Hmmm. In for a dime, in for a dollar, I guess.
President Bush today overturned two generations of bipartisan American policy by endorsing the annexation of large parts of the West Bank by Israel. He also ruled out a right of return for Palestinians (or their descendents) who lived in what is now Israel proper before 1948.
Some of this is important merely at the level of symbolism or rather how it affects America's role as something remotely like a fair arbiter in the conflict. Israel will never -- really, could never -- accept a true right of return. It would mean the end of Israel as a majority Jewish state -- its raison d'Ãªtre.
But earlier plans have called for some symbolic right of return -- some compensation or a return for some limited number of individuals. (I believe some earlier plan pegged a number at around 50,000. But I may remember that wrong.) The more important point, however, is that it is a point of negotiation between the two parties. And while I think it's clear that Israel will never allow a right of return for the descendents of anyone who lived within Israel's current border before 1948, having the US rule it out altogether simply makes us the enforcer of the policies not just of Israel but of this particular Israeli government.
And that brings us one step closer to the complete identity of viewpoints, interests and policies between the United States and Israel, which is really not a good thing for either Israel or the United States -- particularly not when this Israeli government is in power.
The White House is dressing this up as some way to break the logjam in the peace process. But that's clearly a joke. The Post notes how it could make for a good politics for a desperate president. But I'll let others decide whether that was really the key motivating factor.
According to the Post, a few White House officials said -- and here the Post is paraphrasing -- that "a desire to avoid further alienating Arab opinion helped keep the White House from backing all of Sharon's plan." But when you read the various articles you can see that, for all practical purposes, Sharon got everything he wanted -- really, almost more than he could have hoped for, even from this president.
The AP puts the matter a bit more clearly when it writes: "A senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Sharon thought that no American president had ever made concessions so important to Israel as Bush did on Wednesday."
It's really sort of odd, when you think about it, since we have a few irons in the fire across the desert in Iraq, and this might not be the best time to unilaterally endorse a policy of dictation by Israel toward the Palestinians.
But what the hell? Like I said, in for a dime, in for a dollar.
And after all, Sharon doesn't "hate freedom" so what could be the problem?