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The Palestinian State Mistake

President Bush's plan to recognize a Palestinian state won't stop terrorism against Israel.

12:00 AM, Jun 20, 2002 • By FRED BARNES
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THE BLOODY TERRORIST ATTACKS on Israel this week, one killing 20 people, the other 7, should be a signal to President Bush. The State Department recently persuaded him that Palestinian conduct would improve and terrorism would cease if only Palestinians had real hope of statehood. And Bush agreed to give a speech supporting a provisional Palestinian state, one without final borders or other details worked out with Israel, but a state nonetheless. The one condition: Palestinians must first clean up their act a bit, reforming Yasser Arafat's administration and cracking down on terrorists. So what happened when news of this upcoming speech spread? More Palestinian terrorism.

If the prospect of a significant shift by Bush in favor of the Palestinians doesn't prompt better behavior, what will? Answer: nothing. It's obvious now that terrorism against Israel is an ingrained part of Palestinian conduct. Polls show the Palestinian people both support terrorism--especially suicide bombings--and back the destruction of Israel as a nation. In the face of this, Arafat has done practically nothing to reform and nothing at all to change public opinion among Palestinians. And there's no evidence he's cracking down on terrorists.

All this ought to be a lesson to Bush. Whatever concessions might be made to Arafat and his regime are highly unlikely to bring about reform and a softening toward Israel--quite the contrary. In the past, Palestinian terrorism has continued through periods when Israelis were making deep concessions in hopes of a peace settlement and during periods when Israeli tanks and troops were occupying Palestinian towns. The Palestinians treated concessions as a sign of weakness and thus a spur to more terrorism that might produce more concessions.

True, the Bush plan, as currently configured, would require the Palestinians to improve their behavior for, say, a year before provisional statehood would be implemented. Realistically, however, this is the same as declaring interim statehood effective immediately. It would be impossible, given pressure from the Arab world and the Europeans, to return to the old status. One way or another, the Palestinians would be found to have reformed sufficiently to qualify for provisional statehood.

Beyond the statehood question, the Bush policy is mistaken in two other ways. First, the underpinning of the policy is an alliance with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, counting on them to lean on the Palestinians. These Arab countries have never done this before. When Arafat was offered a generous settlement by then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak in 2000 and then an even more generous settlement by President Clinton in early 2001, these countries did nothing to persuade Arafat to accept. And he eventually rejected the offers. Meanwhile, terrorism against Israel increased.

Second, the Bush policy is based on the notion that CIA director George Tenet can convince Arafat to totally overhaul and reform his security services. Sure, Arafat has consolidated the security groups into four units. So what? The same people who've winked at Palestinian terrorism--or actually abetted it--would still be in charge of security operations. The likelihood they'll root out terrorists is nil. Arafat, of course, never condemns terrorism against Israel as immoral or evil. His only complaint is it might damage the Palestinian cause.

There's still another reason why Bush should balk at advocating an interim Palestinian state. It goes against what he believes and what he's said. The president is instinctively pro-Israel. He likes Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. He strongly dislikes Arafat and would like to see him replaced. At the moment, Bush is wildly popular in Israel because Israelis know he sees their security as critically important.

Would appeasing Arafat change things for the better? Would it ease Arafat out of office? Hardly. And then there's the Bush doctrine, which holds that not only terrorists, but those who harbor them, are America's and the civilized world's enemies. If anyone qualifies as one who harbors terrorists, it's Arafat. Rather than reward him with provisional statehood, Bush should condemn him for failing to do what he's so often promised to do--end terrorist attacks on Israel. Should Arafat ever actually do this, then peace would be truly at hand. As things stand, however, it's not. And a major new concession to Arafat won't change that.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.