Bush Speech a Setback for Peace

by Stephen Zunes


On the one hand, it is reassuring that, after thirty years of rejecting the international consensus that peace requires the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel, an American president now formally recognizes that need. The bad news is that President Bush is simply perpetuating the unfair assumption that while Israel’s right to exist is a given, Palestine’s right to exist–even as a mini-state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip–is conditional.

This comes despite the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has at least as much blood on his hands as does Palestinian President Yasir Arafat. Indeed, far more Palestinian civilians have died at the hands of Israeli occupation forces than have Israeli civilians died from terrorist attacks.

Furthermore, despite Arafat’s many faults, the Palestinian leader’s positions on the outstanding issues of the peace process–the extent of the Israeli withdrawal, the fate of the settlements, the status of Jerusalem and the right of return for refugees–are far more moderate and far more consistent with international law and UN Security Council resolutions than are the positions of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. Despite that, President Bush insists that it is the Palestinians, not the Israelis, who must have new leadership in order for the peace process to move forward.

The current administration’s distorted priorities could not have been more apparent than in the fact that, in the course of his speech, the president mentioned terrorism eighteen times but did not mention human rights or international law even once. Nor did he mention the peace plan of Saudi Prince Abdullah–endorsed by the Palestinian Authority and every single Arab government–which offered Israel security guarantees and full normal relations in return for withdrawal from the occupied territories seized in the 1967 war. This is largely a reiteration of UN Security Council resolution 242 and 338, long considered to be the basis for Middle East peace. While President Bush mentioned these resolutions briefly in his speech, he failed to challenge Israel’s false claim that it does not actually require them to withdraw from virtually all of the Arab lands they conquered 34 years ago.

The Palestinians are only insisting on control of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, which is just 22% of Palestine. They have already recognized Israeli control of the remaining 78%. However, not only did President Bush fail to demand a total withdrawal of Israeli occupation forces, he called only for a freeze on additional Israeli settlements, when international law–reiterated in UN Security Council resolutions 446 and 465–requires Israel to abandon the existing settlements as well.

The fact is that, as the occupying power, the onus for resolving the conflict rests upon Israel, not the Palestinians. Just as occupation and repression can never justify terrorism, neither can terrorism justify occupation and repression.

The Palestinians have such a strong case, in fact, the Bush Administration has chosen to focus instead upon their weakest link: their corrupt and inept leadership and the terrorist reaction to the occupation.

Even Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres was quoted saying “Making the creation of a Palestinian state dependant upon a change in the Palestinian leadership is a fatal mistake. Arafat has led the Palestinians for 35 years, kept their head above the water in the international arena. No, no, you can’t just brush him aside with one speech.”

While many if not most Palestinians would love to see Arafat go, President Bush’s insistence that the United States has the right to say who the Palestinians choose as their leaders will likely breed enormous resentment. Indeed, Arafat–in his desperate attempt to hold on to power–can now use this American pressure as an excuse to label any reformist effort, even those led by sincere nationalists, as a form of collaboration with Israel and a tool of Western imperialism.

It is remarkable how President Bush insists on democratic governance and an end to violence and corruption as a prerequisite for Palestinian independence when his administration, as well as administrations before him, has strongly supported a series of violent, corrupt and autocratic regimes throughout the Middle East and beyond. How can anyone take seriously his demand that the Palestinians create a political system based upon “tolerance and liberty” when President Bush arms and supports misogynist family dictatorships like Saudi Arabia, not to mention Israeli occupation forces that have engaged in brutal repression against Palestinian civilians?

It should be apparent that Bush’s criticisms of Arafat’s regime, however valid, are not the reason for denying the Palestinians their right to self-determination. They are simply the excuse.

Stephen Zunes is an associate professor of Politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. He serves as Middle East editor for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project and is the author of the forthcoming book Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Common Courage Press.)


Stephen Zunes is a professor of Politics and coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco.

December 01, 2015
John Wight
From Iraq to Syria: Repeating a Debacle
Conn Hallinan
Portugal: the Left Takes Charge
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Revenge? The Fight for the Border
Sami Al-Arian
My Ordeal: One of America’s Many Political Trials Since 9/11
Steffen Böhm
Why the Paris Climate Talks Will Fail, Just Like All the Others
Gilbert Mercier
Will Turkey Be Kicked Out of NATO?
Bilal El-Amine
The Hard Truth About Daesh and How to Fight It
Pete Dolack
Solidarity Instead of Hierarchy as “Common Sense”
Dan Glazebrook
Rhodes Must Fall: Decolonizing Education
Colin Todhunter
Big Oil, TTIP and the Scramble for Europe
Eric Draitser
Terror in Mali: An Attack on China and Russia?
Linn Washington Jr.
Torture and Other Abuses Make Turkey as American as Apple Pie
Randy Shaw
Krugman is Wrong on Gentrification
Raouf Halaby
Time to Speak Out Against Censorship
Jesse Jackson
It’s Time for Answers in Laquan McDonald Case
Patrick Walker
Wake Up Zombie, Kick Up a Big Stink!
November 30, 2015
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Embrace of Totalitarianism is America’s Dirty Little Secret
Omur Sahin Keyif
An Assassination in Turkey: the Killing of Tahir Elci
Uri Avnery
There is No Such Thing as International Terrorism
Robert Fisk
70,000 Kalashnikovs: Cameron’s “Moderate” Rebels
Jamie Davidson
Distortion, Revisionism & the Liberal Media
Patrick Cockburn
Nasty Surprises: the Problem With Bombing ISIS
Robert Hunziker
The Looming Transnational Battlefield
Ahmed Gaya
Breaking the Climate Mold: Fighting for the Planet and Justice
Matt Peppe
Alan Gross’s Improbable Tales on 60 Minutes
Norman Pollack
Israel and ISIS: Needed, a Thorough Accounting
Colin Todhunter
India – Procession of the Dead: Shopping Malls and Shit
Roger Annis
Canada’s New Climate-Denying National Government
Binoy Kampmark
Straining the Republic: France’s State of Emergency
Bill Blunden
Glenn Greenwald Stands by the Official Narrative
Jack Rasmus
Japan’s 5th Recession in 7 Years
Karen Lee Wald
Inside the Colombia Peace Deal
Geoff Dutton
War in Our Time
Charles R. Larson
Twofers for Carly Fiorina
John Dear
An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind
Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism