AT MY peril, I am going to try to set down a series of true statements about the Israeli-Palestinian issue that can serve as guidelines or benchmarks to the next American administration be it Bush or Kerry in setting its policy toward that tormented part of the world.
It is essential that the next president focus on this problem because the perceived American attitude toward it greatly influences the world s perception of the United States itself.
1. The Jews have a right to a homeland where they can live forever, safe and secure.
2. So do the Palestinians. It is close to inconceivable that the Jews would deny that right to the Palestinians, given its primordial importance to them.
3. The Israelis are governed badly. The disproportionate power given to far right political and religious elements by the Israeli political structure means that the country s fundamental, critical decisions are unduly and unwisely influenced by the most shortsighted element of the population.
4. The Palestinians use badly the little power to govern themselves that they have. This is partly because as a people they are crisscrossed and divided extensively by tribal, generational, and personal rivalries. Some of their haplessness is also due to Israeli actions: If you put rats in a steel cage and heat it they will become frantic and attack each other, not to mention you if they get the chance.
5. Ariel Sharon s wall is one of the worst things any Israeli leader has ever inflicted on Israel. The worst aspect of it is that it makes anyone s effort to bring greater reason to a process of negotiating the Israelis and the Palestinians way out of this long-standing mess much more difficult. It enrages the Palestinians. The connotations of any wall offend Europeans, Asians, Americans, and anyone else who has looked at such noteworthy previous futile historical examples as the Berlin Wall, the Maginot Line, the Great Wall of China, or the wall the Romans tried to throw across Great Britain. It may be that Mr. Sharon s wall is most dangerous of all to the Israelis themselves, giving them the false impression that it solves their problems, that they are safe behind it.
6. To the degree that Palestinian car bombs, suicide bombs, and other tactics that can only be described as terrorist are Palestinian policy, they are also perhaps one of the stupidest approaches that any group ever took to achieving its ends. What Palestinians who use those methods succeed in doing is persuading even someone who is inclined to look at the Palestinian cause sympathetically that they lack humanity.
Palestinians or, worse, historians, might argue that the Jews used the same tactics against the British in the 1940s to achieve their goals. The difference is that the Palestinians of 2004 do not have the world sympathy behind them that accrued to the Jews who had just suffered the Holocaust in the post-World War II world. Nobody is going to think it is all right to slaughter either the victims of these tactics, or the poor devils who have been brainwashed into carrying them out, in the name of God, the Palestinian cause, or anything else.
7. The Jewish settlements are worse than the wall in that they are a much tougher barrier to a resolution of the problem. If the Palestinians are going to be given land for their state and they are eventually going to get land for their state the more Jews and settlements there are, and the more they have been developed, the harder it is going to be to displace them. And Americans should not forget that the United States is pledged to pay the resettlement costs of the settlers and what they have built and had built for them in the West Bank and Gaza.
8. Finally, from the point of view of the United States, one of the worst aspects of trying to tackle this issue as an American leader, analyst, or even observer is that open and frank discussion of it in the United States, among Americans, is severely hampered by its intense politicization.
On the one hand, there is the classic fear, particularly on the part of American politicians, of somehow drawing the fire of some American Jews who might quickly leap on any expression of an opinion short of slavish approval of Israel s most extreme recent act as anti-Semitism. And when it is an election year and campaign financing is flying around, don t expect any cogent discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian issue from any candidate for anything.
The ironic piece of that picture is that now Arab-Americans and Muslims are becoming a larger and more prosperous element in American society. But don t imagine for a minute that increasing balance in that regard will prompt dialogue that will lead to better policy. It just means that our courageous candidates and future leaders are going to find it even more difficult to stay on the fence, putting off the difficult, evil day when the United States is going to have to deal with this issue decisively.
Our attitude toward achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East is the basis on which much of the world assesses us. We are now falling way short in that regard. We are seen as having no policy that even begins to come to grips with the problem. This can t go on.
Dan Simpson is a retired diplomat and a member of The Blade s editorial board.