Five summers ago, on June 24, President George W. Bush, in a landmark speech, offered the Palestinians his and America's commitment to support "the creation of a Palestinian state." America was in the throes of a campaign against terrorism; the Iraq war, as we now know, was in the planning phase. It was important for the Bush administration, or so it seemed, to set the stage for these two campaigns by a generous and forthcoming policy toward the Palestinians. This was claimed to be nothing less than an American equivalent of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which had pledged Britain's support for the creation of a Jewish "national home." Bush's pledge drew the right moral and political parameters. America's support was contingent, the president said, on leaders "not compromised by terror." The vision was generous and held out to the Palestinians the promise of normalcy: "You deserve democracy and the rule of law. You deserve an open society and a thriving economy."
The Palestinians were to squander the chance given them by that diplomatic opening. Tahani Skaik, a woman of Gaza, in the most recent dispatches coming from that setting of grief and anarchy, understood what had become of the dream of statehood. "I feel now it's far away. As a Palestinian, I feel very empty." The Palestinians have lived, and for decades now, on a sense of historical entitlement. The world owed them a state come what may; it would be delivered to them even when their leaders faltered, even as they fell afoul of international norms and expectations. Now they know better. Another telling dispatch laid bare the Palestinian malady: It has come to pass that the Fatah leaders in the West Bank have served notice that they are done with the Qatar-based al Jazeera television. In bitter, scalding language, one of the influential leaders of FatahYasser Abed Rabboaccused al Jazeera of being a "partner in the crimes of Hamas," of covering up the mayhem of Hamas in Gaza while playing up "individual transgressions" in the Fatah-dominated West Bank. The Palestinians have come full circle. The "second intifada," which broke out in September 2000, had played out on al Jazeera's broadcasts. The insurrection and al Jazeera were twins.
The mayhem of Palestine. In the intervening years, the "Palestinian street" would be whipped into a frenzy, and the anarchy and the cruelty of the homicide bombers would become a diet for the Palestiniansand for a wider Arab audience that lived, vicariously, on the mayhem of Palestine. This was not destined to last, but the Palestinians never grasped that. The American war on terrorism that would come in the aftermath of 9/11 had put before the Palestinians one of those great, defining moral and political questions: They could opt for the forces of order, tie their fate and their cause to sobriety and realism, or ride with the outlaws. Terrorism had lost its glamour, but the Palestinians had persisted with the belief that their bargaining power had increased because America was now on the ground in the Arab-Islamic world. Saddam Hussein was a marked man, but he was a hero to the Palestinian street. To the bitter end, the Palestinians insistedand have continued to do sothat they were entitled to judge what was best for the Iraqis, that the Iraqis had been better off under the tyrant. The Shiites of Iraq had risen, they had come forth with their grim tales of what they had endured during the long night of Baathist despotism, but the Palestinians remained hostile to the claims of the Shiites. They seemed to begrudge those tormented people of Iraqtheir moment and the right to their own grief.