U.S. must remain a credible peacemaker

The U.S. has a moral mandate to remain neutral in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Love him or revile him, Ariel Sharon is a leader with a vision and the means to carry it out. The same cannot be said for Yasser Arafat.

Sharon, the right-leaning Israeli prime minister, has moved decisively to withdraw Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and take action – controversial though it might be – against Hamas, a militant group bent on the destruction of Israel. Israeli helicopters struck and assassinated Hamas chief Abdel Aziz Rantisi on Saturday, spurring a new wave of Palestinian outrage.

Arafat and the bureaucratic quasi-state entity he heads – the Palestinian Authority – once had the means to prevent all this. But Arafat failed to corral the militant forces within the West Bank and Gaza Strip and did little – other than publicly denouncing each subsequent suicide bombing – to stem the tide of violence. And so, deserved or not, Israel’s current policies must be understood as a natural outgrowth of the Palestinian Authority’s utter failure to use its security forces to keep tabs on Hamas and other groups of militants.

That said, Sharon’s policy coup in convincing President George W. Bush to agree to the Israeli withdrawal plan is disturbing, especially in that it’s a unilateral decision. This board has rarely supported unilateral action by any state, and this is no exception. The Palestinians have been left out of negotiations, and the result will only be further mistrust and violence.

On a broader level, this exacerbates the United States’ already tenuous status as a credible peacemaker in the Middle East. Given U.S. commitments in Iraq and elsewhere, this is unacceptable. The United States has a moral mandate to remain a neutral arbiter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Bush has abandoned that role. The Palestinians will continue to suffer at the hands of the Israelis unless they gain a powerful voice.

Compounding the situation is the fact that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry publicly endorsed Bush’s backing of Sharon’s withdrawal plan Sunday.

Given Bush’s philosophy on terrorism, his views on Palestinian militancy certainly are no surprise. But it is disappointing in the extreme that Kerry has given in and joined Bush in supporting a misguided and wrongheaded policy.