Bush tries hard Mideast balancing act
June 28, 2002
WASHINGTON -- For
weeks, the world waited for President Bush to come up with his plan to
deal with the mayhem in the Middle East.
The latest round
of suicide bombings against Israelis put it on hold for a time, but the
president finally came through -- with merely a wish list that depends
on unrealistic expectations of constructive behavior on both sides.
Bush is calling on the Palestinian people to dump Yasser Arafat and turn
themselves into citizens of a democracy complete with a new leader, a
new legislature, a new judiciary, even a new constitution.
He didn't mention
Mr. Arafat by name, but if the Palestinians don't clean up their act,
he warned them during this week's summit of world leaders in Canada,
"I can assure you we won't be putting any money into a society
which is ... corrupt."
It did not take long
for Mr. Arafat to say that the Palestinian people, not the American president,
will decide on those matters or for Russian President Vladimir Putin to
warn that a forced ouster of the once-elected Mr. Arafat "would only
radicalize the Palestinian movement."
Other world leaders
at the Canadian summit also soft-pedaled giving Mr. Arafat the boot.
Mr. Bush's call
for extensive reform among the Palestinians is a far cry from the position
he took as a candidate in debating Al Gore in the 2000 campaign.
He expressed strong
opposition then to American involvement in other people's affairs
abroad, especially in "nation-building."
But a lot has happened
between then and now, and the president's latest speech underscores
how far he has come from his determined effort of earlier this year to
steer clear of the Middle East morass.
A catalyst in his
change of attitude obviously was Sept. 11. It made him a global warrior
against terrorism of all stripes, whether it's hijacked planes crashing
into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or the suicide attacks by
young Palestinians against Israelis.
Just as the president
has declared his determination to move against Iraqi strongman Saddam
Hussein and his quest for weapons of mass destruction as part of the war
on terrorism, he sees the more complicated Middle East quagmire in the
This viewpoint enabled
him to talk pointedly, if not by name, of the need to oust Mr. Arafat
while making only a passing plea for an eventual end to Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon's settlement-building in the occupied territories,
a trigger for continuing Palestinian hatred.
Mr. Bush is certainly
right in saying that the suicide bombings and other violence must end
before Mr. Sharon and his government will consider pulling out of the
But while the president
did specify that "as we make progress toward security ... Israeli
settlement activity must stop," he notably did not call on Mr. Sharon
to stop it now.
Mr. Bush, in saying
nothing about Mr. Sharon's decision to start reoccupying cities and
towns in the West Bank as the latest retribution for the suicide bombings,
amounted to flashing a green light to the man who now says he does not
visualize a Palestinian state anytime soon.
Also absent in the
Bush speech was much hint of American action in place of words to break
Mr. Bush said only
that he has asked Secretary of State Colin Powell "to work intensively
with Middle Eastern and international leaders to realize the vision of
a Palestinian state, focusing them on a comprehensive plan to support
Palestinian reform and institution building."
Few will argue that
such a long-term development would be an advantageous step toward peace
in the Middle East.
But unless it is
accompanied by evidence from Mr. Sharon that his settlement policy is
not already set in stone, the conflict seems certain to rage on.
More than providing
any realistic road map for the achievement of peace in the region, Mr.
Bush's speech further aligns him with Mr. Sharon, even as he says
he looks for the eventual creation of a Palestinian state.
It's quite a
writes from The Sun's Washington bureau. His column appears Mondays,
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© 2002, The Baltimore