On Sunday, Israel's ruling Likud Party overwhelmingly rejected the idea of a Palestinian state, in complete defiance of the position advanced by President Bush, who sees the establishment of a Palestinian state as the only solution to resolving the Middle East conflict. A Palestinian nation is also a key that will open up opportunities for the United States to once again establish a new order in the Middle East, one that will safeguard America and American interests from terrorism and the growing anti-Americanism in the Muslim world.
The Likud vote was not only a slap in the face for President Bush but also a warning shot for the party's own leader, Ariel Sharon, who has acknowledged the inevitability of a Palestinian state. But the most devastating consequence of the Likud statement is the message it sends to the Palestinians. If the Likud has its way, it will leave the Palestinians with only three options -- eternal occupation and life without freedom and dignity forever, forcible expulsion or ethnic cleansing (a policy preferred by some Republicans, such as Dick Armey), or a fight to the finish.
The Likud vote also threatens the balance of power within the Palestinian community. About 80 percent of Palestinians currently favor a two-state solution and are willing to live in peaceful coexistence with Israel. But nearly 20 percent of Palestinians support Hamas and Islamic Jihad, terrorist groups that stand for the complete extermination of the Jewish state and, like the Likud, favor only a one-state solution to the crisis. While Hamas and the Likud may use different means -- the former preferring suicide bombers, and the latter preferring strategic bombers, helicopters, tanks and barricades -- it seems that they mirror each other in their intransigence and anti-peace ideologies. The Likud vote to reject the Palestinian state will certainly make Hamas and its methods more popular in the occupied territories. Benyamin Netanyahu, the most extreme of Israeli voices and the architect behind the Likud vote, is fast becoming the recruiter-in-chief of suicide bombers for Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
The Palestinian Authority is already screaming foul. Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, saw the vote as a naked expression of the Israeli government's true intention -- to eliminate the Palestinian cause. Washington as usual is playing down the issue. Israel continues to take steps that make peace impossible, and Washington merely responds by reaffirming its support of the Israeli government's hawkish agenda. The U.S. government and the media, important elements of which have often functioned as an arm of the government since Sept. 11, have made issuing ultimatums to Arafat and the Palestinians an art form. But when it comes to Israel, they are eager to work overtime as damage-control subcontractors. In fact the Israeli media often puts the American media to shame when it comes to fair and balanced reporting on the subject.
At the moment, the Bush administration is promising a Palestinian state in the near future if the Palestinians give up their armed struggle against Israel. But if the Palestinians do comply, can Bush deliver? It seems that the Israelis have more influence in the Congress and the media than the White House does -- and they are in no mood to toe the president's line on this crucial issue. Who should the Palestinian leadership listen to? Should they take the American president seriously and condemn violence and give up their only effective weapon -- suicide bombings -- or should they listen to the Israeli ruling party and get ready for Armageddon? After all, wasn't it an American, Patrick Henry, and not a Palestinian, who said, "Give me liberty or give me death"?
There is hope still. Let's not concede victory to Netanyahu and his extreme designs. Even as the warmongering Likuds were rejecting the vision of their own leader Sharon and the American president, thousands of Israelis -- perhaps more than 100,000 -- marched on May 11 calling for peace, withdrawal and an end to occupation. The Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres himself, perhaps anticipating the Likud vote, declared that the best thing that could happen for both Palestinians and the Israelis was the creation of a Palestinian state. He also reflected that it was perhaps a mistake not making a Palestinian state the immediate goal of the Oslo accords.
The first intifada led to Oslo. The second has led to suicide bombings, reoccupation and war crimes. Both communities continue to suffer. But there is a difference. While the international community refuses to deal with Palestinian extremists who reject the Israeli state, Israeli extremists like Netanyahu who reject a Palestinian state get to address the U.S. Senate and are given private audiences with the vice president.
It is time to end all double standards and for the United States and the international community to reject all extremists. Before the region falls into despair and self-destructs, we must move ahead aggressively to enforce a just peace in the Middle East.