Steering Into a Third Intifada

When there is no solution, there is no problem, observed James Burnham, the former Trotskyite turned Cold War geostrategist.

Burnham’s insight came again to mind as President Bush ended his meeting with Ehud Olmert by announcing that the Israeli prime minister had brought with him some "bold ideas" for peace.

And what bold ideas might that be?

Olmert wants Bush to remain steadfast in refusing to talk to the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority. He wants U.S. support for Israel’s wall that is fencing in large slices of the West Bank and all of Jerusalem, forever denying the Palestinians a viable state. He wants U.S. recognition of Israeli-drawn lines as the final borders of Israel. And he wants America to remove the "existential threat" of Iran.

In the six months before he proceeds unilaterally with this Sharon-Olmert plan, he will be happy to talk with Mahmoud Abbas, the isolated Palestinian president he has called "powerless."

What is the Bush plan to advance our interests in the Middle East? There is none. For five years, the Bush policy has been to sign off on whatever Sharon put in front of him. And now that Bush is weak, he is not going to pick a fight he cannot win and, in candor, he does not want.

For Bush has signed on to the Sharon agenda. And if he had a policy that clashed with the Sharon-Olmert Plan, political realities would prevent his pursuing it.

Consider: Suppose Bush declared that Ehud Olmert’s proposed withdrawals from the West Bank were insufficient, that an official Palestinian presence in East Jerusalem was imperative, and that the United States needed to aid the Palestinians whom Israel is starving out and to talk in back channels to Hamas, even as we talked to Libya’s Col. Khadafi to convince him to give up terrorism and his weapons of mass destruction.

Bush’s and America’s stock might rise worldwide. But here in the United States, it would be another story altogether.

We would hear the cry of "Munich!" from neoconservatives, echoed by Evangelical Christians and the religious right. "Bibi" Netanyahu would be a fixture on Fox News, which would be asking hourly if Bush had taken leave of his senses.

Republican congressmen would be force-bused to the next AIPAC convention to repudiate the Bush policy. Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Harry Reid, seeing an opening to win back Jewish votes lost to Bush, would introduce a resolution putting Congress behind Olmert, against Bush.

Then, as his father did on the loan guarantees for Israel that he briefly held up in 1991, Bush would capitulate.

Thus Israel will pursue the Sharon-Olmert Plan to completion. There will be withdrawals from isolated settlements and outposts, but no negotiations with a Palestinian Authority to agree on permanent borders and two states.

The West Bank wall will soon encompass all of the suburbs of Jerusalem for miles around. Palestine will be divided into three parts: Gaza and two enclaves on the West Bank. There will be no Palestinian official presence in Jerusalem. No viable nation.

Meanwhile, America will be called upon for new sums of money to subsidize the Sharon-Olmert Plan, even as we are prodded to do our duty and emasculate Iran.

As Olmert is the pilot setting the course, and Bush has signed on as crew to his "bold ideas," our destination is easy to foresee.

The United States alone will recognize Israel’s new borders, and her annexations of the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem as Israel’s exclusive capital. Israel will ask for and the United States will accede to Israel’s request that we commit ourselves militarily to defend Israel’s new frontiers. No Arab government will recognize the new borders. America’s Arab friends will be further estranged.

Every demagogue bidding for power in the Islamic world will, like Iran’s Ahmadinejad, play the Palestinian card.

The suffering of the Palestinian people under the U.S.-Israeli sanctions regime will further radicalize them into hating us as they do Israel. The struggle between Hamas and Fatah over diminishing aid and resources will intensify, degenerating into civil war. Iran will move into the vacuum. Eventually, with aid cut off and no hope of negotiations, Hamas will revert to terror and the third intifada will begin.

Western Europe, its Muslim populations growing in numbers and militancy, will neither recognize Israel’s borders nor endorse U.S. policy. Europe is not going to side with 5 million Israelis, whom they believe to be in the wrong, against 300 million Arabs, who will be 500 million at mid-century.

Rightly, Americans say we will not let Israel be destroyed. But why must we acquiesce in Israel’s annexations of Arab land? Why must we remain silent to her deprivations of the Palestinians?

These questions will puzzle the historians who investigate the astonishing and swift end to U.S. hegemony in the 21st century.