The mirage of positive movement in the deadly gridlock between Israelis and Palestinians continued today, uninterrupted by reality. Following US President George Bush’s footsteps, US Secretary of State Colin Powell, during a major Middle East policy address at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, finally confirmed the addition of the word “Palestine” to the US political lexicon. More significantly, Secretary of State Powell explicitly acknowledged, for the first time ever, that Israel’s illegal “occupation” of Palestinian land and people “must end”.
For this new thrust in US policy, the Bush administration should be applauded, albeit, their enlightenment makes the US nearly the last nation on earth to face these simple common sense policy decisions.
Palestine may be new to the US political vocabulary, but it has existed within the rest of the world long before the creation of the State of Israel. As a matter of fact, the letter that was sent to US President Harry Truman on May 14, 1948 requesting US recognition of the State of Israel was sent under the letterhead, “THE JEWISH AGENCY FOR PALESTINE.” Furthermore, President Truman responded the same day by writing that the State being implemented “has been proclaimed in Palestine.” He then announced, 14 minutes after it was declared, “The United States recognizes … the State of Israel,” not Israel the Jewish State, but rather, the State of Israel. Yet, Secretary of State Powell requests that the Palestinians again recognize Israel’s right to exist, but this time as a “Jewish State.” It’s odd that Palestinians are being asked to define the nature of the State of Israel when even the US rightfully did not do so in their recognition.
More significant in Secretary of State Powell’s much-paraded statement was the long overdue US acknowledgement that Israeli occupation “must end.” This long-awaited realization must now be embedded in the day to day US policy actions if any positive movement toward a lasting peace is to happen. US financial aid to Israel, which is either directly used by Israel to continue its occupation, or frees other monies to the same avail, must become one of the tools that are used by the US to bring Israel in line with international law. Also, the non-stop supply of US military machinery that is used by Israel to support and perpetuate its illegal occupation must be stopped.
Conveniently skipping the Bush Administration’s initial determination not to be actively involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Secretary of State Powell boasted of the US’s half century of activism and leadership in addressing this conflict. Unfortunately, it took decades for the US to realize that Israeli occupation is the core of the conflict. Hopefully, it will not take another 50 years for the US to realize that the keys to end Israeli occupation are in Washington, just as much as they are in Tel Aviv.
The US’s newly proclaimed “vision” must quickly become a plan of action. Empty slogans, by both Palestinians and Israelis, contributed to the catastrophic situation the Middle East finds itself in today. The US has an international obligation to no longer delay justice or fall into the well-exposed Israeli policy of ‘talking peace while acting war.’
Palestinians went to Madrid, Oslo and Camp David and extended the greatest concession ever voluntarily made by an indigenous people — to relinquish 78% of their ancestral homeland so Jews could fulfill their own dream of a homeland. In return, Palestinians expected their Israeli occupiers to dismantle the illegal Israeli occupation on the 22% of Palestinian lands that remained, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. What Palestinians received instead was a package of Israeli aggression like never before. Now, with the US seeing the light, it is absolutely essential that the same light shine over Israel, its people and its leadership.
The US knows better. Courting the word Palestine in the 21st century without committing to real action to end the illegal Israeli occupation is nothing more than a shot of morphine that, once wears off, can only leave the region more unstable than it already is today. On the other hand, if a final solution based on true justice and international legitimacy is realized, the entire Middle East will be poised to return to its historic role of advancing civilization. Time is of essence.
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman living in the besieged Palestinian City of Al-Bireh in the West Bank. He is co-author of HOMELAND: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians (1994) and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.