During his current trip to the Mideast, President Bush said any peace treaty between the Israelis and the Palestinians would require “painful political concessions by both sides.” What he left unstated was the need for painful political concessions on the domestic front in this nation if we are to achieve a real and just peace in that troubled region.

In his address, the president called for an end to Israel’s “occupation” of Palestinian land. He said any viable Palestinian state must be “contiguous” and that Palestinians should not be forced to live in a “Swiss cheese” state. While visiting the West Bank, he even noted the Israeli checkpoints that are source of daily humiliation for so many Palestinians. He said that while the checkpoints create a sense of security for Israel, “they create massive frustration for the Palestinians.” He predicted that a treaty could be signed by the end of his term as president and that he might return to the region to push for peace.

Of course everyone in our country and worldwide should hope that true peace is achieved. But the reality of any president’s ability to stand up to a powerful domestic lobby for Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian land offers little justification for optimism.It should be clear to any objective observer that resolving the decades-long Mideast conflict is in the best interest of the United States. The major rallying cry of anti-American terrorists based in the Middle East and elsewhere is the perception that the United States has consistently sided with an intransigent Israel against the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. In a soon-to-be-released survey, the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) found that 75 percent of American Muslim voters believe that “brokering a just Israeli-Palestinian resolution would improve America’s reputation in the Muslim world.”

So if it is clearly in America’s interest to help achieve true peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, what has kept President Bush and past president’s from achieving that noble and often-stated goal? One only need pick up a copy of the groundbreaking new book “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” in which authors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt state: “No lobby has managed to divert U.S. foreign policy as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that U.S. and Israeli interests are essentially identical.” Consider what happened to former President Jimmy Carter, arguably a staunch supporter of Israel, when he dared use the word “Apartheid” in his book about the conflict. He was vilified as an “anti-Semite,” despite having brokered the Camp David Accord. In the 2004 presidential campaign, then-candidate Howard Dean mildly suggested that America take a more “evenhanded” role in the Mideast peace process. In reaction, even fellow Democrats accused him of “selling Israel down the river.”

This type of hysterical reaction to appeals for common sense and balance in our nation’s approach to Mideast peace is at the root of the problem. But what can any president or candidate do to change this situation? First, he or she needs to clearly define America’s interests and explain that our interests are not always in complete alignment with those of Israel. Second, any domestic supporter of Israel should use tough love to explain to that nation’s leaders why uncritical American support for the continued occupation and humiliation of the Palestinian people will inevitably lead to universal recognition that the term “Apartheid” is applicable after all.

And finally, elected officials and candidates for public office should be ready to speak these truths to the American public, and to resist the temptation to take the safe path of pandering to a powerful domestic lobby that has skewed our Middle East policy for too long.