The Bush administration has rather quickly come to the realization that the cause of peace in the Middle East is not best served by standing back and allowing the Israelis and Palestinians to work it out among themselves.
Regrettably, left to their own devices, the Israelis and Palestinians will kill each other in ever-increasing numbers. Were it not for international pressure, it is difficult to say what would have happened in Israel and its occupied territories this past week. In the wake of a suicide bomber's killing of 20 Israeli young people outside a Tel Aviv night spot, there was strong sentiment in Israel for the kind of retaliation that could have led to open warfare.
Just as only Nixon could go to China, it could be argued that only a prime minister with the hawkish credentials of Ariel Sharon could show the restraint he did this past week.
President George W. Bush has now embarked on the highest level of intervention of his administration. CIA chief George Tenet is working with Israeli and Palestinian security chiefs to try to extend a truce.
Competing forces: His task is not an easy one. Yasser Arafat has called for an end to the violence, speaking to his own people in Arabic, which is significant. Too often in the past Arafat has used Arabic as the language in which he incites his people against the Israelis, in contradiction of his public statements espousing peace.
But already Palestinian militants have vowed not to end their eight-month intefadeh. They steadfastly maintain that it is they who are the victims. The held demonstrations at which they burned American flags or an effigy of Tenet and shouted for him to go home.
A Chinese proverb warns that people should be careful what they wish for, the Palestinians should be very careful indeed in wishing for the United States to "go home."
War in the Middle East is truly in no one's best interests. Not the Israelis, not the Palestinians and not the West. It is something only being sought by fanatics -- people who don't want to see Arabs and Jews living side-by-side under any circumstances.
It is the tempering influence of the West -- especially the United States -- that has kept open warfare from breaking out for a generation now. And it is in the best interests of the United States to continue its efforts because if there is anything this country wants less that a war between Arabs and Jews it is to be drawn into such a war itself.