Say that George Bush has not advanced the cause of peace in Israel, if you like, but dont say that Bush is responsible for Israels diminished safety. It is not true. The historical record does not bear it out.
A review of recent Israeli history reveals a picture quite different from the supposed lack of American “engagement” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The reasons for Israels diminished safety are twofold: excessive American involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and incompetence at the top in Israel.
As the US presidential campaign heats up, some say that the US is not sufficiently “engaged” in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its a mantra, without basis in recent Israeli history.
Observe: The most recent, intensive American involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict exacerbated it. This involvement was the 11-day, Bill Clinton focus on Palestinian leader Arafat and Israeli leader Barak at Camp David in 2000. Clinton was going to compel the leaders to reach a settlement. Clinton was going to lock them up until all final status issues were resolved. Clinton was going to devote his energies to this full time. Talk about American involvement!
The result was Arafats rejection of every American (and Israeli) idea. And not only that. Arafat resented the American pressure so much that he laid plans for the second intifada, which began two months later.
“Second intifada.” A very dry term for unceasing Palestinian suicide attacks on Israeli civilians, in Israeli cities, on buses, in playgrounds, at discotheques, in pizza shops, in cafes, at Passover seders.
The lesson that any reasonable American administration, Democrat or Republican, would learn from that is: Be careful not to over-engage.
Americans tend to believe that there is a ready solution to every problem; and, if it is not being resolved, this only means that Americans are not trying hard enough. Very naive. Very ignorant of realities in the Middle East.
So what did George Bush do? He let Israel fight the Palestinian terrorists the only way possible: with force. That, not “engagement” with Israelis and Palestinians, was the wisest possible course. When Israel was faced with existential crises, Bush let Israel take care of business including the construction of the security fence. In this, Bush contributed mightily to Israeli security and deserves praise, not blame.
If so, one may ask, why is Israel less safe now than when Bush took office? Because of major sins of omission and of commission by Israels leadership, particularly the Sharon government.
Sharons major sin of omission was to take his eye off the ball in the north. Sharon ignored the massive Hezbollah build up in Lebanon. In this, he built on another major Israeli mistake committed by another Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, who withdrew from southern Lebanon in May, 2000 unilaterally. This sent a signal of Israeli weakness and fatigue to Hezbollah. Barak and Sharon not Bush are responsible for the diminishment of Israels safety from the north.
Sharons major sin of commission was his unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in August, 2005. Thats why Hamas now rules Gaza. True, Bushs pushing the Palestinian election in Gaza in 2006 did not help, but with or without Hamas electoral triumph in January, 2006, Palestinian leaders were of one mind in exploiting the earlier Israeli withdrawal to launch new terrorist attacks on southern Israel, not to build a beautiful Gaza. Bushs encouragement of Sharons unilateral move did not help, but this was Sharons initiative, not Bushs.
And please. A little honesty. Liberal Democrats, the same as conservative Republicans, praised Sharons unilateral withdrawal. And they praised Israels unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. They all said that Israels renunciation of land, even unilaterally, brings peace.
Today, some very vocal voices would place the blame for Hamas and Hezbollah’s rise on George Bush, and would have us believe that greater US “engagement” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could have prevented that. This is partisan politics, not good history. More than any American engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel needs new leadership.