IF Saddam Hussein is facing his moment of truth, President Bush
is confronting in the Middle East the defining moment of his
That the battle against tyranny is being won is now
incontestable. The way things have been going on the battlefield
should have sobered many doubters. What will come after the guns
fall silent, however, is the real challenge. At the center of this
challenge is the Palestine problem.
Now that the war has been going on for a month, the controversy
over linkage or no linkage has become meaningless. The practical,
cynical linkage has been nailed.
Not so the moral linkage. The cynicism with which an inherently
just cause was, and is, still being manipulated does not make it
less just or less urgent. Few causes have been as blatantly
exploited to serve the narrow interests of some groups or rulers as
the Palestinian issue.
Nevertheless, few disinterested people could now deny that among
all the Middle East's problems this issue is the most important.
Furthermore, the Palestinian issue readily intertwines with and
complicates all other problems in the region. How much more at ease
we could all feel had we worked in a more sustained manner to
resolve a problem that has been with us for some 43 years.
The nightmares that many experience when Saddam's largely
"political" missiles, as President Mubarak described them, are fired
at Israel should go a long way toward making people rethink their
reluctance to give the Palestinian cause the priority it deserves.
Paradoxically, the Gulf war presents us with an unprecedented
opportunity. The indivisibility of the security of the region has
become apparent. Few states, within or outside the area, can claim
they have no stake in the resolution of the Palestine problem.
Still more significant is the change in attitude of the Arab Gulf
states, which in the past had reckoned they need not be involved in
the Arab-Israeli conflict beyond extending financial assistance to
It is hardly a secret among Washington policymakers that some of
these oil-rich states, which have borne most of the financial cost
of the Arab-Israeli conflict, recently made it clear to visiting
Americans that they would now accept full normalization of relations
with Israel - provided it takes place within an overall solution of
the Arab-Israeli conflict. At the root of that conflict, they firmly
believe, is the Palestinian problem.
Since Israel has recently insisted on establishing peaceful
relations with its neighboring Arab states as a precondition for
settling its dispute with the Palestinians, this new development in
the attitude of the Gulf countries is of critical importance.
In this context, a properly structured international conference
should be convened. And the appropriate time is soon after the Gulf
Only in such a venue can we resolve all the complex issues
related to the solution of the Palestinian problem, the
normalization of relations among all states of the region, and the
formulation of security arrangements needed to rid the region of all
weapons of mass destruction.
All these issues require the involvement of the big powers, not
to impose their will but rather to mediate, facilitate, and provide
the necessary guarantees, as well as the economic aid without which
the mammoth task of reconstruction will be impossible. …