Abba Eban used to say that Israeli leaders make the right decisions only after they have exhausted all other possibilities. Henry Kissinger noted that Israel has no foreign policy, only domestic policy. Ariel Sharon's decision to get out of Netzarim, the apple of his eye, and his attempt to stitch together a "disengagement plan" that will circumnavigate what the Likud membership referendum, reconfirms the evaluations of these eminent men of foreign affairs.
The two would surely agree that without a little help from friends in the White House, domestic considerations would have extended the agony-strewn road to a number of correct Israeli decisions.
Luckily, those friends did not believe that "help" meant blind support of the most extreme government ever to rule from Jerusalem. Who knows, if George Bush had been in the White House during the "reevaluation" of Israel-U.S. policy that pushed Yitzhak Rabin into signing the 1975 separation of forces agreement in Sinai, Sharon might today be laying the cornerstone for Upper Yamit 6. If Bush had been in charge of Camp David 1 in September 1978, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat might today be ordering his chief of staff to send armed forces to Rafah, instead of the head of Egyptian intelligence being dispatched to restrain the Palestinians.
American presidents who contributed to correct Israeli decisions would not be announcing, at the end of a week during which Israel killed 42 Palestinians, among them eight children, and made 1,560 Palestinians homeless, that events would not influence friendship with Israel. Administrations that were willing to invest international political resources in peace initiatives did not shred presidential plans, one after the other, as if they had never existed. American leaders, among them the father of the present president, who believed that deepening the occupation was harmful to U.S. (and Israeli) interests did not ignore the "thickening" of the settlements.
Bush is not the first president whose positions on the Israeli-Arab conflict are tainted by domestic political considerations. It is not unusual for support for Israel by presidential candidates to reach unprecedented new heights during an election year. But the problem of all who support reconciliation in Israel and the occupied territories is that there is no sign that if Bush wins another term, in which he will be free of concerns for his political future, his blind backing for the Sharon-Lieberman government will make way for more practical support even for his own "vision of peace."
It is not surprising that Bush was welcomed at the annual AIPAC convention with cries of "four more years." At the previous convention, those same Jews cheered the right-wing preacher Gary Bauer when he declared passionately that God had given the Jews the Promised Land and no Israeli government has the right to give up parts of it to the Arabs. These same religious-messianic elements feed Bush's Middle Eastern policy (as well as his campaign coffers).
For their sake he has already surrendered the appearance of an "honest broker": When the president said he "admired" Sharon and viewed him as a "warrior" who would fight for the disengagement plan, he meant every word. A number of recent reports from Washington reveal that Bush believes Sharon is his staunchest partner in the holy war that the U.S. is waging against Islamic terror.
The experience of recent years has shown that the Bush-Sharon-Arafat trinity is a surefire formula for the perpetuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Until the Israelis and the Palestinians learn to get along with each other by themselves, the U.S. president has enough power all by himself to extend the agonies of war. Changing the failed governments in Jerusalem and Ramallah is therefore a sufficient, if not essential, condition for the revival of the peace process. In order, perhaps, for the world - that is for the U.S. - to come to the aid of the peoples of the region, the failed government in Washington must also change.
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