WASHINGTON - Memo to: President Hosni Mubarak, Crown Prince Abdullah, King Abdullah, President Bashar al-Assad and the rest of the Arab League
From: President Bush
Dear friends: You've all warned me privately about the foul wind of anti-Americanism that is blowing through your region, fed by the perception that I've bowed out of Mideast diplomacy and given a blank check to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel. So let me explain to you exactly my position: I believe your problems with us grow from a misreading of Arab-Israeli history. You think somehow that if we just squeezed the Israelis they would roll over and do whatever the Palestinians demanded. You're wrong.
The relevant balance of power is not between us and Israel, but between you and Israel. All the peace breakthroughs happened not when we threatened Israelis, but when you enticed them. That is, when Arab leaders - Anwar el Sadat, King Hussein and even Yasser Arafat in Oslo - made clear to the Israeli silent majority that they were interested in real peace in return for real Israeli withdrawal, they got exactly what they wanted from Israel.
Remember, some Israeli rightists resisted giving back all of the Sinai to Sadat, some even resisted the land swaps with Jordan, and many, as you know, resisted Oslo I and II. But when you, the Arab leaders, convinced mainstream Israelis that you were offering real peace for real withdrawal, you shifted them to your side of the bargaining table, and the Israeli rejectionists were defeated. That's the only balance of power that matters.
We're just bystanders. You're the ones with the power to really reshape the diplomacy, not me. And here is my advice for how to do it. You have an Arab League summit set for March in Lebanon. I suggest your summit issue one simple resolution: "The 22 members of the Arab League say to Israel that in return for a complete Israeli withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 lines - in the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem and on the Golan Heights - we offer full recognition of Israel, diplomatic relations, normalized trade and security guarantees. Full peace with all 22 Arab states for full withdrawal."
Since you've all told me privately that this is your position, why not make it public and get the benefit? This is how to bury Osama bin Laden and define for the world who the Arabs really are. If you can't take that risk, why should I?
You need to face up to something: Ehud Barak gave us an Israeli peace plan, however rough. Bill Clinton then followed up with an American peace plan. Now is the time for an Arab peace plan. No more of you guys sitting back complaining about everyone else's peace plans. It's time for you to put on the table not only what you want from Israel - an end to occupation - but what you collectively are ready to give in return. Mr. Arafat can't do it alone.
You know what bugs me, guys? You want to pretend that Mr. Sharon just reappeared from outer space and that's when all the trouble started, and I'm just supporting him for no reason. That's not what happened.
Mr. Sharon was unelectable in Israeli politics. What allowed him to re-emerge was Mr. Arafat's rejection of the Barak and Clinton plans, and then his launching of an intifada with suicide bombings of Israeli pizza parlors. Did Mr. Sharon provoke the Palestinians by going to the Temple Mount? You bet. But he wasn't prime minister at the time. Mr. Barak was. How could you let Mr. Sharon provoke you and lose the best opportunity ever for a Palestinian state?
Some of you have asked me privately: If we do this, can you guarantee Israel will respond positively? No, I can't guarantee it, but every ounce of history tells me Israel's silent majority will insist that its leader respond positively to you, and if he doesn't, Israelis will vote him out, and I will back them.
There is one thing I can guarantee, though. If you don't make this offer, nothing will change, the Israeli silent majority will continue following Mr. Sharon into a dead end and the Arab League will fall further and further behind the rest of the world.
Guys, you know that the peace process was about so much more than just Israelis and Palestinians. It was also a cover and an engine for all the progressive forces in the Arab world that want to integrate, trade and modernize. Without the peace process, all those forces are now on the run. That's why you all need this as much as Israelis and Palestinians do. The future is in your hands - not mine.
Good luck. W.
Thomas L. Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times.