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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

It Takes Two to Tango In Middle East Peace

It will be many months before elections are held in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Palestinians decide whether to follow U.S. President George W. Bush's imperative to oust Yasser Arafat as their president. That is the choice Bush has offered: Elect "new leaders, not compromised by terror" and his country will help secure an independent Palestine.

In the meantime, Bush expects the Palestinian people to adopt a new constitution, fight terrorism and reform its government. The problem is, the president's long-awaited Middle East policy speech lacked a definitive strategy to accomplish those goals.

While Bush clearly articulated his commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the speech overlooked the reality of Palestinian life today. How are Palestinians to meet his demands when their government is in disarray and their people besieged again by Israeli military forces?

In April, Bush delivered a tough and eloquent speech that spared no one blame, neither Palestinian nor Israeli, for the deadly stalemate in this 22-month conflict. But he has focused now almost entirely on the Palestinians and the choices they must make to secure a state of their own and peacefully resolve the cycle of violence and retribution. He has delivered a quid pro quo that conflicts with the basic tenets of democracy.

And if the Palestinians exercise their democratic right to elect representatives of their choice and the Hamas patrons of suicide bombers join the Palestinian parliament, then what? If Palestinians decide to retain Arafat as their president, how will the Bush administration respond?

Given 1,428 Palestinian deaths since the conflict began in September 2000, the Israeli army incursions into towns and villages and the Israeli prime minister's refusal to deal with Arafat, Palestinians may be less than eager to accede to Bush's demand, even if they view Arafat as corrupt and ineffectual.

Bush's pledge to support a Palestinian state and his three-year timetable for its eventual birth don't translate as that much- needed incentive for Palestinians to denounce violence, because its eventuality is contingent on so many preconditions.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his government shouldn't ignore Bush's challenge "to take concrete steps" to support a viable Palestine. But it's hard to believe Sharon would move to freeze settlement activity in the Palestinian territories unless under duress; he is too busy marshaling his army in Palestinian cities.

On that matter, Bush offered tepid words. The continued presence of Israeli tanks and soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip can only work against Bush's intention that Palestinians move forward to "choose peace and hope and life."

This comment appeared as an editorial in The Baltimore Sun.