The US-Israeli Parallax

Parallel universes exist in the Middle East after the Iraq War. One of them will likely learn a lesson from the other soon enough.

The United States now occupies the land of a largely Arab people, much as Israel has occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip since the 1967 Middle East war. Both occupations were seen as preventive acts, born of defensive necessity. Both created local resentments, resulting in continuing attacks on the occupying soldiers.

And both the US and most Israeli leaders say they won't leave their respective wards until they see a nonthreatening democracy firmly in place.

In Iraq, President Bush appears committed to a plan to reconstruct the country and leave behind a fairly elected government, much in the spirit of a trusteeship, but without the United Nations imprimatur. The work has just begun, and the learning curve will be steep.

Mr. Bush may be wondering, however, if the US might, like Israel, still be an occupier 36 years after a war, denying the local people their due sovereignty and many of their rights, largely because of continuing attacks.

Israel, worried about that same problem, signed onto a peace plan a decade ago - the Oslo Accords - aimed at creating a Palestinian state in much of the occupied territories. But through mistakes by leaders on both sides, "Oslo" fell apart three years ago, leaving a cycle of violence. Each side's "peace camp" is in despair, with hard-liners having the upper hand.

Both Israel and, to a degree, the US, have worries that implanting democracy in the occupied lands won't ensure they will not be used to export terrorism. Bush, however, has faith that democracy will pacify Iraq. Israel doesn't have that faith in the Palestinians, many of whom still want to destroy Israel.

And yet, Bush needs Israel to have that faith, because the US needs to pacify as many Middle Eastern Arabs to undermine support for Al Qaeda-style terrorist attacks on the US.

Thus, the parallel universes need to intersect. So Bush this week handed both Israel and a new Palestinian prime minister a "road map" to creating a Palestinian state by 2005.

The US needs results from this latest "process" of diplomacy, even more than it needed the Oslo Accords. Both occupations need to end soon for the Middle East to prosper and be peaceful. And both universes must operate on the same wavelength.

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