Where Bush needs to nudge

The Palestinians can't lead Arab states toward peace, therefore leadership must come from these states.

Bush 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bush 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
If there was a body language of President George Bush's visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah, it was that of the friendly nudge. "The only way to have lasting peace, the only way for an agreement to mean anything, is for the two parties to come together and make the difficult choices," Bush said with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday. "But we'll help, and we want to help. If it looks like there needs to be a little pressure, Mr. Prime Minister, you know me well enough to know I'll be more than willing to provide it. I will say the same thing to President Abbas tomorrow, as well." Bush seems himself to be finally succumbing to the pressure that he resisted during his whole presidency to see the peace process primarily as a function of US "engagement." At best, engagement means pushing both sides, or even attempting to impose agreement. At worst, it is a euphemism for mainly pushing Israel, the more compliant party, while ignoring the Palestinians' failure to abide by their commitments - even those under the PA's complete control, such as ending official glorification of suicide bombers and incitement against Israel. But the problem with engagement, nudging, and pressure as normally understood is broader and deeper. The first problem is that pressuring Israel backfires because the Palestinians echo international demands and use them as an excuse for doing nothing. The second problem is that the main obstacle to peace is on the Palestinian side, and that removing this obstacle depends primarily on factors outside the Israeli-Palestinian sphere. This is why the rest of Bush's trip, to the Gulf and Egypt, is so important, as is a trip he should take to Europe. It has become blindingly obvious that the Palestinians are incapable of leading the Arab states toward peace, and therefore that leadership must come from these states, not the divided and radicalized Palestinians. As Mamoun Fandy, an Egyptian writing in London's Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, explains, "Anwar Sadat used to say that 99% of the playing cards in the Middle East are in the hands of the United States. On the eve of President George Bush's visit to the Arab region, I say that 99% of the playing cards, and a solution in the Middle East, are in the Arabs' hands." "What if one or more of the Arab leaders ... [invited] Syrian President Bashar Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to meet with them in the presence of President Bush? Let the meeting take place in Egypt or Abu Dhabi, for example. This could be the drama that changes public opinion in the West, the US and Israel on the Arabs' seriousness regarding peace" (translation by www.memri.org). Fandy is right. The Arab states need not wring their hands fruitlessly if they really want Bush to succeed in brokering a peace deal this year. These states can do much more than Israel or the US can to signal to the Palestinians that it is time to end the Arab war against Israel and to build a peaceful Palestinian state. One suspects, of course, that these states may not be quite as committed to peace with Israel as they sometimes say, and even if they are, that they will not risk leading while Iran seems poised to extend a nuclear umbrella over its jihadist proxies. Accordingly, Bush should propose to the Arab states a bargain: You break the ice with Israeli leaders; I'll go to Europe to press them to dramatically ratchet up the sanctions against Iran. If Iran is going nuclear and the Arab states remain in their wait-and-see mode, nudging Olmert and Abbas will produce nothing this year. If, on the other hand, the Arab states start extending a hand to Israel, and the inevitability surrounding an Iranian bomb is punctured, then there is a chance that Abbas will crack down on terrorism and stop incitement, and that real progress toward a sustainable Israeli-Palestinian deal can be achieved. This week, Tawfik Hamid, a former disciple of arch-terrorist Ayman al-Zawahiri, told The Jerusalem Post that any Israeli concessions should be conditioned on the "demonstrable sustained abandonment of incitement in the media, the mosques, and the educational system." This is what Bush should be telling the Arab world, and what the US should be closely monitoring and pressing to make sure it happens. The first prerequisite for peace is ending Arab incitement to terrorism, hatred and war.