim world, which for so long has been on vacation from globalization, modernization and liberalization, is realizing that vacation is over. There is not enough oil wealth anymore to cushion or employ the huge population growth happening in the region. Every Arab country is going to have to make a wrenching adjustment. Israel needs to get out of the way and reduce its nodes of friction with the Muslim world as it goes through this unstable and at times humiliating catch-up.

I agree that Israel should long ago have gotten out of the occupied territories and thus created a set of borders for which to hold the Palestinian leadership accountable. But what exactly does oil have to do with anything? Neither Israel nor any of the land in question here has significant oil reserves and, aside from the fact that oil money helps finance the terrorists, there’s not much evidence that I’m aware of that the oil-rich Gulf states are sharing their wealth with their have-not Arab brothers.

The Bush team rightly speaks of bringing justice to Iraq. It rightly denounces Palestinian suicide madness. But it says nothing about the injustice of the Israeli land grab in the West Bank. The Bush team destroyed the Iraqi regime in three weeks and has not persuaded Israel to give up one settlement in three years. To think America can practice that sort of hypocrisy and win the war of ideas in the Arab-Muslim world is a truly dangerous fantasy.

This is a rather baffling non sequitur. Saddam was a dictator who failed to live up to a treaty he agreed to after a military defeat, even after a decade of international sanctions and political pressure. We invaded him and imposed our will. Israel, on the other hand, is a sovereign, democratic state. Its people put the Sharon government in power during the Clinton Administration and reaffirmed that choice during the Bush Administration. It’s not a choice I’m pleased with, but one they’re entitled to make. No state is going to allow itself to be pressured to persue a policy it believes would threaten its very survival. I fail to see how these two policies, related only in the sense that both are in the same part of the world, constitues hypocrisy.

The Bush team put a bold agreement on the table and has pressured Sharon and company to negotiate with not one but two Palestinian prime ministers, so far with no results. This isn’t surprising, given the two sides have been fighting for roughly sixty years with mutually exclusive objectives. Bush is hardly the first American president unable to solve this one. My guess is he won’t be the last.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. melvin toast says:

    Back when Barak offered most of the West Bank and even
    sections of Jerusalem, Arafat said no, Clinton got
    pissed and the Arabs started bombing innocent civilians on a fairly regular basis. What exactly is it that the Jews did wrong there? Why couldn’t Arafat agree to the deal? He could always change his mind later…