It's not the first time the United States finds itself on the other side of a squeeze play between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. But with nearly a quarter-million American servicemen and women on duty in the Middle East, talking both sides out of all-out civil war takes on new significance.
Only three months ago President Bush sat down with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in a placid Egyptian resort to imagine "two states living side by side in peace and security." For Mr. Bush, the recipe for peace in the Middle East includes not only a Saddam-less Iraq but also a lasting end to the Israeli-Palestinian fight. A ceasefire between the two sides ensued but, as with summer romance, cold winds did blow.
Daydreams of progress on the roadmap to peace vaporized with a new wave of suicide bombings by Hamas and targeted killings by Israel. Mr. Abbas, a Palestinian point man more palatable to Israeli and American negotiators than Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, gave up and resigned. His successor, Ahmed Qureia, is an Arafat yes-man. "Everyone [must] realize that it is not possible to make peace without Arafat playing the main part," Mr. Qureia said in a June interview.
In the same exchange, Mr. Qureia equivocated on suicide bombings by Hamas and other terror groups. "I personally support a halt to these operations," he told the Lebanese news daily Al-Nahar. "But I am not saying that the current intifada must end.... At the same time that I say martyrdom operations must stop, I [also] say that the Israelis are the terrorists and that they are the ones that use organized state terror."
Those statements, combined with Mr. Qureia's support for Palestinian control of both east and west Jerusalem, gave the Israeli cabinet reason to conclude that the roadmap to peace was going in circles. The cabinet announced it had voted to expel Mr. Arafat "in a manner, and at a time, of its choosing."
Mr. Arafat, who has been under virtual lock and key by Israeli forces, confined to his headquarters in Ramallah, nonetheless rallied worldwide sympathy. He spoke by telephone Sept. 15 to Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi, who later reiterated Iranian support for the Palestinians under Arafat leadership.
Mr. Arafat also spoke by phone to 20,000 supporters in south Lebanon. "We will pray together in Jerusalem as I promised," he told them.
Arafat sympathizers at the UN Security Council rushed through a resolution condemning the Israeli expulsion order. But the Bush administration used its veto power to overturn it. The administration says it won't endorse the Israeli cabinet's expulsion decision, but world representatives can't ignore Palestinian terrorists. "We will not support any resolution that evades the explicit threat to the Middle East peace process posed by Hamas and other such terrorist groups," said John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
U.S. officials don't need a roadmap to see that terror elements aligned against Israel are the same ones targeting the United States in Iraq and, potentially, elsewhere. "Any harm done to Arafat," warned Sultan Abu Al-Einen, general secretary for Mr. Arafat's PLO in Lebanon, "will turn the Palestinians into human bombs that will threaten American and Israeli interests."