events in the Middle East leave me wondering whether we're witnessing
not just the end of the Oslo peace process, but the end of the whole
idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
When the Palestinians'
Intifada II began over a year ago, in the wake of a serious proposal
for a Palestinian state by President Clinton, I argued that Palestinians
were making a huge mistake. When the party to a conflict initiates
an uprising, then suicide bombing, at a time when the outlines of
a final peace are on the table — as the Palestinians did — it shatters
everything, present and future. In this case it shattered the Israeli
peace camp, it blew apart all the fragile confidence-building measures
that took years to build, and it generally left the Israeli public
feeling it had opened the gates to a Trojan horse.
This is particularly
true in the case of the Palestinians because they never articulated
why their uprising was necessary, given the diplomatic alternatives
still available, or what its precise objectives were. They seem
to have been heavily influenced by Hezbollah's success at driving
Israel out of Lebanon and seem to have bought into the fantasy that
they could give birth to their own state in similar blood and fire.
And Yasir Arafat went along for the ride.
"This Intifada II was
Yasir Arafat's 1967 war," says the Middle East expert Stephen P.
Cohen. "Like Egypt's President Nasser, Arafat got completely swept
up in the fantasies of the moment and failed to distinguish between
what was real and what was not. And like Nasser, it will be the
beginning of his end."
But here's the rub:
Even if Mr. Arafat went away, and even if a majority of Israelis
were ready to give his successor all of the West Bank, Gaza and
East Jerusalem, the security requirements and limitations on Palestinian
sovereignty that Israelis would insist upon — in the wake of the
total breakdown in trust over the last year — would probably be
so high that no Palestinian leader would be able to accept them.
If that is the case,
it means that a negotiated two-state solution is impossible and
Israel is doomed to permanent occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
And if that is the case, it means Israel will have to rule the West
Bank and Gaza permanently, the way South African whites ruled blacks
under apartheid. Because by 2010, if current demographic patterns
hold, there will be more Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank,
Gaza and East Jerusalem than Jews. And if that is the case, it means
an endless grinding conflict that poses a mortal danger to Israel.
Because there are three
trends converging in the Middle East today. The first is this vicious
Israeli-Palestinian war. The second is a population explosion in
the Arab world, where virtually every Arab country has a population
bubble of under-15-year-olds, who are marching toward a future where
they will find a shortage of good jobs and a surplus of frustration.
The third is an explosion of Arab satellite TV stations, the Internet
and other private media.
Basically what's happening
is that this Arab media explosion is taking images of the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict and beaming them to this population explosion, nurturing
a rage against Israel, America and Jews in a whole new Arab generation.
Of that new generation there are going to be 10 who will go to dad
one day and say, "Dad, there is a Pakistani gentleman at the door
selling a suitcase nuclear bomb. He wants a check for $100,000,
and I would like to personally deliver the suitcase to Tel Aviv."
And dad is going to write the check.
The only hope for Israel
is to get out of the territories — any orderly way it can — and
minimize its friction with the Arab world as the Arabs go through
a wrenching internal adjustment to modernization. I applaud President
Bush's call for Mr. Arafat to be replaced, in what amounts to Mr.
Bush's last-ditch attempt to "re-accredit" the Palestinians as a
partner for a two-state solution with Israel. But it is a travesty
that Mr. Bush did not act to "re-accredit" Israel, too, as a peace
partner for a two-state solution with the Palestinians by insisting
that Israel begin pulling back from some of its far-flung settlements
in Gaza and the West Bank. It would help the Palestinians undertake
their reforms, and it would put Israel in a better position to withdraw
unilaterally, if it has to.
Mr. Bush blinked because
he didn't want to alienate Jewish voters. Sad. Because George Bush
may be on Israel's side, but history, technology and demographics
are all against it.