Ariel Sharon's resounding victory in the race for prime minister of Israel brings no certainty to Israelis or Palestinians, and it is sure to divert President Bush's quiet wish to give Iraqi President Saddam Hussein the comeuppance his father, George H.W. Bush, failed to deliver when he was president.
Living with ambiguity is hard for many, but tolerance for it is what these times demand of Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans.
Consider that while a preponderance of Arab-Americans voted for Mr. Bush, and while serious Arab enmity toward this nation could shut off our oil supply and bring us to our economic knees, our President has pledged staunch support not toward the ends of a just Middle East peace, but for Mr. Sharon, a fellow conservative.
Palestinian Arabs seem less exercised by Mr. Sharon's victory than the Israeli left, though both see him as a super-hawk, if not a war criminal. A hard man who has trod a hard line, Mr. Sharon speaks in racist terms of knowing “them” and what to do about “them” better than anyone else. But no one has ever called Mr. Sharon a fool.
While he has been known for his hard-line military tactics and for going beyond the limits others set for him, he is a pragmatist who must know there is no military solution to Israel's impasse with the PLO and that Israelis will never find security behind a ghetto wall, even one of their own design.
And he knows, though many Israelis hate the idea, that there can be no peace without a shared Jerusalem, and that any power that has grabbed this magical city for itself has never managed to keep it.
Americans without Arab or Jewish interests may be inclined to say “a plague on both their houses.” They should bite their tongues, no matter how nauseous they get before images of young Arab boys and men, martyring themselves in callous political divisions they see as a glorious cause.
At the same time, the American press and politicians have too quickly repeated Israeli and U.S. officials' claims that Arabs had their chance, with Ehud Barak putting more on the table than anyone ever had. They rarely acknowledge the dissonance between Israeli talk and Israeli deeds, or why the Palestinians are restive.
Arabs note Mr. Barak's effort to rehabilitate as a diplomat Amos Yaron, who had command responsibility in the massacre deaths of 2,000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians in 1982 at the Shatila and Sabra refugee camps in Beirut. And they note that Israeli territorial promises were undone with new settlements on the West Bank. Arabs saw them as land grabs.
There must be peace in the Middle East. Its current inhabitants owe it to themselves and their children to get along, the better to live and to thrive. And peace would respect those on both sides who died in its name.
Palestinians must stop the self-immolation of killing off their young to win sympathy.
Israelis must stop thinking of apartheid as a solution to their security problems and begin to deal with Palestinians from the top of the deck, as one would with equals. In this day when nation states grow more diverse, it cannot afford to be a colonial anachronism.
Finally, this American president must show better judgment, to say nothing of tact, in dealing with fractious allies, sensitive to slight, and in need of doses of common sense.