The most striking thing about President Bush's anxiously awaited statement on an "interim" Palestinian state is that it wasn't a statement on an "interim" Palestinian state.
Bush never even uttered the word "interim." He used the synonym, "provisional," only twice - once to say that establishment of such a state would come about "when the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements," and once to say that Americans will "support the creation of a provisional state of Palestine" only if Palestinians "embrace democracy, confront corruption and firmly reject terror."
So we must conclude that in the battle that has raged in recent days over this statement of American vision in the Middle East, the forces fighting for moral clarity have emerged victorious. Bush continues to insist that terrorism - the intentional killing of noncombatants for political purposes - is simple evil. And, unlike some of our more sophisticated European friends, he believes terrorism is evil even if those slaughtering other people's children claim "legitimate grievances," and even if it's only those irritating Israelis who are being murdered. And, crucially, Bush refuses to support the creation of a state built on and committed to utilizing such evil in pursuit of policy goals.
Give Bush high marks, too, for refusing to buy into the usual Western prejudice that Palestinians and Arabs are not capable of rejecting terrorism and embracing democracy. By going over Yasser Arafat's head to tell Palestinians they "deserve democracy and the rule of law .an open society and a thriving economy," he is proposing that a Palestinian state should also be a democratic state - the first and, for now, only such state that would exist in the Arab world.
Speaking of the Arab world, Bush spoke sternly to Syria, saying that it's time Damascus closed its terrorist training camps and expelled the many terrorist organizations it currently hosts. He said, too, that he expects those Arab nations who call themselves America's allies to "build closer ties of diplomacy and commerce with Israel, leading to full normalization of relations between Israel and the entire Arab world." (Won't the arrival of the first Saudi tourists to Jerusalem be a marvelous feature story?)
Of course, the big news in Bush's statement was his clear signal that Arafat is history. Bush said so - though without mentioning Arafat's name - at least twice: 1) "Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership" and 2) "I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror."
How the Palestinians acquire these new, different, and reformed leaders is their responsibility, and one that will not be easily discharged.
The most troubling section of the speech: Bush's call to "rebuild and reform" Palestinian security services. In the past, these services have been at least complicit with the terrorists. Genuinely reforming them - turning them into an effective counterterrorist strike force - will be a challenge. A more realistic approach would be to persuade the security services to very quietly assist the Israeli effort.
There also were some significant issues that Bush omitted. High among
them: The brainwashing of Palestinian children - by Palestinian Authority teachers, religious leaders, and media - to despise Jews and to aspire to become human bombs and mass murderers. The passions unleashed by such indoctrination are difficult to rein in. Following World War II, Germany required a nation-wide de-Nazification campaign. Without something similar, it's hard to see how young Palestinians will learn to live in peace with Jewish neighbors.
Nevertheless, the president's speech was admirable - at least from the point of view of those who favor a comprehensive and ultimately decisive war against terrorism. Bush did not back off his uncompromising formulation that "nations are either with us or against us in the war on terrorism" - in fact, he repeated those exact words.
And he refused to lend legitimacy to the increasingly fashionable notion that if Israelis really don't want to be murdered, they'd better return to a policy of appeasement, of making concessions to their murderers.
For months, the mantra of those who condone terrorism has been that there "must be a political solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yesterday, President Bush proposed one and it's this: Those Palestinians who are more interested in creating a Palestinian state than in destroying a Jewish one must choose leaders who side with America in the war on terrorism, leaders who are willing and able to establish a state that is free, democratic, and an American ally.
Right now, there is only state in the Middle East that can serve as a model. It's name is Israel.