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By Bill Gallagher

DETROIT -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair has admitted out loud what his pal President George W. Bush will refuse to recognize until hell freezes over or until he stops lying, whichever comes first. Blair, our only real ally in the Iraq adventure -- the coalition of the bribed doesn't count -- admits the invasion is a disaster.

Blair finally came clean in an interview with Sir David Frost. The usually sunny prime minister swallowed the reality pill Bush still shuns. Frost pressed Blair, challenging him with the bleak truth that the invasion "so far has been pretty much of a disaster." Blair responded, "It has." A Blair spokesman rushed to try damage control, claiming the prime minister's words were a "slip of the tongue." If you believe that, stop reading this and go check out the latest scoops on the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes wedding.

Ellen Knickmeyer, the intrepid Washington Post Baghdad correspondent, reports that the experts and ordinary people she's in touch with believe civil war in Iraq "is already underway," the "flimsy Iraqi state" is disintegrating and "surrounding countries" may be drawn into the sectarian bloodbath.

Knickmeyer -- who has courageously stuck it out in her perilous posting much longer than most reporters -- sees ominous signs of an impending disaster far worse than the present chaos, bombings, sniper attacks, kidnappings and predictable carnage.

Knickmeyer spoke with Joost Hiltermann, Middle East project director for the International Crisis Group. He said, "We're not talking about just a full-scale civil war. This would be a failed-state situation with fighting among various groups." He added grimly, "The war will be over Iraq, over its dead body."

Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi ambassador, sees the consequences of partitioning Iraq: "To envision that you can divide Iraq into three parts is to envision ethnic cleansing on a massive scale, sectarian killing on a massive scale."

That would certainly mean the Saudis, Iranians, Turks and Syrians would be drawn into the conflict, aligning with various factions to protect their own interests, borders and security.

Knickmeyer cites the important analysis of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a key figure in the region. He recently told "Der Spiegel," the German news magazine, "When the ethnic-religious break occurs in one country, it will not fail to occur elsewhere, too." The Syrian president concluded, "It would be as it was at the end of the Soviet Union, only much worse. Large wars, small wars -- no one would be able to get a grip on the consequences."

The Democrats are spurring Bush to come up with an exit plan. He'll publicly resist while he privately hopes his daddy's pal Jim Baker and his Iraq Study Group will give him the bipartisan cover he needs to cut and run.

Baker, the former secretary of state and Bush family valet, is crafty enough to come up with a plan that will not acknowledge the disaster in Iraq, nor call it a phased withdrawal while doing just that. Our troops will protect the oil as we let the Iraqis have their civil war.

Even Henry Kissinger now admits a military victory in Iraq is no longer possible. The former secretary of state, national security adviser and backdoor White House consigliere on Iraq told the BBC the dramatic collapse of Iraq would have "disastrous consequences."

Kissinger called for an international conference including Iraq's neighbors, the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and India and Pakistan to find a way out of the mess.

Only the uninformed and blind partisans still believe Bush's neocon nightmare was a good idea and our nation is more secure as a result. The Democrats know this, and many Republicans will be getting on the exit-strategy bandwagon, reflecting the will of the American people.

But as obvious as the disaster in Iraq is, and how futile "staying the course" is, in the same neighborhood another monstrous mess is only getting worse, more dangerous and requires much more of our national attention.

The Palestinians suffering in the occupied territories are desperate. They need the world's help, and that will not happen without American involvement and a change of course in our policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Resolving this conflict is as central to Middle East stability as keeping Iraq from exploding into regional mayhem.

I support the security of the state of Israel and the creation of a viable Palestinian state. The two principles are in no way mutually exclusive. But what's happening now imperils Israel, smothers the dream of a Palestine, inflames hatred and is a greater threat to any hope of stability in the region than the Iraq fiasco.

After 58 years of forced Diaspora and 39 years of endless and cruel occupation, the Palestinians remain without a nation, impoverished victims of terrible injustice. It must end.

More than any other measure, more than 10 million airport-security officers, more than walls and sealed borders, a resolution to the Palestine issue will do more to stem terrorism, help pacify the region and protect U.S. security than anything else.

The great hope of the Oslo Accords is lost. Decades of Yasser Arafat's intransigence, the incompetence and corruption of the Fatah leadership and the despair of unfulfilled hope drove the Palestinians into the arms of Hamas.

The Israeli shelling of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip left 18 people dead, many of them children. Palestinians inside the West Bank are now required to spend endless hours in security checkpoint lines to get to work or move anywhere. Men under 35 in northern West Bank areas are now generally confined and not permitted to leave their villages.

These measures -- always justified as vital for security -- only increase hostilities, marginalize and further isolate the Palestinians. The unending cycle of terrorist acts and tit-for-tat retribution is a doomed strategy for both sides.

The United States must change its posture or the antipathy and violence will only fester. Afif Safieh, the Palestinian envoy to the United States, wants a non-violent, diplomatic solution and an accelerated process to end the Israeli occupation.

Safieh has written about the view outside the United States and Israel of the consequences of the status quo: "There is a growing awareness around the world from Paris to Pakistan that what is poisoning international relations and creating a rift with the Arab and Muslim worlds is the unresolved Palestinian tragedy and the perceived American complacency and complicity with Israeli territorial appetite."

Every president since Dwight Eisenhower has, to some extent, become personally involved in trying to seek a regional solution and to move the Middle East from extremism and calls to destroy Israel to moderation and a homeland for the Palestinians.

Some -- Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton -- took risks and showed great leadership on the issue.

But then we have George W. Bush. The best thing you can say about his approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict is that he's treated it with malign neglect. There are personal and political reasons for this.

Bush lacks the patience and the eye for detail and nuance such delicate diplomacy requires. He is intellectually lazy. His inclinations are always to come up with some oversimplifications and slogans and turn to hamhanded military solutions.

The same neocon nuts who came up with the Iraq war also shaped Bush's views on the conflict, and their positions reflect the most extreme postures of right-wing Israeli politicians.

Douglas Feith is Exhibit A for that mentality. Until recently, he was Donald Rumsfeld's trusted deputy. He headed up the Pentagon's rump intelligence group that came up with the serial lies about Iraq's weapons and ties with al-Qaeda. Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the invasion of Iraq, once referred to Feith as "the stupidest f---ing guy on the face of the earth."

Feith has longstanding ties with Israel's Likud Party and he's advocated invading Syria and Iran. Feith is a dangerous warmonger. He has criticized George H.W. Bush's and Bill Clinton's views on Palestine.

Feith abruptly left the Pentagon in May, claiming he wanted to spent more time with his family. Incredibly, Georgetown University hired Feith to teach a course on the Bush administration's strategy in the war on terror. That's like hiring Vice President Dick Cheney to teach hunting safety.

Juan Cole, the University of Michigan professor and Middle East expert, wrote before Feith's departure that he is the target of at least two investigations. Cole reported that "Feith has been questioned by the FBI in relation to passing by one of his employees of confidential Pentagon documents to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) which in turn passed them to the Israeli Embassy. The Senate Intelligence Committee is also investigating Feith." At least Feith will do less damage at Georgetown.

The Christian fundamentalist rapture crowd also influences Bush's views on the Middle East. They want a greater Israel to use as a stairway to heaven for their apocalyptic seances.

Daniel Levy, who worked as an Israeli negotiator in Oslo, advised Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and helped draft the Geneva peace plan, has come up with an imaginative idea to do something about what he describes as the "much-neglected Israeli-Arab conflict."

Levy described in "Washington Monthly" magazine how the new Congress should expand the work of the Iraq Study Group to include new policy recommendations on the creation of a Palestinian state.

Levy argued in his article entitled "Send the Baker Commission to Gaza" that it is in America's interest to deal with the stalemate: "It seems blindly obvious to observe that the unresolved, permanently visible Israeli-Palestinian conflict fans the flames of jihadism across the region. ... Making progress in a land settlement could be decisive in stabilizing the Middle East."

Levy noted that anecdotal and polling evidence suggests that "the silent majority of the Jewish community" is hungry for a progressive move to bring peace. He said the Democrats have allowed Republicans to "out-pro-Israel" them and by "failing to challenge a neocon orthodoxy that ultimately damages Israel and the United States."

It's high time we take the "next step in the painful rehabilitation of our policy in the region," Levy added. The Democrats can make a difference, but their new majority status brings a real obstacle to peace in the Middle East. Rep. Thomas Lantos, D-Calif., is set to become chairman of the House International Relations Committee. Lantos' views are in complete conformity with the Likud Party and AIPAC.

Lantos lost all credibility in the first Gulf War. That's when he held a hearing on Saddam's invasion of Kuwait and helped foster one of the great lies in that episode. Lantos brought in a compelling witness who described Iraqi troops going into a hospital in Kuwait City, disconnecting infants from neonatal units and taking the expensive equipment to Baghdad.

The beautiful, tearful young woman spoke in excellent English as she told the committee about Saddam's ruthless infanticide. Her story became one of the most repeated arguments for the need to drive Saddam from Kuwait.

Lantos said his star witness could not be identified for her "protection." Months later, the truth emerged. The woman was the daughter of Kuwait's ambassador to the United States and she was here at the time of the invasion. Her whole story was a hoax, used to sell the war.

Lantos knew who she was, but lied to his colleagues and the world about her act. The Democrats should not allow Lantos to dictate policies on the Middle East. It's time for a new direction and end to the suffering of the Palestinian people.

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@sbcglobal.net.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com November 21 2006