Albright has adopted myopic approach of James Baker

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What is it with our State Department? Are diplomats completely incapable of making distinctions between right and wrong?

The most notable outcome of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's visit to Israel was her Bakerization of U.S. policy. By equating Palestinian terrorism with Israeli measures to defend itself from attack and criticizing Israelis building homes in their capital in almost the same breath as condemning Islamic militants for blowing up women and children in marketplaces, Albright has adopted the morally myopic approach of James Baker.

In the tradition of her boss, Albright empathetically feels the Palestinians' pain. She appears willing to accept their claims that any Israeli action is a provocation and to believe that the Palestinians need constant "rewards" to participate in the peace process. Albright's posture made it almost impossible for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to demonstrate any flexibility. And he didn't seem to try. The reversal of Bibi's reputation for media savvy was typified by the Washington Post's headline after Albright's visit: "Albright Call for `Timeout' Gets Negative Response from Israel." Of course, in the Post's view, it is not Israeli women and children being blown up that caused the breakdown of Oslo, it is Israeli bulldozers on a deserted hill in Jerusalem.

While the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is launching a campaign to back Netanyahu's proposal to move immediately to final-status negotiations, Albright was pointedly rejecting the idea in favor of the failed incrementalism of Oslo. The reason the Oslo formula no longer works is that each forward step is easily prevented by a terrorist attack. The idea of jumping to final-status decisions would make sense if the sides had a modicum of trust; however, that does not exist. The reality is Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat cannot possibly resolve the big issues like borders, refugees and Jerusalem when they can't settle the less thorny issues.

Given Albright's inability to distinguish between Israel's interests in peace and the Palestinians' desire for continued warfare, the only solution for Israel is to act unilaterally and accept the wrath of everyone. At this point, with even its closest ally criticizing its actions, what does Israel have to lose?

Yitzhak Rabin used negotiations as a fig leaf for what was essentially a unilateral withdrawal from the territories. That was the main reason he ignored all of Arafat's violations of the Oslo Accords. Rabin wanted out of the West Bank and Gaza, and was going to get out whether Arafat helped him or not.

Had he lived, Rabin would have continued negotiating while at the same time completing the implementation of the post-'67 Allon Plan, under which Israel would establish a dense belt of Jewish villages along the Jordan River to protect itself, while avoiding a flagrant Israeli presence on the West Bank. You don't believe me? Well, try to think how much different the situation would be today if Rabin had acted truly unilaterally without consulting the Palestinians. Would the Palestinians have any more or less power? Would Israel have any more or less territory?

Netanyahu also knows the Allon Plan is the inevitable conclusion of the peace process. All right, his idea is Allon "plus," but it still involves withdrawal from most of the territories, redrawing the borders to incorporate the majority of the settlements, maintaining a security belt along the Jordan rift and retaining control of Jerusalem. Sure the Palestinians will howl, but they'll do that regardless of what Israel does now or in the future. This way they'll have their state and at least won't be able to complain that they got nothing from the peace process. That's the endgame. Everyone knows it, so why inch our way toward that result when we can get there immediately?

Will the Palestinian state pose a security threat? No more than the Palestinian Authority does now. If we wait for Arafat to crack down on Hamas, no progress will be made. Let Israel define the final borders it needs to protect its security and close them for good or until Arafat does take action.

Ironically, I wrote an article in Commentary advocating unilateral withdrawal in 1988 and the man who wrote the opposing view was Netanyahu's communications director, David Bar-Illan. His boss is now in position to implement the program his adviser then bitterly opposed. A lot has happened in the last decade, however, and Rabin took Israel about two-thirds down the track. Netanyahu needs only to complete the journey.

Netanyahu's biggest problem isn't Arafat or Albright, however; it is his own unwillingness to stand up to his coalition partners. Unfortunately, he set the stage early in his term by allowing himself to be blackmailed. Now, his ministers are constantly threatening him with bringing down the government. It won't be easy to suddenly stand up to all the forces aligned against him in Israel and abroad; perhaps Netanyahu needs his own fig leaf, such as a unity government. If he doesn't act, however, the peace process will continue to unravel, and with it, U.S.-Israel relations.

Bite the bullet, Bibi; skip the final-status negotiations and declare Israel's independence.