Stay the Course, Mr. President

As bad as the situation is in Israel, it would be much worse if the United States turned on its ally. The Administration’s posture has not been perfect, but its policy toward Israel has been quite good and, frankly, much better than I expected.

It is obvious from the difference in tone and substance of statements coming out of the White House and State Department that disagreement exists over Middle East policy. It is hardly surprising that the harsher criticisms of Israel and attempts to be evenhanded have come from Foggy Bottom.The players may change, but the State Department tune remains the same: American interests require stability in the Middle East and Israel is an obstacle to that goal and therefore must do whatever is necessary to make peace. Unless the U.S. leans on Israel, the Arab world will erupt in flames, attack Americans, close the oil spigot and threaten our way of life. What is astounding about the State Department is how it can sustain this reasoning in the face of decades of contrary evidence. Still, it is disappointing that Colin Powell has been unable to change the ingrained Arabist bias.

If history is our guide, the State Department is probably urging the President to adopt draconian measures to force Israel to capitulate to Palestinian demands. Now that it is fully invested in the deeply flawed Mitchell Report, it wants to do everything possible to see it implemented. The Arabists naturally side with the Palestinians who say the root of all evil is the settlements; therefore, Israel must, at a minimum, immediately freeze all activity and, ultimately, dismantle the settlements. The antecedent in the Mitchell Report, that the Palestinians cease all violence, is ignored. Instead, the Arabists buy into the argument that the violence would stop if Israel acted first.

One nightmare scenario is that the State Department will convince the White House to hold up aid and/or arms sales unless Israel stops assassinating Palestinian terrorists, using American-made weapons in retaliatory strikes and raiding Palestinian Authority territory. This would effectively eliminate Israel’s deterrent capability, reward Arab terror and give Arafat the political victory he has long sought by creating a wedge between the United States and Israel.

A second element of the nightmare scenario would be for the State Department to persuade the President to go along with the idea of an international peacekeeping force to “protect” the Palestinians. If such a force was solely composed of Americans, this might have some merit for Israel, but would put U.S. soldiers right in the line of fire. Those in Sinai are in no danger at all and the Administration wants to cut back on that force, so there’s almost no chance of an American force being put in the territories. This means internationalizing the conflict and introducing a group akin to the alleged peacekeepers along the Lebanese border. This group proved not only unable to maintain the peace but to be unwitting (or perhaps witting) accomplices to Hizballah terrorists.

The Administration has mollified the Arabists somewhat by using some degree of threats to inhibit Israel from reoccupying parts of the Palestinian Authority, but President Bush has resisted the pressure to go further. In fact, he has been impressively steadfast in placing the blame for the violence on Arafat and allowing Israel to go against the international grain with its policy of assassinating terrorists.

My fear going into this Administration was that W would follow the example of his father and Eisenhower in using the full weight of the bully pulpit, and Israel’s reliance on American support, to bludgeon Ariel Sharon into a catastrophic capitulation to Palestinian demands. It may be that President Bush has that innate emotional attachment to Israel that Ronald Reagan had that allowed him to grasp the desperate struggle of the island of democracy in the Middle Eastern sea of despotism. Perhaps it is Bush’s deep Christian convictions that have given him an appreciation of Jewish history and an understanding of the Jews’ battle for survival. Or maybe Bush’s Middle East policy is guided by what his friends say is his basic fairness and comprehension of what is right and wrong.

Whatever the reason, to use the words of your father, Mr. President, stay the course. Israel is our friend and ally and it is now, in her time of need, that we must continue to stand by her, as you courageously did in that farcical anti-Semitic convention in Durban. Do not listen to those who would drive a wedge between America and its ally. Do not allow the State Department’s fear of upsetting our erstwhile Arab friends, the ones who helped sabotage the Durban meeting and regularly undermine our interests at the UN, influence you to become evenhanded in a conflict that requires holding one side, the Palestinians, to a minimal standard of human decency.

In May, the President told the American Jewish Committee: “At the first meeting of my National Security Council, I told them a top foreign policy priority is the safety and security of Israel. My Administration will be steadfast in supporting Israel against terrorism and violence, and in seeking the peace for which all Israelis pray.”

Stay that course, Mr. President.