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Mideast's New Road Map

April 05, 2002

President Bush's welcome change of strategy Thursday provides a road map to end the slaughter in the Middle East. His dispatch of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell offers a navigator for the journey.

Bush's declaration that "enough is enough" was days overdue, as was the evenhanded tone of his remarks. Bush switched from relentless denunciations of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and silence on Israel's invasion of Palestinian cities to chastising both sides; from an insistence that a cease-fire be a prelude to political talks to the pragmatic stance that the antagonists can follow military and political tracks simultaneously.

The president was right to criticize Arafat and denounce the vile suicide bombers--including an 18-year-old woman last week--who destroy their own promising lives and those of innocent Israelis. Arab nations need to pair their support of Palestinians with thunderous declamations against the acts of deluded men and women who believe themselves to be martyrs.

Without betraying the United States' long-standing loyalty to Israel or minimizing Israelis' suffering, Bush revealed that he understood this: Even in times of relative peace, many Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza endure cramped, fearful lives. His use of the term "humiliation" was apt and echoed the laments of many Palestinians, from doctors to shopkeepers, forced by Israeli soldiers to wait for hours at checkpoints to learn whether they can cross to jobs, parks, mosques. Such delays and bullying destroy the Palestinian economy and rob dignity from those in the occupied territories, most of whom oppose terror. Bush said Israel had accepted the eventual establishment of an independent Palestinian state, side by side with Israel, but added the important nuance that it must be "politically and economically viable."

Powell's arrival next week gives Israel more time to search for terrorists in the cities into which it has sent tanks and troops, though not as much time as the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wanted. Israel is right to defend itself aggressively against the terrorists who want to drive the area's sole democracy into the sea. But wholesale attacks on Palestinian cities create more extremists. By suggesting a realistic vision of a Palestinian state, Bush gives those in the occupied territories a reason to rein in the violence, a goal to negotiate toward. Arafat has squandered past opportunities. His followers should not let him do so again.

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