Dear President Bush,
Welcome to Israel. I believe that your visit at this time is more important than ever, because two days spent in Israel are vital to understanding our situation.
These two days have helped to bring you up to speed as to the mood of the country on its 60th birthday, the feeling of despair that hangs over a nation surrounded by a sea of fundamentalism. These 48 hours are giving you a first-hand look at the political situation of our prime minister. This trip is also allowing you to check the pulse of Palestinian public opinion; perhaps even to reflect on your miscalculation (not the first) in gambling on the moderate forces in Lebanon to gain the upper hand over their nemesis, Hezbollah.
While here, you can gain a keener sense of the way the sands are blowing than if you had remained in Washington, which is now preoccupied with figuring out who will be the next occupant of your soon-to-be-former residence.
I assume you have come with gifts for our 60th birthday that are you are eagerly unpacking from your suitcase. While I do not discount your sincerity and goodwill, I would like to ask for one particular present that I'm sure you did not bring, but which could be put to immediate use. It is a gift that can keep at bay a future conflagration that threatens the region, a gift that perhaps can salvage America's standing in the Middle East. It is a gift that bears strategic importance for the State of Israel and has the potential to simultaneously give a boost to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Mr. President, I know it is hardly respectful to ask for gifts, but this time it is urgent. Sir, I am asking you to appoint a special envoy whose task would be to oversee diplomatic contacts between Israel and Syria. This is a gift that won't cost you much, and it may seem unnecessary to you, but for us it would be a lifesaver.
Mr. President, you've already appointed numerous envoys to the region during your term in office, only to see a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem move further out of reach. I promise you, sir, that this time you won't be wasting an envoy. Your new emissary will enable us to jump-start the process that could change the balance of power in the Middle East.
Mr. President, as the one who has run the world for the past eight years, and by extension the Middle East, you have played no small part in the regional gains by Shi'ite fundamentalists who threaten us from every direction. You were so focused on the nuclear bomb that had yet to be produced that you didn't bother to concern yourself with the most potent conventional weapon there is in Iran: winning hearts and minds in the region - hearts and minds that you have managed to repel and which are now in the possession of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranians don't need to use the bomb. With their heads, their mouths and the Koran, they beat us with a knockout punch.
Mr. President, Syria is not a natural member of the Iranian fundamentalist camp. Just ask the most renowned Orientalists at a university not far from where you stand today in Jerusalem. The Syrians fear the Iranians almost as much as we do. You have a one-time opportunity to stop Syria from falling completely into Iranian hands. Mr. President, give us a chance to at least ensure quiet on our northern front. We have our hands full as it is with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and, perhaps very soon, the West Bank.
Please, Mr. President. Even though you may not view this gift as significant, we can put it to immediate use. Even your fellow citizens will benefit from it at the end of the day.
Dr. Alon Liel, a former director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is chairman of the Israel-Syria Peace Society.
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