As soon as the long-anticipated war with Iraq has been brought to a temporary close, the United States will be able to get on with the post-September 11 agenda declared by President Bush: the eradication of evil.  Even a minimal definition of evil would include the acts of terrorism inflicted every day by Islamic extremists against the West and its allies.  No war against Islamic terrorism will accomplish much, however, if it is not accompanied by an honest evaluation of the reasons why Muslims around the world look upon the United States as the enemy.  

Part of this hatred may be inevitable: the hatred of the have-nots for the haves, of the defeated for the victors.  But some of the antipathy expressed not just by terrorists but by traditional Muslims stems from what they perceive as American arrogance.  Not content with boasting of our superior firepower and greater wealth, our leaders and pundits, whenever they speak on the subject, claim that people in traditional societies envy our freedom and our way of life; that Muslims, in particular, hate us because of our moral and cultural superiority and not because of anything we have ever done wrong.  Such rhetoric is as insulting as it is false.  Like other Western countries, the United States is undergoing a moral crisis whose dimensions are measured by the rates of divorce, abortion, drug use, television watching, and suicide.

It is time for Americans to turn the volume down on our self-glorification and to consider what lies within our power.  If we really want to succeed, not just in killing terrorists but in reducing the level of hatred in the Muslim world, we shall have to deal with one of the primary causes of that hatred: the festering conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.  Only the United States, with her great wealth and preponderant military forces, has the necessary authority to bring peace to the Middle East, and if, as is likely, the second Gulf War is quickly and successfully prosecuted, the next president—either George W. Bush (reelected against whatever token opposition the Democrats finally put up) or someone who promises to put Americans back to work and to save their pensions—had better return to the most important piece of unfinished business left behind by George Bush I and Bill Clinton.  This is what The Rockford Institute team was told by Shai Feldman, director of the prestigious Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, when we visited at the end of February.

It is not the task of a foreign government (much less a magazine) to dictate the terms of a settlement.  Israel is a sovereign state, possessed of the right of all sovereign states, which is to protect her own interests.  However, Israel’s excessive dependence on U.S. support (of which the billions spent in foreign aid may be the smallest part) has given our government enormous power, which we have not always used wisely.  Before entering, once again, into the perilous waters of the peace process, any U.S. administration should keep in mind a few essential points.

First, Israel is here to stay, and it is entirely unreasonable to demand that any Israeli government sacrifice her security interests.  So long as the Palestinians continue to practice terrorism against women and children, no Israeli government will be able to negotiate.  Israel might never have existed were it not for the terrorist activities of people like Menachem Begin and Itzhak Shamir, but (as the hawkish Efraim Inbar of the Begin-Sadat Center explained to us), Prime Minister David Ben Gurion’s decision to shoot Israeli terrorists proved the legitimacy of the Israeli state.  Now, it is the Palestinians’ turn.  Until they find a substitute for the thoroughly discredited Yasser Arafat, however, negotiations will be impossible.  The same may be said of Ariel Sharon.  Although some Israelis continue to hope that Sharon, as an extreme hawk, will have the necessary credibility to make concessions, his record of brutality and deliberately provocative style may make his removal a sine qua non of the peace process.

The model for an agreement should not be the Versailles Treaty, which ended World War I and started World War II, but the practical negotiations that enabled Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin to come to an agreement.  On that occasion, Begin’s decision to withdraw Jewish settlements from the Sinai was the key to the treaty’s success, and any future agreement will require an Israeli withdrawal from some, but by no means all, of the West Bank settlements.  Virtually everyone in Israel acknowledges that a Palestinian state, in some form, is the only possible guarantee of Israel’s security.  The alternative is to sit back and wait for the high Palestinian birthrate to accomplish what three wars and numberless uprisings have failed to achieve.

A second prerequisite for peace is that the parties must eschew utopian and religious dreams.  The Palestinian exiles, who still brandish the keys to their old houses and are deliberately kept in a state of despair, are the most unyielding obstacle to peace.  They must simultaneously be offered cause for hope—opportunities for citizenship, education, a normal life somewhere in the Arab world—and told plainly that they will never return to occupy Israel.  On the other hand, American evangelicals, with their newfangled millennialist theories that justify the infinite expansion of Israel, must be firmly excluded from all political influence, both over Israel and over U.S. foreign policy.  

For their part, Israelis had better understand that American support is neither unqualified nor unlimited.  The day will come, and it may come all too soon, when ordinary American voters, tired of apparently endless carnage, will force their government to abandon Israel just as it abandoned other allies, such as the Diems of South Vietnam, Marcos in the Philippines, the Somozas in Nicaragua, and the shah of Iran.  Israel’s destiny should be in the hands of Israelis and not in those of American politicians and religious eccentrics.

Peace will not come with a bang to the Middle East, for, in Yeats’ words, “peace comes dropping slow.”  It will require the painful efforts of men who have learned not to trust one another but know that, if they fail to proceed cautiously, it may mean the destruction of Israelis and Palestinians alike and a jihad against the United States of which September 11, 2001, was only a foretaste.