As war rages in the Middle East despite Colon Powell’s mission, there is one hope for peace: The whole world, including the U.S., must support UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s proposal for an impartial international force. All other options look catastrophic for Americans, for Israel, and for the peace of the world.

Israelis and the Palestinians are so enraged at–and fearful of–each other that they cannot possibly make peace or even negotiate a ceasefire. The U.S. by itself can’t do it either–Israelis have refused President Bush’s demand that they withdraw from the West Bank and Palestinians have refused to declare a ceasefire until they do. The Powell mission, whatever fig leaf it produces, has shown that the United States is unable or unwilling to impose peace. The only solution is for the whole world to join together and force the two sides to back off.

Why not simply walk away and wash our hands of the whole mess? Because the consequences would be catastrophic.

Around the world the U.S. is now identified with Sharon’s “incursion” into the West Bank. The U.S., after all, provides Israel with planes, tanks, and $3 billion a year in aid. Yet the U.S. stood by and did nothing while Sharon defied President Bush’s demand to withdraw Israeli troops from the occupied territories. To the rest of the world, this looks like tacit U.S. support for what Israel did in the Jenin refugee camp and throughout the West Bank.

The predictable consequences of Sharon’s actions, and U.S. identification with them, include:

  • Suicide bombings in the U.S. by Palestinian, Arab, and Islamic groups and even frustrated individuals. As Newsweek Middle East editor Christopher Dickey put it in an interview right after Israeli troops entered the West Bank, “Americans have to be concerned that, even if Sharon succeeds in completely repressing the Palestinians in the territories and completely isolating Israel from the threat of the Arab world that surrounds it, there will be an effort by those people to strike at easier targets, including especially the Americans who are backing Israel.”
  • Upheavals throughout the Islamic world–marked by a resurgence of the intense anti-Americanism of the Iranian Revolution two decades ago.
  • Unending attacks on Israel–already begun–not only from Palestine but also from the bordering countries of Lebanon and Jordan, backed by Syria and probably much of the Arab world.
  • The replacement of Israel’s tenuous accommodation with its Arab neighbors with a situation in which no Arab government can make peace without threat of rebellion from its own people.
  • Threats to pro-Western regimes throughout the Islamic world, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • An explosion of genuine anti-Semitism (not just opposition to Israeli policies) worldwide.

There is one path leading away from this scenario: Kofi Annan’s proposal for an “multinational force formed by a coalition of the willing” to be authorized by the UN Security Council. The force would observe an Israeli withdrawal to positions held before the current Palestinian intifada began, as proposed in the U.S.-sponsored Tenet plan; monitor a ceasefire; create “secure conditions” for the resumption of normal economic activity and the delivery of humanitarian aid; facilitate the rebuilding of the Palestinian Authority’s institutions; and establish a stable environment for the resumption of political negotiations.

Annan’s spokesman warned against a repetition of the experience of Bosnia. There, “the carnage was allowed to carry on for years before a meaningful international fighting force was put in place.”

Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the nations of the world through the UN have long agreed on the basic outlines of a solution, based on an independent state for the Palestinians and security for Israel. But now the two parties distrust each other too much to move in that direction. Therefore, as Annan put it, “A multinational force is essential to a gradual restoration of trust between the two sides, which is so vital if further steps toward a broad framework for a comprehensive, just and lasting peace are to be taken.”

Immediately after Annan made his proposal, Sharon said, “Israel cannot accept international forces here.” In the past, the U.S. has vetoed UN resolutions to put international forces into Palestine, though it has supported such forces in other parts of the world.

Now the stakes are too high to let the Middle East antagonists go on threatening world peace and their own survival. The U.S. must join with the rest of the world to do what Israelis and Palestinians need, but can’t do for themselves. If we don’t, oceans of blood will be on our hands–including most likely the blood of American victims of terrorist attacks in the United States.

There is nothing anti-Jewish or anti-Israeli about trying to pull Israel back from self-destruction. American Jews (disclosure alert: I’m one of them) need to focus on protecting the long-term survival of Israel, not egging it on in its present self-destructive course.

In calling for an international force, Kofi Annan noted, “It is urgent; it is imperative.” The capacity to create such a force exists; “we must now muster the will.” Failure to do so will have catastrophic results for the U.S., Israel, Jews everywhere, and world peace.

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