Power Politics in the Middle East; Domestic Constraints Limit U.S. Leverage in Israeli-Palestinian conflict.(OPED)

Article excerpt

Byline: Tod Lindberg, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The twists and turns of the Bush administration's Middle East diplomacy are the product of the interaction of two basic truths: Everybody knows what the final status looks like, and nobody has the foggiest idea of how to get from here to there.

As for the final status, it goes something like this: Israel withdraws to something like the 1967 borders, with suitable adjustments and offsets, leaving the West Bank (along with Gaza) to become the state of Palestine. The Israeli West Bank settlers return to Israel proper. Jerusalem acquires some international status. The Palestinian "right to return" is established as a right to return to Palestine, not Israel. All Arab states open full diplomatic relations with Israel. An international peacekeeping force deploys in the area for a while.

Israelis and Palestinians get a chance to lead normal lives. For Palestinians, nation-building replaces resistance to occupation as the main event of local politics. For Israelis, a proper international border with a solid fence and a government on the other side brings the prospect of peace through strength and deterrence.

Now, to be sure, this final status is not to everyone's liking. But it seems likely that if someone could just transport us all from where we are now to the final status described above, the result would be accepted with relief by majorities in Israel and Palestine and also by Americans, Europeans and others.

But there is, of course, no such mode of instantaneous transport. So instead, we seek the next best thing - a map showing a plausible route from here to there.

President Bush yesterday made a major speech trying to offer such a map because an earlier speech was derailed by yet another Palestinian suicide bombing. Israel, in response to the attack, moved more troops into the West Bank. There is a sense in which the Bush administration has been made to look foolish by events: What good is a speech in the context of another couple dozen dead civilians? But I don't think the fumbling and false starts from the administration are the end of the story. And that's because the fumbles actually serve a useful pedagogical purpose.

Ever since the Oslo process broke down - or, as I think what happened may more accurately be described, dissolved on its own contradictions - there has been a persistent cry for the United States to intervene and "solve" the problem once and for all. …