OK, I don't think it's possible to avoid the Middle East any longer. I can't remember a time when things have looked so bleak between Israel and the Palestinians. It's worse now because every alternative path has been discredited. In 2000, the prospects of peace through negotiation went nowhere. Israel offered Yasser Arafat a generous peace plan and he turned it down. (That's not the whole story, but it's a reasonable single line summary.) The big loser—other than the Palestinians—was the Israeli left. "Give peace a chance" seemed a pointless, naive slogan.
But now we are seeing a somewhat similar process with the Israeli right. Sharon has done most of what the right had always dreamed of doing—counteroffensives into Palestinians towns, the virtual reoccupation of parts of it, targeted assassinations. The result: More Israelis have died under his watch than any other prime minister. Sharon campaigned on the notion that his strategy would produce more security for Israelis. It has done exactly the opposite. This is beginning to look for Israel like Algeria did for the French. Sharon said a few weeks ago that the only way you could achieve peace was to batter and bleed the enemy; only then would they make reasonable concessions. There's only one problem with this approach—the other side believes in it as well.
There are those of the Israeli right who argue that more military action will solve the problem. I doubt it. The Palestinians are willing not simply to kill—lots of people do that—but to die for this cause. They can keep up a guerrilla war forever. President Bush implied today that there is a difference between al-Qaida terrorism and Palestinian terrorism. He's right. The former is a nihilistic approach that has no real political demands—other than some sweeping notion that the United States should get out of the world. Palestinian terrorism, on the other hand, is rooted in a political struggle. Even Sharon agrees that there's something to negotiate about. Indeed, even he says that Palestinians should have their own state. The Palestinians are using utterly repugnant means, but they are rooted in political demands that even their occupier agrees are legitimate.
Where does that leave me? God, I don't know. I suppose I favor U.S. engagement and negotiations. But I don't really see them going anywhere. I suppose I favor the Saudi peace initiative. But I don't see it going anywhere. Having promised you a plan, all I have—like everyone else—is pessimism.