There was palpable anxiety nationwide in the hours that preceded US President George W. Bush's speech on the Middle East Monday night. All the talk of establishing a "provisional" state of Palestine, as the Palestinian leadership to the last man is stained by terror and murder, was terrifying and infuriating and demoralizing.
So when Bush declared "the Palestinian state will never be created by terror," most of us heaved a deep sigh of relief. By the time he concluded his remarks, our initial sense of vindication and relief was swiftly followed by a spontaneous outpouring of euphoria. The president's words were a shot of adrenalin for our traumatized citizenry, but they were also marching orders for our leadership.
Unfortunately, it is far from clear that our leadership heard or understood the message.
Bush made two central points in his speech that demand our immediate attention. For the first time, the president publicly distanced himself from the false pronouncements by the State Department that refuse to implicate Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Authority directly in terrorism. In so doing, Bush made clear that from now on, US policy will be based on reality and not on what the foreign ministries of the world would have us believe.
The president also, for the first time, regarded the Palestinians as free agents. In saying "the Palestinian people are gifted and capable and I am confident they can achieve a new birth for their nation," he told the Palestinians that they themselves hold the key to their future.
Both of these policy shifts from Washington present Israel with tremendous opportunities as well as significant challenges.
While acknowledging that the PA is a terrorist entity is a first and necessary step toward correctly diagnosing the Palestinian war against Israel, Bush fell short of the mark. Repeated polling of Palestinians shows that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians support continuing their jihad.
A survey of Palestinians late last month carried out by the Palestinian Jerusalem Media and Communications Center, found that 78.9 percent of Palestinians support the continuation of their terrorist war and 68.1% of Palestinians support the use of suicide bombers against Israelis. Most disturbing, 51.1% of Palestinians claim that the end of their war is not the establishment of a Palestinian state, as Bush endorses in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip, but rather the destruction of Israel.
This state of affairs means quite simply that a fully participatory Palestinian democracy at this point will not significantly alter the situation. Before the Palestinians will elect the type of responsible leadership that the president envisions and hopes for, they need to be cured of their notion that it is acceptable to murder Israeli civilians or to fight a war for the destruction of Israel.
Unlike in his warning to the Taliban last September ("hand over the terrorists or share their fate"), Bush did not issue an ultimatum to the Palestinians. Since the Palestinians are fighting their terrorist war against Israel and not against the United States, this was a reasonable omission. It is the responsibility of Israel's government, not the US government, to destroy the Palestinians' ability to conduct their war against us.
Popular sentiment in Palestinian society being what it is, the only way to fulfill Bush's vision of a democratic Palestinian state living side by side with Israel is for the Palestinians first to be persuaded that they have no military option and that their only hope for a good life of freedom and economic security is to live at peace with Israel. This truth began to trickle down in the aftermath of Operation Defensive Shield.
Arafat's decision to reform the PA and hold new elections was not the result of American pressure but of Palestinian pressure. It was the empty receiving lines in Ramallah and Jenin that greeted him after the IDF withdrawal that forced him to accede to reform if only cosmetic. By contrast, it was the IDF withdrawal, talk of the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state, and continued support of the PA from the UN, the EU, and the Israeli Left that made it possible for Arafat to make do with cosmetic reforms.
Today, the goal of Operation Determined Path must be to force the Palestinians to make the direct link between their personal suffering and their decision to fight a war against Israel. The Palestinians must recognize that it is their leaders and their own willingness to support those leaders that have relegated them to their squalor and poverty.
Just as Israel used the information it uncovered during Defensive Shield to prove Arafat's personal involvement in terror to the US, so today it must use information it uncovers and already has to prove to the Palestinians that their leadership has stolen their future. Palestinians must be given proof that their leaders lied to them and stole from them and brainwashed them and exploited them and then gained their acquiescence to their own enslavement by deflecting their anger onto Israel.
Given the level of radicalization in Palestinian society, Israel must be prepared to accept the fact that a long time will likely pass before a majority of Palestinians is convinced of the truth and is ready to take the reins of leadership and live at peace with Israel. Recognizing this reality, Israel must be willing to reinstate the civil administration in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip and to assert military control of the areas.
The overwhelming majority of Israelis does not want to be responsible for the Palestinians. But all Israelis want to live in security. The direct link between the Palestinian embrace of terrorism under Arafat's PA and lack of security for Israelis is clear for all to see. For now and the foreseeable future, it is self-evident that the only way to provide security is to deny the Palestinians the ability to attack us. Today, this can only be done effectively from within their towns and cities.
The fact that we ourselves do not wish to remain there is the best guarantee of the Palestinians' eventual independence. But just as the Germans, after 12 years of the Nazi regime, could not be trusted to rule themselves effectively in 1945, so the Palestinians, after nine years of Arafat's regime, cannot be trusted to govern themselves.
The second challenge presented us by Bush's address is to accept our responsibility to support our ally when that ally is supporting us. Bush went up against the entire international community and his own highly popular secretary of state when he called for new Palestinian leadership and backed our right to defend ourselves. If we want to encourage him to continue to go to bat for us, it behooves us to advance his doctrine. This is particularly so since, for the first time in recent memory, the US president is espousing a doctrine that actually stands a chance of enhancing our security and well-being.
But rather than voicing support, our foreign minister has condemned Bush. Rather than thanking him for condemning our enemies, Shimon Peres has made off-the-record comments to a half dozen journalists claiming that the address, far from being a positive development, was a "tragedy." Peres had his press men let it be known that he was so disgusted with Bush's message that he did not even sit through the entire 20-minute speech, but rather left the room in a stony silence.
Bush ended his remarks by saying, "This moment is both an opportunity and a test for all parties in the Middle East: an opportunity to lay the foundations of future peace; a test to show who is serious about peace and who is not." For Israel to use this opportunity properly, we must make it clear that security is the precondition for any future peace. We must also, while ensuring our secur
ity, empower a new and democratic Palestinian leadership that will understand that its commitment to peaceful coexistence with Israel is the source of its power and the key to its future success.
Peres's hostile reaction to Bush's address has proved beyond any doubt that, like Arafat, he lacks the vision to move the Palestinians toward the democratic transformation necessary to enable peace to be achieved. As Bush has stood up to the UN, the EU, and the Arab world this week in defending his demand for Palestinian reform, so the prime minister must stand up to his foreign minister. If Peres refuses to acknowledge that Arafat must go and that Israel must use all means to defend itself, while paving the road towards the eventual empowerment of a democratic, pacific Palestinian leadership, then he, too, must go.
Israel Radio announced that 72% of Israelis supported Bush's speech, but only one third of us believe that he can implement a change in Palestinian leadership. The truth is that only Israel, by preventing the Palestinians from continuing their war against us can change the facts on the ground in a manner that will enable the implementation of Bush's plan. But to take the necessary actions, the foreign minister must share the sentiments of the overwhelming majority of his countrymen that the speech was a great gift to the State of Israel.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post