WASHINGTON - "And the war came," Abraham Lincoln wrote, even though "both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war ... and the other would accept war."
George W. Bush may soon be called upon to make a similar statement if the fragile cease-fire between Israelis and Palestinians breaks down and leads to an expanded Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would threaten to engulf the entire Middle East. It would be far better if he were to say who is making war and who is accepting war in time to avert a war.
To announce now which side America will support and which side it will condemn before Israel is left with no alternative but to forcefully respond to another act of Palestinian-sponsored terrorism is not an act of diplomatic foolhardiness; it is an act of diplomatic vision and courage.
Nothing can clear the Palestinian leadership's mind so much as the clarity of a declaration reminding it of the price it will pay for resort to terror - not just the denial to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of a much sought-after visa to the White House, but full-fledged support for Israel in its war against terrorism.
It would also clear the American mind of the foolhardy idea that we can avoid making a choice. A long war of attrition between the two sides is foreseen. But those who believe the Israeli people will stand for a war on Mr. Arafat's terms delude themselves. The power of popular outrage will force any Israeli politician's hand should another suicide bombing or two occur like the one that rocked a Tel Aviv disco June 1.
In Oslo in 1993, the Israelis took a chance. Oslo was supposed to ease the Palestinians into softening their hard-line demands. It would cause the Palestinian leadership to no longer insist on the return of all territories occupied in 1967 as a result of a war forced upon Israel.
It would lead them to drop their demands for return of refugees, the result of another war forced upon Israel more than 50 years ago. The Temple Mount area could be jointly administered, but Jerusalem would never be re-divided. Girding the project was the linchpin of Mr. Arafat's declaration that terrorism would no longer be considered a legitimate weapon of national struggle.
All these assumptions have now been laid to rest. By reverting to terrorism as an acceptable instrument of statecraft, Mr. Arafat has delegitimized himself as a trustworthy negotiating partner.
When the war comes, it will be because one side made war and the other side accepted it. The response will not be measured, or proportional, any more than the North's response was to the breakaway South in the American Civil War. One side will have made war through recourse to terrorism. No political cause - and certainly not opposition to the expansion of settlements - can justify it.
Reason, therefore, dictates saying what needs to be said clearly now, and not after the war begins. Reason dictates that expansion, limited as it is, of existing Israeli settlements is no longer the issue, just as slavery had disappeared as the issue toward the end of the American Civil War.
Some fear that a clear statement of intent may mar good relations with the Arab world. To the contrary, no Arab state will publicly congratulate the United States on such a declaration; but nearly all will quietly laud us for it. After all, it could save them from the havoc an Israeli-Palestinian war would wreak on their regimes.
Consider the options: Resolution of Israeli-Palestinian differences by political means is now an illusion.
Among the Palestinian leadership, the only issue is not the morality of suicide bombers because innocent civilians are targeted, but whether the same objective could be attained without the loss of the terrorist's head. Nor is sitting back as a long war of attrition unfolds an acceptable alternative. Even-handedness in such a context emboldens a massive Israeli strike, precisely because it emboldens the Palestinians to greater acts of terror.
There is a time, as Lincoln declared, of malice toward none and charity toward all. But it didn't begin for him before finishing the business he was called upon to do. Though no longer confident at the time of the second inaugural address that God championed one side over another, still he had to do what he considered right: preserve the Union.
President Bush has an easier choice. He need only affirm, now, that he who lives by terror brings war on himself and his people, and will have no one to blame for his misfortune.
Allan Gerson served in the Reagan administration as counsel to the U.S. delegation to the United Nations. Marc Ginsberg, a deputy senior adviser to President Jimmy Carter for Middle East affairs, served in the Clinton administration as U.S. ambassador to Morocco and special adviser for Mediterranean Security and Trade Affairs.