President Bush's Wednesday-evening speech on terrorism contains an implied promise: That a new effort to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians will follow the disarming of Iraq.
Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would deal Al Qaeda and other terrorists a serious blow. To be sure, the decades-old dispute is not the cause of Islamist terrorism. But it is a major contributing factor.
Take the analogy of fire: Long ago, fire-safety experts came up with the "fire triangle": heat, fuel, and oxygen. None alone causes fire. But deprive it of any of these elements, and fire cannot exist.
Today's Al Qaeda terrorism is similar. The Israeli-Palestinian dispute gives it desperately needed oxygen. It fans the flames of hatred among disaffected Muslims, giving them a convenient foreign scapegoat for their many domestic problems. Take away that oxygen, and Osama bin Laden's forces would be far harder-pressed for recruits, financing, and sympathy.
Should war with Iraq break out, many moderate Arab governments who support or acquiesce in US action will be out on a limb. They will expect strong US diplomacy to solve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in return. Their survival may depend on it.
Mr. Bush's speech rightly renewed his commitment to the "road map" offered by the US, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations. That document would end the conflict and create a Palestinian state by 2005. But it will take tough, persistent persuasion to get Israel and the Palestinians to stop dithering and commit to the plan.
The requirements for peace are fairly obvious: Israel must abandon illegal West Bank settlements, give up unlawfully annexed territory on the Golan Heights, and compromise on Jerusalem's future status. The Palestinians must end attacks on Israelis, surrender the idea that millions of Palestinians can "return" to reclaim major parts of Israel, reform their government, and likewise come to terms on Jerusalem.
The US can help by giving Palestinians the hope it won't simply grant hard-line Israeli governments a free hand to pursue their policies.
A focused and more neutral US effort on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is key to snuffing out Al Qaeda's terror plots and protecting the US homeland. A "let burn" policy would be unacceptable and dangerous.