As Israel reenters the West Bank in another attempt to drive out the terrorists, President Bush offers his vision for peace in the Middle East. Israel, he says, should withdraw to its pre-1967 borders and the Palestinians (under “new leadership”) should be awarded a state. Tragically but inevitably, Bush’s proposal, like the many “peace” plans before it, will bring, not peace, but more war.

To achieve peace in the Middle East, as in any region, there is one lesson that every party must learn: the initiation of force is wrong. And the indispensable means of teaching it is to ensure that the initiating side is decisively defeated and punished. Retaliatory force must be wielded against the initiator, as Israel has been doing in varying degrees. But so long as there are those who think they will benefit from initiating force against their neighbors, war must result. Yet this is precisely what Bush’s plan gives Palestinians reason to believe.

For years Arafat and the Palestinian leadership, with the aid of such states as Iran, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, have been terrorizing Israeli civilians, dispatching suicide-bombers to blow up children on buses. Does Bush demand that the Palestinian authorities be destroyed — as the United States demanded with respect to Osama bin Laden and the Taliban? No: he proposes that Israel give in to its attackers’ insistence on their own state.

It is irrelevant that Bush may be asking the current crop of killers to step down (though he refused to identify Arafat by name and his Secretary of State declines even to rule out future dealings with Arafat). The Palestinians widely endorse Arafat’s bloody campaign — and his opposition comes largely from those who believe he is not militant enough in his terrorist tactics. From kindergarten on, the Palestinians are taught to seek the extermination of the Israelis and their Western, secular allies. These are the people who will be “voting” for this “new leadership,” which will then be given the secure base of a sovereign state from which to operate.

Bush’s demand that Israel withdraw to its pre-1967 borders is equally unjust. The Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza Strip were captured by Israel in response to yet another attempt by Arab nations to annihilate Israel. To give the aggressors back this land only teaches them that they can launch wars against Israel with impunity. That is, if they do not succeed militarily, they need only continue issuing threats against Israel and arming more terrorists — and eventually the land they lost in a war they initiated will be returned to them. And they can then start the process anew.

The reason peace eludes the Middle East is that the lesson Bush is conveying to the Arabs — that the initiation of force is practical — is the same lesson our government’s actions have been teaching them for decades. The Egyptians seized the Suez canal from the French and British — and we demanded that the Europeans not retaliate. Arab tyrants nationalized Western oil — and we stood idly by. Israel had the Palestinian terrorists surrounded in Lebanon — and we brokered their release. Arab despots repress their own subjects — and we treat them as civilized rulers and shower them with aid. Many Arabs idolize a terrorist responsible for murdering civilians — and we pour money into his regime and hail him for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. What possible conclusion could the Arab nations draw but that the initiation of force is desirable? So long as they have grounds to believe that, war is inescapable.

If we truly seek peace, therefore, we must reverse this perverse lesson. We must establish the objective conditions of peace. This means declaring to Arab nations that Israel, as a free country, has a right to exist, that the Arabs and Palestinians are the initiators of the conflict and that aggression on their part will not be tolerated. And it means encouraging Israel not to negotiate and compromise with its current assailants — as we did not bargain with bin Laden — but to eliminate them. Only when the initiators of force learn that their actions lead not to land and power, but to their own destruction, will peace be possible in the Middle East.