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Bush Comes To Jerusalem

I'm in Jerusalem where George Bush will arrive on Wednesday. There is hardly a big street where the stars and stripes are not fluttering along with the Israeli flag. There is also much excitement about the president's visit, much of it because he has been a good friend of the Jewish state but also because most Israelis don't see where any reasonable initiative can lead.

The banner headline over the Jerusalem Post reads "US considering interim int'l force in West Bank." One of the articles -- by Herb Keinon -- details American thinking about filling the "security vacuum" that would be left when (and if) Israel would withdraw from wide swaths of the West Bank. In December, Condi Rice insisted "this is not just an issue for the Palestinians. It's an issue for the states in the area as well like Jordan and Egypt." One of the stated assumptions of the idea of an armed international corps, as is made clear in this Post article, is that it would involve NATO troops and Jordanian and Egyptian forces. So far, OK.

But the other article -- by Hilary Leila Krieger -- points out in its sub-head and in its text that yesterday in Washington Rice "slammed" Egypt for its behavior on its frontier with Gaza: "Rice also rapped Egypt for not doing enough to stop weapons smuggling" from its own territory to Hamas.

Now, this might have been seen as an experiment of both Egypt's political will and its capability, and it failed in both. This should not exactly build confidence for a more drastic and dangerous Egyptian involvement in the West Bank.

So much does the Israeli body-politic want to extract itself from the main body of the West Bank that there is again a unilateralist impulse afloat, despite the horrors in Gaza. And not just the rockets landing daily from the Strip to towns and kibbutzim in Israel. But mostly the absence of any ordinary civil life in Gaza.

There are many, including West Bankers, who hope once again for the "Jordanian option" about which the Jordanians themselves are very skittish. But the corollary of such thinking is that the Palestinians are simply not ready for statehood. As you know, I'm not sure that they will ever be, mostly because of the fact that they do not have sufficient attributes of peoplehood.

But they are real people who mostly do not want to live with the Israelis, and some of them admit that they can no nothing about -- what to them -- is the dismal fact of a vibrant and balanced Jewish polity next to the self-sustained mess in which they live.

What is needed for the Palestinians is a mandate organized by the powers who historically have been enmeshed with the Middle East and who would prepare over several decades the Palestinians for governing their own country.

The Mandate for Palestine turned out to be a Mandate for Israel. Not because the Zionists didn't want an Arab neighbor but because the Arabs of the country didn't envision a state for themselves. If they now want it they will have to go through the tough learning steps which makes a nation, a delicate mechanism, especially if one wants it to be a progressive nation.