Trawl the Palestinian Authority's Web site and you will happen upon the map pictured nearby showing the "historical" Palestine. Some 290 miles long and 85 miles wide with a long border on the Mediterranean, it is surrounded on land by Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The message is unmistakable: This is the Palestine that we want to create. There is no room for an Israel here. Kindly look elsewhere.
The Saudi plan is more PR exercise than peace mission. It proposes returning Israel to the statelet of its 1967 borders -- only eight miles wide at its middle. That would certainly complicate Israeli defenses, especially if Palestinian police keep getting rocket shipments from Iran. Then there are the small matters of the transfer of more than 200,000 settlers and the handover of Jerusalem's Old City. But the real problem with the Saudi plan is that it will not resolve the niggling fact that denying Israel's right to exist is still de facto Palestinian Authority, indeed pan-Arab, policy.
Israel is at war once again. The dispute is not over a chunk of real estate, settlements or holy sites; it is over the Jewish state's right to exist. This isn't new, but it's easily forgotten by those who believe peace is just a question of the right plan with the right diplomats pushing it.
Mr. Sharon has done much that is right on the political side of this war. In sidelining Yasser Arafat as a bargaining partner, he has forced the Palestinian leader to declare his hand. Either he has real influence over the suicide bombers and those who send them to their deaths, or he does not. If he does, Mr. Sharon will talk. If he does not, what's there to talk about? Mr. Arafat has responded by grasping onto the Saudi peace plan, but the suicide bombings and sniper fire continue.
Mr. Sharon's military strategy is measured, and that causes him trouble with both Israeli hawks and peaceniks. In response to his critics, he said this week that "this will be an aggressive and continuous campaign, without letup, and when the other side understands that it can't achieve anything through terror, it will be easier to enter negotiations." In other words, Israel's strategy is to ratchet up the damage until the Palestinians are ready for real negotiations.
Some critics say Israel can't win a drawn-out war of attrition. They point to opposition from a group of Israeli reservists, the escalating divisions within the Sharon government and the growing international concern over the death toll. The suggestion is that Mr. Sharon should look for a chance for jaw-jaw instead.
No normal human being can look at the growing number of body bags and not wonder whether something might be done differently. The past week has been one of the bloodiest since the intifada resumed in September 2000. But it is too early to declare the military strategy a failure.
If the Sharon strategy can be faulted it is probably for being too cautious in pursuing the kingpins of Hamas and Arafat's own Fatah faction of the PLO. Unless those who recruit, equip, organize and inspire terrorist attacks are arrested or killed, the danger to Israeli security will remain and the war will go on.
Mr. Sharon is now addressing this need. Yesterday Israeli forces razed the home of Issam Abu Daka, the fugitive leader of the military wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the man Israelis believe masterminded a deadly assault against an Israeli outpost several months ago. A Hamas activist was killed in his Gaza City home and Israeli troops destroyed several homes of suspected militants. Also yesterday Israeli F-16 warplanes flattened an office building used by the Palestinian "police" chief in Gaza.
Israel has no choice but to wage this kind of war until
its enemies give up the idea of destroying Israel. A real conclusion to
the violence in the Middle East requires Mr. Arafat and his followers to
change the map inside their heads. Until they do, Jews and Palestinians
alike will continue to suffer, and no new "peace plan" will make any difference.