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Bush Israel visit study in contradiction

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Interpreting United States’ foreign policy with regard to Israel is about to become more difficult.

Bush is on the ground in Israel and in the Palestinian territories talking about getting both of Abraham’s sons (figuratively speaking) on the road to peace from the gutter where they’ve been tussling for 4,000 years.

The president articulated his vision for a “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian land crisis early in his second term, but he hasn’t grabbed that political hot potato with both hands until recent months.

Altruistic motives likely played a part in the president’s decision to go to Israel this late in his tenure. And it’s not surprising that the president would want to leave a lasting legacy of stability in the region. The legacies of all presidents since Jimmy Carter rise and fall based on how they deal or have dealt with the nations of the Middle East. This in no way implies that Carter’s peace accord between Israel and Egypt has produced a paradigm of successful negotiation or substantive results (reference the refusal of Egypt to curb the flow of weapons and terrorists into Gaza).

What is surprising about this historic visit, however, are two very stark contradictions.

First, President Bush will be meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. That means he will not be meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud opposition party.

Netanyahu, if you’ll recall, does not wish to yield territory to the Palestinians without security assurances and is the famed politician who wants to give Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists the mother of all shellackings — the same goal President Bush has articulated on various occasions. Olmert, on the other hand, stands in the tradition of Ariel Sharon, who agreed in his final days in office to cease expansion of Jewish settlements into what western news agencies call “the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Netanyahu and his Likud allies have regarded the absence of dialogue between Israeli hawks and Bush as a presidential “snub.” Danny Ayalon, a former Israeli envoy to the United States, told the Israeli Broadcasting Authority a day before the visit that he was not sure the last word had been said on the issue.

If no meeting materializes between Netanyahu and the president, Netanyahu should not count it as a diplomatic faux pas. President Bush typically doesn’t meet with opposition leaders, unless he’s promoting a democratic alternative to a corrupt government.

The fact that the president doesn’t share Netanyahu’s goal of maintaining Israeli settlements in the West Bank, however, is a legitimate gripe for the former prime minister. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said prior to the president’s trip that he is opposed to new construction in any location viewed by Palestinians as their territory, including Har Homa, a new Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem. By the time both sides (excluding Netanyahu) are finished negotiating, the new settlement may be firmly within Arab territory anyway.

It seems a bit odd to negotiate for peace without all the parties being involved, but this is President Bush’s record (though limited) with regard to the West Bank and Gaza. In fact, as National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley reminded in the president’s travel briefing a few days ago, Bush supported Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza, which Hadley characterized as “the end of the vision of greater Israel.” Such talk is likely to shock my Southern Baptist brethren who are of the dispensational stripe.

After the peace conference in Annapolis, Md., late last year — the one where some Arab diplomats said before the conference they would not shake the hands of Jewish negotiators — and in subsequent conversations since, White House officials have been vague about what the president’s “two-state solution” will look like. Both Hadley and Rice have said this is largely up to the Israelis and Palestinians to determine. In other words, President Bush isn’t so much looking for a final solution to the problem of Palestinian statehood as he is in getting the sides to agree “what it would look like.”

For Israel, it will require security, which brings us to the second contradiction.

Following the president’s parlay in Israel and the Palestinian territories, he’ll board Air Force One and fly to a host of Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia. There, he’ll offer the Saudis a $20 billion arms deal – high tech JDAM munitions for busting bunkers and the like. If Congress doesn’t object within 30 days, the sale will go through.

One can only guess why the United States would promise security to the Israelis and then arm a nation that will not allow a Jew to set foot on its soil. Granted, there are other considerations here, namely keeping Iran in its geographic doghouse, but the logic seems flawed as long as the United States serves as an effective deterrent to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad’s ambitions in the region.

For their part, the Israelis haven’t opposed the sale and won’t, as long as they get two newer versions of the bombs which — according to the Jerusalem Post — maintain the Israeli Defense Force’s “qualitative edge over the Saudis, who would receive the standard smart bomb kit.” If it sounds both horrifying and amusing at the same time, it is. And if it seems as if Israel comes out on the losing end of that deal, it does. The Saudis likely will share the technology with their Arab neighbors. Quality may someday be overpowered by quantity.

So it seems as if we are embarking on another road to peace that leads only to a sort of political box canyon. There is a way in, but no way out. In this kind of situation, peace for the Israelis means they may soon be able to sleep with only one eye open.

America has and should continue to be Israel’s strongest political ally. Though imperfect, she is the only consistently functioning, western-style democracy in the region, and she is seated among a dozen despotic states. This is reason enough to support the people of Israel — Jewish and Arab. But whatever accord, whatever agreement, whatever promise comes out of the Middle East, we should always remember that peace in this world is fleeting, especially for Israel.

We were reminded of that more than 2,500 years ago when the Lord spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, “They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace.”

Not yet, anyway. Not this side of the Christ’s return.
Gregory Tomlin is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.

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