Holiday evenings invite talk of symbols, and this Passover eve can end up being full of banalities. Rage is poured down on the goyim, the Holy One Blessed Be He saved us from them, and the good guys won. There's freedom for the Iraqis even though they aren't really able to celebrate it yet. After the criticism of the war was fully heard, there is still no denying the special strategic opportunity it has created. The most fascinating regional opportunity, and the one that may be possible in a relatively short period of time, is an energetic push toward a solution of the oldest national conflict in this neighborhood. The claim has always been that after the war, the United States would work out peace - with the Palestinians. But there is growing reason to suspect that we won't see more on this matter than a collection of haggadic tales.
Even the most orthodox of the peace deniers know that the current opportunity to advance peace has not been present in many years. The New York Times ironically commented this week that if Bush could enlist in the cause of peace the dedication he gave to the war, it would have a good chance at success. The circumstances encouraging this opportunity is a nearly unassailable axiom. Put succinctly, everything depends on the American president's will. There won't be, therefore, any dispute over who is to blame if this special opportunity for peace is missed. The clear culprit will be the person for whom the vision of regional peace is named.
The test of that determination will be in the near future, when the White House responds to Israeli attempts to erode the diplomatic initiative with dozens of proposed amendment to the road map. If the White House sticks up for itself, the initiative will have a good chance. If it hesitates, that will be the end of it. The White House knows that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will have to respond to American pressure. To a certain extent, one may even say that Sharon is interested in the pressure so that he is not viewed as a willing collaborator. He'll respond to the pressure no less than a leader more determined than him, David Ben-Gurion, was ready to comply to the demands of an angry U.S. president, Dwight Eisenhower, after the Sinai Campaign. The problem with the White House is not improperly reading the data about a political struggle with Jerusalem over an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. The danger is that it might prefer another set of data, the one regarding the president's political safety and his chances for re-election.
The impressive might demonstrated by the Americans won't necessarily help its forming a regional settlement according to its wishes, because unlike its armies, deployed with a scope and enthusiasm not seen since the days of Vietnam, the regional powers are not obedient. Here's Syria, for example, inspiring disgust at the administration's top tier, from Bush to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and down. Who is this Damascus if not one of the patrons of the Palestinian nationalist urge that provides shelter to terror leaders. Bush and his people will need a lot of intellectual integrity and political courage not to prefer Israel's efforts - which Sharon's top aide Dov Weisglass invested in the White House this week to neuter the road map - over the Oriental bazaar. That Israeli effort continues the old line of defense that opposes any concessions on our part as long as there has not been an absolute cessation of violence by the other side. That's a formula of obstruction that the United States has already begun repairing to deny Israel a veto over every violation during the negotiations. Along the paths of the road map, Israel wants to plant dozens of such buttons that it would press to block the new diplomatic initiative.
Bush does not need to make any commitment to the Israeli prime minister. The only commitment he should make is for the welfare of the Israelis. And on that score, they have been expressing their opinion for many years - not in holiday interviews that create a passing spin of moderation, but in consistent polls. In them there is clear support for deep withdrawals, settlement removal, and, in effect, any compromise that would bring a gradual end to the conflict. If the American president is not totally decisive about this mission, he will betray the Israeli interest. And if Bush does so because of his personal interests - to enhance his re-election with the help of Jewish votes behind a mask of a flowery vision of peace - he will not find any atonement.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now