Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Turn This Car Around
Bad Behavior and the Road Map to Peace

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, June 10, 2003 --  

The launch of a new Middle East peace initiative at the start of the summer vacation season provides an instructive reminder of the rules of the road. It is a well-accepted fact that when Dad is driving to a destination, he must say no to the demands of the screaming brats in back who want a detour to every flashy roadside distraction. It is Dad who controls the wheel, and Dad who dictates the way the road map will be followed.

In this measure, President Bush has failed to prove he as what it takes to get to his destination on the "Road Map" to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. He has allowed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to equivocate on terms of the peace proposal in ways that agitate Palestinian militants already itching to force Bush's metaphorical car off the road with a flare-up of violence.

Let it be clear that the onus is on Sharon to prove he is serious about peace. In the analogy of the family vacation, it is he that is the oldest sibling. He leads a developed, Western-oriented state and commands far more authority among his people than can be said for newborn Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who has almost no control over his undeveloped proto-state.

The family analogy is particularly appropriate to describe the relationship between the United States and Israel. A parent has (or should have) a good degree of control over the activities of his child. Similarly, it is hard to overstate the degree of influence the United States has with Israel.

The United States funds about a third of the Israel's $9 billion1 military budget through $2 billion in direct military aid, and $800 million in economic assistance1 that is largely used to pay for past weapons purchases. The large number of Israelis with dual U.S. citizenship strengthens America's influence. America's cultural influence is pervasive in Israeli society. The unspoken truth is that Israel is virtually an American colony.

This strong parental relationship gives Bush an immense amount of leverage that thus far he has declined to employ. Like an indulgent parent who refuses to discipline his spoiled adolescent, the United States has historically failed to punish the Israeli government for even its most obnoxious and destructive behavior -- the bulldozing of Palestinian homes, bombing raids on civilian power plants in Lebanon, extra judicial killings of suspected militants, and the systematic partitioning of the West Bank through its settlement policy. For all this misbehavior, Israel has not once lost a dime of its huge allowance. This is an outrage.

If Bush only had the will to properly discipline his metaphorical child, he could arrive at Middle East peace even before the estimated 2005 time on the Road Map. But he must put his foot down firmly if the United Stats is to get any respect.

Like a juvenile delinquent who has placed his parents in danger, Israel has so mistreated Palestinians as to enrage Arabs into the terrorist attacks on America two years ago. Bush needs to make it clear to the American public that Israel's more heinous acts put America at serious risk -- and that the United States is not going to allow it anymore. With a strong carrot and stick policy of offering and withholding aid, Bush could virtually dictate peace terms to an Israeli government.

Bush's domestic political fallout from such a policy would be substantial. Though he cannot expect to get much of the solidly Democratic Jewish vote, such a disciplinary policy would alienate pro-Israel Christian Conservatives who form a significant part of his political base. Thus, unless Bush is willing to risk re-election for Middle East peace, he is unlikely to give Israel the discipline it so greatly needs.

In the absence of such an approach, it is inconceivable that the current Israeli government will behave in a manner conducive to peace. The far more conciliatory Labor government was unable to make the compromises necessary for peace back in 2000. There is no way Sharon will be willing to do have as much. Since an obnoxiously ill-mannered Sharon will not be forced to behave, Dad has no choice but to "turn this car around," abandoning the Road Map and any hope of reaching the destination of peace.


1. Central Intelligence Agency, CIA World Factbook 2002

2. U.S. Department of State, FY 2003 Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations, April 15, 2002