In his long-awaited Mideast peace proposal, George W. Bush became the first U.S. president to formally endorse the notion of a Palestinian state, but lest anyone think he had suddenly gone soft on terrorism, he took a courageous and unambiguous stand against the the current Palestinian leadership.
Without mentioning Yasser Arafat's name, the president rightly called for the Palestinian people to get themselves new leaders. Arafat and his Palestinian Authority have not only proved to be unreliable partners in the peace process, they are enablers and sometimes participants in the recent wave of suicide bombing attacks that have killed scores of Israeli civilians and children.
For Bush to encourage the formation of a provisional Palestinian state with no plan to abate the violence would be tantamount to rewarding terrorism - the last thing he would do.
Instead he's giving the Palestinian people a choice. They can opt for Arafat and more terrorism against Israel (and the resulting consequences of Israeli occupation of their territories) or they can choose moderate leadership that's sincerely interested in negotiating a workable peace with their neighbors and to benefit from support and aid of the U.S. and global communities.
If the Palestinians can hold honest, fair democratic elections as President Bush urged in his speech, there's a good chance the "silent majority" will vote for the path to peace. When people are allowed to express their political sentiments without fear of reprisal from totalitarian thugs, they will almost always pick peace over war, prosperity over poverty, safety over fear.
In addition to holding honest elections, Bush also called for building blocks to create a true democratic Palestinian state - a freely elected legislature, an independent judiciary, and reforming the security services to serve the people instead of their oppressors.
But not all the onus was put on Palestinians to show good faith efforts to make peace. The president also urged the Israelis to withdraw from the occupied West Bank, including Israeli settlements, and to unfreeze Palestinian revenues to help out the devastated Palestinian economy.
So far the response to the president's proposal has been a good deal less than enthusiastic from both Palestinians and Israelis. Arafat is not about to risk his ouster with honest elections and Ariel Sharon won't end the Israeli occupation without some kind of credible assurance the suicide bombings will stop.
Yet if the other Arab nations that urged Bush to develop a peace plan actually support him, the winds of peace could yet overtake the winds of war.
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