Last week, standing next to Prime Minster Ariel Sharon, President Bush reminded us that he is, in fact, the most pro-Israel president in history. That is not a criticism; it is high praise, because by positioning himself that way President Bush is making himself the most pro-democracy president in history. Israel, after all, is the only democracy in the Middle East. Think about that: 21 Arab countries (the Palestinian Authority makes 22), and not one democracy. And the realpolitik thinking is that we need to be neutral with Israel, which means neutral toward democracy. That's wrong.
At the same time, President Bush is the first president to call for a Palestinian stateand it looks like, in reality, it will start in the Gaza strip. Democracy needs to take hold before we move too fast, thoughthere is no sense in building another pre-2004 Libya or pre-2004 Iraq. With Arafat and his troops in charge, that is exactly what we will get: As of now, there are suicide bombings and they don't even have a state yet; why expand on and enable that? Keep in mind, Arafat is the chairman of Fatah, the largest segment of the PLO, and to this day its official emblem is the whole of Israel covered by a grenade, a machine gun, and a rifle.
Let's stop the nonsense that President Bush is hurting the peace process. If anything, he is standing up for a true peace process, demanding democratic reform from the side that needs it most. He is not rewarding terrorism and suicide bombings with immediate statehood. That is a strong hand, and the right hand.
President Bush made it clear that Israel will not be pressured to relinquish all of the West Bank, but rather that institutions are larger than peoplewhich is to say, democracy and peace is a condition of further Israeli withdrawals in the West Bank. Get rid of terrorism, instill and install new leadership, then talks of withdrawal can progress.
Prime Minister Sharon, of course, is withdrawing from all of Gaza. But the Jews in the West Bank can breathe a sigh of relief for now: The West Bank (with such important places like Hebron and parts of Jerusalem) will not be Judenrein. President Bush is saying we will not make Israel nine-miles wide at its most vulnerable point. And he is putting a stop to the idea that 200,000 Jews living in the West Bank are the obstacle to peace because two million Arabs live there. One of the lessons we learned in the civil-rights movement of the 1960s was that when a minority wants to live in certain neighborhoods, it is a perversion for the majority to blame that desire for strife and unrest. To prevent a minority from living amongst a majority is, in fact, racism. Arabs live freely in Tel Aviv, Jews should be able to live in Hebron and East Jerusalem.
The old thinking that we need to be neutral between Israel and the Palestinians or that we need to maintain stability in the region by working with current leadership was shattered by 9/11. We learned in the aftermath of 9/11 that we cannot be neutral between "civilization and terror, because there's no neutral ground between good and evil, freedom and slavery, and life and death." And, we learned that anti-democratic governments, especially when fueled by Islamist or nationalist hatred, are anything but stable and will attack democracies. To flood Israel with millions of refugees; to establish full statehood in the atmosphere of suicide bombs strapped to women and children who intend to blow up civilians throughout Israel; and to ask for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the entirety of the West Bank would be to reward terrorism. That, we do no longer.
As for the claim that the U.S. has encouraged further killing of Hamas leaders in the wake of the Rantisi killing, few things could parse less honestly. In the first place, as far back as last June, Israel announced the policy of targeting Hamas leaders and, in fact, tried to take Rantisi out. This is the same Rantisi, by the way, who applauded the Hamas bombing of a cafeteria at Hebrew University in 2002 that killed five Americans. Israel's action is little different from ours when we launched a Hellfire missile at a bin Laden associate in Yemen, killing him and five others in his car.
All in all, President Bush's actions were a benchmark moment for a true peace process, because the hand of democracy was strengthened and the effort to democratize another segment of the Arab world was ennobled. This deserves plaudits from those who believe in the universal principles of democracy. The spread of democracy is not a badge of imperialism; it is the one true guarantor of peace and sovereigntya lesson that Americans taught the world just over 200 years ago.