Mr. Bush, You Were Born to Make Peace

Mr. President, welcome to Jerusalem, city of David, of Jesus, of Mohammad.

As a man of faith, you have come to know the power of this place. As a man of power, you have come to know how formidable its dilemmas, its sorrows, its conflicts, its claimants.

Welcome, then, to a city which craves peace as no other, and a city which, by its very stature, stands in its way.

As a man of realism, you know that those who make peace are also subject to terrible sacrifice. It is, one supposes, unfair to ask anyone to make such a sacrifice. But there is, at this moment of history, no one else to ask.

Mr. Bush, this is your time. This is the most significant and toughest challenge of your presidency. This will be an unsparing test of your faith. This is the biblical struggle of our age.

Before you decide whether to make this kind of commitment, however, a word of caution: Do this right, and friends will turn on you. Do this right, and the loneliness of your office will take on new meaning.

How will you know whether to stake your legacy to this place? You'll know very soon. If Israel utters - or acts according to - the phrase "We will pursue talks as if there were no terror, and we will fight terror as if there were no talks" - give up. Right away. Nothing will come of this peace initiative. Turn your attention to Iran, to Iraq, to health care, to Republican hopefuls.

If Israel undermines Palestinian Authority campaigns to combat West Bank violence with military operations of its own, as it did just this week, chalk up this trip to a perk of your presidency, a junket of spiritual tourism, and let it go at that.

If the Palestinians with whom you negotiate are not 100 percent committed to the measures required for statehood, including deep reform of corruption, serious and immediate attention to crying social welfare needs, and unapologetically effective security agencies, don't waste your time and theirs.

If there is no authentic Israeli commitment to curb settlements and demolish illegal outposts, if there is no willingness to ease travel restrictions, foster employment of Palestinians or coordinate policy with PA officials, shake hands all around, nod for the cameras, and take your leave.

Should you decide to take on a peacemaker's role in earnest, however - and you can bet that your experts will show you maps, plans, timetables, scenarios galore - here is what you'll really need:

1.Respect for the Palestinians. Listen. Honor, as they do, their ability to stand fast in the face of pressure, and their need to redress a humiliation symbolized by the events that saw the birth of Israel in 1948.

2. Respect for the Israelis. Listen. Honor, as they do, their ability to stand up to external pressure, and their need to address a fear of such overwhelming dimension that only a Holocaust could have brought it about.

It may occur to you that the central equation - humiliation versus fear - is as simple as it is insoluble: Palestinians, in an effort to address their humiliation, verbally threaten and physically attack Israelis, reinforcing their fears. Israelis, in their efforts to address and contain their fears, routinely and in myriad ways act to humiliate Palestinians.

After 60 years, the only substantive change in the equation has been that Palestinians have come to feel more fear, and Israelis, more humiliation.

It will require every ounce of your creativity and humanity to finesse the basic equation in a balanced manner, bearing in mind that neither side desires balance but both, in a larger sense, require it. Israelis and Palestinians both believe that resistance to external pressure is at the root of their survival as peoples, against all odds, against all comers. Mr. Bush, welcome to the world capital of the word No.

3. Resistance to clergy. Holy men will seek to hinder you. Fundamentalist clergy, whether Muslim, Jewish or Christian, will advise you that your God, the one God of Muhammad, Jesus and David, exclusively favors only one side in the conflict, and, in the bargain, commands the use of overwhelming violence.

4. The end of your political career, as you know it. Statesmanship may well require the renunciation of partisan politics and sectarian ideology. Even in an election year. Especially in an election year.

You must be prepared to broker the best deal for both sides, a deal which both sides will doubtless find distasteful, but which neither side will find indigestible.

5. Blind faith. Listen to the voices which go unheard. Arab and Jew, there is a majority which is willing to see past its grief, its legitimate rage, its undeniable claims to the Holy Land, in order to share this land - and this city - with the other.

This is your time. You will never again be in this position. This may well be the mission you were put on this earth to pursue. As a man of conscience, you must now decide your calling. No less than any other, you were born to make peace. The choice is yours alone.


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