The road ahead is clear, but will George W. Bush take it?

Here is what we know: we know that almost three-fourths of Israelis want the full evacuation of the settlements NOW. We know that two-thirds of Israeli settlers are willing to leave their settlements if adequately compensated.

We know that Palestinians can stop violence against Israel — they have done it before, under Barak for instance, when a whole year went by and not a single Israeli was killed in an attack. And we know that when a strong Palestinian Authority is in place, while the prospect for an end to the conflict is within sight, Palestinians turn away from violence.

We know that they can reach a compromise: in Taba, in January 2001, just a few days before the elections that were to make Ariel Sharon Prime Minister, the Palestinian and Israeli negotiating delegations issued a joint statement in which they said in part, “the two sides declare that they have never been closer to reaching an agreement and it is thus our shared belief that the remaining gaps could be bridged with the resumption of negotiations following the Israeli elections.” [3]

We know that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not interested in moving the peace process forward and that their aim is not a happy and peaceful co-existence with Israel. We also know that their strategy of confronting Sharon has not cowed the Israeli public into rejecting Sharon nor has it forced Israel to withdraw, as Hezbollah’s attacks on the Israeli army forced the Israelis to evacuate after twenty years in Southern Lebanon. Instead, it has given Ariel Sharon the very thing he has thrived on: an excuse to avoid serious political negotiations and cover to continue building settlements — and worse, new a wall that is quietly swallowing swaths of Palestinian lands.

We know that Ariel Sharon and his Likud party are also not interested in moving the peace process forward. At best, they intend to tolerate a collection of Palestinian Bantustans, with token political sovereignty and no independent economy (indeed, a central tenet of the Likud is that there shall be “no Palestinian state West of the Jordan [River]”), and at worst they are willing to begin transferring Palestinian populations out of the Occupied Territories, as Israel’s minister of tourism is now calling for in his tour of the US Bible Belt.

We also know that Ariel Sharon’s strategy of attacking the Palestinian Authority, assassinating Hamas leaders, and collectively punishing Palestinian populations, has failed utterly to bring about security to the Israelis. Indeed, all but one of the ninety two suicide bombings since the start of this Intifada two and a half years ago have taken place under Ariel Sharon’s watch. [5]

The question then is: what has George W. Bush to risk by pushing Ariel Sharon to accept the Road Map? What can the right-wing pro-Israel bloc do? Will they really mete out severe political punishment to the most pro-Israel president since Harry Truman? And would the Christian Right really sacrifice its prodigal son for the sake of pleasing Sharon?

And what if George Bush’s opponent ended up being Joseph Lieberman? How much can George W. Bush count on the Jewish vote then to deliver Florida for him anyway, lest there be a recount?

George W. Bush has a chance to do something truly great for a change. The political risks are paltry compared to the potentially monumental gains. But will he do it? And if not, why not?

Notes:

[2] Joint Statement, signed by Ehud Barak’s negotiating team, Taba, Egypt, January 27, 2001 — http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/go.asp?MFAH0j7o0

[4] ‘Suicide and Other Bombing Attacks in Israel Since the Declaration of Principles’ — http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/go.asp?MFAH0i5d0

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