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Statehood Would Reward Suicide Bombings

To create a Palestinian homeland now would only lead to more violence.

June 14, 2002|DAVID MAKOVSKY | David Makovsky is a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a contributing editor of U.S. News & World Report.

President Bush obviously has doubts about whether Yasser Arafat is a realistic partner for peace. He should trust that instinct and resist the pressure coming from European and Arab capitals to put the force of the U.S. behind prematurely creating a full-blown Palestinian state in virtually all the West Bank. To do so would be, in effect, a reward to the suicide bombers who have terrorized Israelis.

Pressure is on Bush to enter a diplomatic time warp and support a Mideast peace plan that virtually resets the clock to the end of the Clinton administration. Though Israelis and Palestinians are likely to eventually negotiate a just peace along lines close to this, to advance a Clinton-era strategy now based upon such a large-scale Israeli withdrawal would send the terrible message that terrorism pays.

Washington has stated its intentions several times. Last November, Bush told the United Nations that he favors the establishment of a Palestinian state. That didn't stop the violence. Later that month, Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered a detailed speech calling for an end to Israeli settlement activity and the creation of a Palestinian state; the violence did not stop then either.

These positions were affirmed and expanded a third time when the U.S. agreed to send mediator Anthony Zinni to the region, a fourth time when Washington decided to effectively ignore the interception of an Arafat-funded smuggling ship from Iran, a fifth time when the U.S. endorsed U.N. Security Council Resolution 1397 this year, formally endorsing Palestinian statehood, and a sixth time when the president gave his landmark address April 4.

Still, the terrorism continues.

Now, again, the White House is being asked to offer Palestinians a light at the end of the political tunnel without any real prospect that the ongoing terrorism will cease. Moreover, these Arab and Euro allies want the administration not only to endorse the thrust of the Clinton ideas for peacemaking but also to affirm a timetable for completing the process--about three years. In short, their focus is not just to determine what political horizon Bush envisions but to guarantee a very specific political outcome--one that, if history is a guide, will only serve as a baseline for further demands on the U.S. and Israel.

After one cuts through the "diplomatese," the approach being pitched boils down to this: Despite the terrorism, smuggling, lying, corruption and mismanagement that has marked Arafat's leadership, let's wipe the slate clean and give the Palestinians everything they rejected at the end of the Clinton administration--a virtual return to the 1967 borders and a commitment that Palestinian statehood will come by a certain date, regardless of the consequences.

The worst aspect of this approach is that it would invite more terrorism, not encourage less. Whereas the Clinton-era ideas at least were the product of U.S.-led negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank today will have been due solely to the Palestinians' success in killing a sufficient number of innocent Israelis in discos, pizzerias and shopping malls. This would be the ultimate gift to the bombers, whose attacks have, with numbing frequency, taken place with the support or praise of the Palestinian Authority.

In the long term, this approach will only help those Palestinians who argue that their goals are more easily achieved via violence, not negotiations--the same argument made by Hezbollah when Israel retreated in haste from Lebanon two years ago.

The message of American policy shifting under fire is already having its effect. A poll by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research released last week said that 67% of Palestinians believe violence will pay political dividends. Another poll by the Jerusalem Media Communications Center was even more worrisome; it showed that 51% of Palestinians believe that the goal of intifada violence should be restoration of "historic Palestine"--meaning the elimination of Israel.

We have to get beyond "all or nothing" and look for practical ways to rebuild the trust. But timing is everything. Putting forward the idea that now is the time to create a Palestinian state in this turbocharged context will define the nature of Israeli-Palestinian relations: violence over diplomacy.

If the people of the Middle East come to believe that through suicide bombings the Bush administration's policy in the region can be transformed into Clinton redux, then the prospects for peace are truly doomed.

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