page has said, countless times, that strong American intervention
offers the only chance for a peace settlement between Israel and
the Palestinians. We have often said it with faint hope that it
would ever happen. Early in his presidency, George Bush stepped
back, on the theory, promoted by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of
Israel and Mr. Sharon's supporters in the United States, that little
could be accomplished without changes in the Palestinian leadership
and its attitude toward terror. There have now been such changes.
Moreover, Mr. Bush is not the same president. He may go to the Middle
East next month to become more directly involved. We urge him to
In the aftermath
of Sept. 11, the Bush administration gradually adopted a grand scheme
for refashioning the Middle East that began with the overthrow of
Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The end goal is a transformed region in
which autocratic governments open the windows to more democracy
while their moribund societies join the global economy. Prosperity,
hope and political openness will reduce the attraction of the extreme
version of Islam that spawned Al Qaeda. We and others wondered if
the administration had thought the plan through before leaping into
the Iraq invasion. But the president has bet his legacy on his ability
to carry it out.
It is clear
that there can be scant progress toward the president's goal without
a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian question, which has broken
the hearts of countless diplomats. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians
are cursed with a powerful minority obsessed with disastrous goals.
There are Palestinians who still dream of destroying Israel just
as there are Israelis who imagine a reincorporated West Bank, with
the Palestinian population living among them as nonvoting noncitizens.
is a popular leader who has shown limited vision and has to contend
with members of his government more extreme than he. Mahmoud Abbas,
the Palestinian prime minister, is weak, unpopular and hemmed in
by Hamas terrorists who are intent on continuing to send suicide
bombers into Israel. Western leaders can issue all the "road maps"
to peace they want, but nobody is going anywhere in this situation
unless the United States leads the way.
settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are a particular sticking
point. They represent for the Israeli right the cherished hope of
reclaiming land that belonged to the Jews in biblical times. But
the settlements are unsupportable. They are daggers in the heart
of a future Palestinian state. Many are tiny enclaves in or near
Palestinian towns and land, guarded by Israeli troops who make the
Palestinians feel like hated intruders in their own homes.
On the Palestinian
side, the biggest problem, by far, is terrorism urged by some leaders
and insufficiently condemned by others. Mr. Abbas says he wants
to put an end to it but cannot make a serious move without a good-faith
concession from Israel. The easiest way to begin the peace process
would be for Mr. Abbas to move against Hamas as Israel dismantles
the hundred-odd new settlement outposts that have been established
in the West Bank since 2001 without government permission. Mr. Abbas
says he needs Israeli concessions before he moves. Mr. Sharon says
he needs a crackdown on terror before he moves. It is a maddening
circle of suspicion and fear.
States, which provides massive financial aid to Israel, and which
has the means to help restart the Palestinian economy as well, is
the one force capable of breaking through this destructive cycle.
Mr. Bush's dream of a transformed Middle East is not going anywhere
as long as the Arab world is obsessed with the plight of the Palestinians.
The Mr. Bush of two years ago was not ready, for reasons of both
policy and politics, to make any strong moves. But now conditions
have changed and he has a grand vision, larger and more risky than
any dreamed by his predecessors. We hope he is willing to follow