Imagine this scenario: in the 28 states that voted for Barack Obama in 2008, he is their president. In the 22 states that voted for John McCain, he is their president. Now try to negotiate a trade agreement with China. Who speaks for whom?
This is precisely Israel’s dilemma. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas submitted a formal application today for the United Nations to grant the Palestinians status as an observer state. But Abbas speaks only for Fatah, the political party governing the West Bank. This is an area slightly smaller than the state of Delaware, located on the west bank of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, with a population of 2.5 million.
Hamas is the political party governing the Gaza Strip, the other area of Palestinian occupation. This is an area along the Mediterranean coast 25 miles long and 4 to 7.5 miles wide, with a population of 1.6 million people. Their prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, opposes Abbas’ actions and the peace process. Their charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian state from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Abbas’ speech: “The truth is that so far the Palestinians have refused to negotiate. The truth is that Israel wants peace with a Palestinian state, but the Palestinians want a state without peace. So, what comes next?
The United States has promised to veto Abbas’ resolution if it comes to the U.N. Security Council. Israel opposes the Palestinians’ move, arguing that statehood can be achieved only through direct negotiations between the two parties. Abbas claims that his appeal to the U.N. is necessary, since Israel continues to build settlements on land that the Palestinians intend to include in their future state. Israel promises to swap land to the Palestinians for these settlements when their state is determined. And on the debate goes.
Why should you care? Because the war on terror just got worse.
When the Palestinian petition inevitably fails, the United States and Israel will be blamed. Many Palestinians will be enraged with the West. Radical Muslims will claim that the West is once again oppressing Muslims, and that they should attack Americans and Israelis in defense of their faith. Israel has already started arming their settlers in the West Bank area against expected reprisals. Tensions with the Muslim world will escalate.
What should America do now? Four immediate steps are crucial.
First: declare our intention to revive the peace process. America’s opposition to the Palestinian U.N. application is viewed by many in the Muslim world as an affront to their people and a threat to their future. Since our military presence in the Middle East is already the single greatest catalyst fueling radical Islam, we must prove that we are agents of democratic reform, not “Crusaders” or “Zionists.” If we immediately declare our intention to mediate peace, we can turn our veto into positive leadership for Palestine and Israel.
Would peace in the region end the war on terror? Unfortunately not. Radical Muslims would complain that Palestine did not receive its fair share of land so long as Israel exists at all. And they would probably undermine the treaty from within Palestine. But our role in mediating peace would go a long way toward convincing the moderate Muslim world that we are not at war with Islam, a critical component in shrinking the numbers of jihadists around the world.
Second: announce a plan for economic progress in the Arab world. Among Arabs, per capita income has remained virtually unchanged since 1980 while their population size has exploded. Adult literacy in Pakistan hovers at about 40 percent; rates in Egypt, Morocco, Sudan, and Yemen are closer to 50 percent. Massive cities in poor countries generate poverty, crime lords, gangs, and terrorists.
The United States will give $550 million this year in aid to the West Bank and Gaza. But we have not announced a systematic strategy for helping Palestine and the rest of the Arab world grow their economies. Investing in economic development in the Arab world will pay enormous dividends for the Western world. If we declare our intention to spearhead such an effort, we will show the Muslim world that we seek to “wage peace” with them.
Third: take immediate steps to affirm and encourage moderate Muslims. Last night I answered faith questions at Texas Tech University; one student asked why moderate Muslims don’t speak out more strongly against radicals. I explained that Islam sees itself as a global community (the Ummah), so that criticizing a fellow Muslim, especially to non-Muslims, is viewed as an attack on Islam.
However, moderates have done more to provide critical intelligence against jihadists than most people know. And leaders in moderate states such as Jordan and Indonesia are vital to lessening the appeal of radical Islam. By demonstrating immediately our support for these leaders and their people, we build bridges of understanding with the larger Muslim world.
Last: announce our clear and unambiguous commitment to Israel. The state of Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East and our most important military asset in the region. Many in Israel, while grateful for our opposition to the Palestinian U.N. initiative, wonder about our ongoing commitment to their existence and sovereignty. On my last trip to the Holy Land, I was asked by an Israeli businessman if America still supports Israel. No one in his country should have to ask such a question.
These immediate steps are essential to counter a resurgence of radical Islam that will otherwise result from today’s developments at the U.N. And they are actions required by God’s word. Jesus promised us that “peacemakers” will “be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). He assured us that what we do to help those in need, “you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Scripture calls us to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6).
What America does next is vital to the Middle East, the war on terror, and the cause of peace.
Note: For more on the future of the Middle East and ways to win the war on terror, see my new book, Radical Islam: What You Need To Know, chapter 8.