16 April 2002
"Leading the Mideast," by Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr.
(Op-ed column from the New York Times on 04/16/02) (650)
(This byliner by Joseph R. Biden Jr., United States Senator
(Democrat-Delaware) and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, first appeared in the New York Times April 16 and is in the
public domain. No republication restrictions.)
Leading the Mideast
Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Washington -- Amid the ugly scenes streaming out of the Middle East,
we must not forget the statements and initiatives of recent weeks that
share a common thread: There must be a political solution, and soon.
The region needs the strong leadership only America can provide. The
daily carnage not only erodes hope among Israelis and Palestinians; it
jeopardizes the war against terrorism and the stability of Mideast
The United States should convene a broad international conference
loosely based on the Madrid conference of 1991, at which the exchange
of land for peace became the basis for negotiation. This approach has
more support than it might seem.
In the Knesset eight days ago, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel
said, "The United States can and should be a leading and driving force
behind such an (international) initiative, just as it spearheaded the
negotiations leading to the convening of the Madrid Peace Conference."
Mr. Sharon reiterated his hopes for an American-led conference on
Monday in an interview with CNN.
In Beirut last month, at the Arab League conference, Arab leaders
unanimously endorsed a proposal by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi
Arabia that looked toward normal, peaceful relations with Israel.
President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have articulated a
vision of Israel and Palestine living side by side. This vision was
endorsed, at American urging, by the United Nations Security Council
The time has passed for simply insisting on the cease-fire plan
submitted by George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence,
and the "confidence-building" measures outlined by a commission led by
former Senator George Mitchell. Valuable political capital and
American prestige can no longer be expended on tactical moves. As the
only power with influence among all parties, we should work toward
larger, strategic goals.
A new conference would bring together moderate Arab states like Egypt,
Jordan and Saudi Arabia along with Europeans, Israelis and
Palestinians. The goals of the conference should be enunciated
clearly: bringing an end to violence and speeding negotiations for a
Painful compromises will be required on both sides. Palestinians will
have to yield on the right of return to Israel, which would destroy
the Jewish nature of the state. Israelis will have to understand, as
most already do, that a Palestinian state will require dismantling
The president is correct in his assessment of the lack of Palestinian
leadership. Failing to act decisively against terrorism and not
responding seriously when peace offers were made have proved to be
disastrous decisions for the Palestinian people.
Given the legitimate doubts regarding Yasir Arafat's leadership, an
international conference could bring significant pressure to bear on
that leadership from Arab governments.
Why would Arabs agree to such an undertaking? The answer is simple:
survival. The demonstrations across the Arab world threaten Arab
regimes. But the dread permeating many Arab capitals actually provides
an opportunity for deft American diplomacy. We are in a position to
provide the leadership that could break the grip of despair in the
Despite the raw emotions that have resulted from continuing violence,
the fact remains that clear majorities of Palestinians and Israelis
crave a peaceful political solution. That sentiment and the
indispensable leadership of the United States are the greatest assets
in moving toward peace.
(Joseph R. Biden Jr. is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list