Two thousand years after the first Christmas, Israeli tanks were firing in Manger Square in Bethlehem and Jewish children were being massacred by suicide-bombers in Jerusalem. The city of Christ's birth and the city of his death were alike awash in hatred.
Is peace possible in the Holy Land? If not, endless suffering and ultimate tragedy lie ahead for Israelis and Palestinian alike.
What is now manifest is that neither Sharon nor Arafat can make peace. As Zbigniew Brzezinski argues in the Washington Post, "Neither side is able to take the ultimate steps for a grand, but also painful, historical reconciliation." This is now apparent to all.
It is time that President Bush, whose prestige will never be higher, gave the world America's vision of a just peace in the Middle East. It is essential for our own national interest, and our good name, that America be seen as a nation that stands for peace with justice on the West Bank as forthrightly as she stands up to terrorism in Afghanistan. For with every child killed in a Gaza or West Bank crossfire, our reputation, too, is being besmirched.
The terms of that just peace may be found in the Mitchell Plan and Colin Powell's speech, in the Camp David and Taba offers made by Ehud Barak, and in U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338. As Brzezinski writes, at one time or another, Israel agreed to them all. He adds what every would-be peacemaker has recognized: "There can be only one outcome if there is to be genuine peace: the coexistence of the state of Israel with the state of Palestine, in a setting in which the former is secure and the latter is viable."
What does a secure Israel mean? "Palestine's unambiguous acceptance of Israel's right to exist, but also special security arrangements beyond Israel's final frontiers which ... would in the main correspond to Israel's 1967 lines. These arrangements should involve a prolonged U.S. security role, as well as the formal demilitarization of the Palestinian State." Demilitarization means no jet fighters, no missiles, no tanks, no artillery, no mortars.
What does a viable Palestine mean? A state on the West Bank, "not sliced by Israeli security roads to inland armed settlements. Most of these settlements would have to be terminated, except for those in the immediate proximity of Jerusalem, which would become part of Israel's share of the city." Jerusalem would serve as the capital of both nations, with the sovereignty of each of the holy shrines consigned to its particular faith.
"Only a very few Palestinian refugees would be symbolically granted the right of return to their homes within Israel, with the rest resettled in Palestine or in adjoining Arab states."
Something is needed to break the cycle of violence before it passes the point of no return. But to Sharon, Arafat is Osama bin Laden. While he does not wish to be responsible for Arafat's ouster or death, if it comes, Sharon believes Israel would quickly find a more pliable Palestinian partner who would accept peace on his terms.
Far more likely, writes Brzezinski, "is the emergence of an Algeria-type urban guerrilla warfare against Israel. Especially ominous is the prospect that in the absence of peace, the 1.2 million Palestinians living in Israel increasingly will identify with their 3.3 million brethren in the West Bank and Gaza against the 4.8 million Jewish Israelis." And those 4.5 million Palestinians under Israeli rule will grow to 9 million by 2025 and 15 million by 2050.
Today, Sharon has the power to crush the Palestinians and reoccupy their cities. And a few in Israel and the United States are excitedly goading him on. But can any sane man believe that the Palestinians will accept this fate forever, or that Arab nations will regard this as permanent? This is a prescription for an endless war that the vastly outnumbered people of Israel must ultimately lose.
Like Wilson at Versailles, this is President Bush's "moment." In what cause will he invest his immense international prestige? Is there a better place or cause than peace in the Holy Land?
The president should host a White House conference with the statesmen of both parties, and lay before the world his terms for a just peace. Most Israelis, Arabs and Americans would welcome his initiative, and the enemies of peace would be exposed and isolated.
Then, Bush should name a statesman of world stature and send him to Europe, Russia and the Middle East to lay out his and our vision. Almost all nations would sign on. Perhaps the plan would fail like the rest, but at least the world would know America wanted a just peace, not the tragic endless war that appears to be the alternative.