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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

June 04, 2003

Facts on the ground

What I admire so much about this site--Israpundit--is that it allows for a variety of perspectives. Here, for example, is one view--by Richard Cohen of the Washington Post-- that asserts Bush doing a grand job thus far in presenting the Road. Many readers would not agree
[...]For a president who has been accused of doing zilch about the Palestinian-Israeli problem, Bush is suddenly golden. What has happened? In the first place, he effectively sidelined Arafat by refusing to deal with him. Bush quickly determined that the Palestinian leader was a liar who talked about peace but encouraged and permitted terrorism. What Arafat could not win at the bargaining table, he thought he could win by suicide bombings. It has cost him.

But more important, Bush changed the facts on the ground. At one time, the most critical of them was that Israel was surrounded by hostile nations. One by one, though, Arab state after Arab state dropped out of what was once a united front. Now Iraq is gone, too. The facts haven't been changed so much as obliterated.

No one recognized the new situation better than Sharon. He is a keen map reader, and the map has changed. He used to take visiting dignitaries on a helicopter tour of the country to show how exposed it was to foreign invasion -- Tel Aviv being little more than a sniper's shot from the West Bank. For this reason, it was imperative to establish settlements in the West Bank. The pious may have thought they were doing God's bidding, but Sharon -- a secular sort -- was simply looking at the terrain.

The settlements now serve no defensive purpose -- if they ever did. Jordan is not about to attack. Saudi Arabia has internal problems. Egypt has other concerns. Lebanon is a basket case. Syria remains menacing, but by itself it is no dire threat to Israel, and Iraq -- once fearsome -- is now, like the District of Columbia, run by the federal government. All has changed.

The result is that settlements that once were seen as an asset are now a burden -- an occupation. "You may not like the word, but what's happening is an occupation," Sharon told his fellow Likud Party members. "Holding 3.5 million Palestinians is a bad thing for Israel, for the Palestinians and for the Israeli economy."

To the dismay of many, Bush has so far proved effective because he has not shied from using force. He has shown he means what he says. When he said he wouldn't deal with Arafat, he didn't deal with him. When he said he would whack Iraq, he whacked it. When he said he would get involved in the peace process, he did. He not only can bang heads together, he will. His record so far says so.[...]

To the chagrin of those who criticized Bush for doing nothing in the Middle East, to the horror of those who abhor the use of force, the president may succeed where every American president in modern times has failed. Like Alexander, he didn't fuss with the Gordian knot. He cut it. It's called changing the facts on the ground.

For a similar optimistic view, see Brent Scowcroftand John Podhorwitz