Last night’s long–awaited speech by President Bush was to set the pace for the Palestinians and Israelis to step back from the vicious and bloody cycle of violence that has gripped them for nearly two years. Instead, President Bush and his administration have publicly adopted the Israeli agenda of battering the Palestinians into submission. President Bush’s illusion that the Palestinian–Israeli conflict may be ‘talked away’ in a series of speeches is not only a poor example of leadership but seriously places U.S. interests in the region at high risk.
President Bush’s administration has utterly failed to comprehend the Palestinian–Israeli conflict and in particular the Palestinian predicament today which is an Israeli re–occupation of the small parcels of land that were transferred to the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo Peace Accords. To add insult to injury, President Bush continues to mismanage U.S. policy with unprecedented unaccountability to the U.S. Congress or the world community. Bush’s chronological attempts to address the crisis are as follows: ignore the conflict —- failed, send Powell to the region — failed, the Mitchell Report — failed, the Tenet Plan — failed, Bush’s UN speech — failed, Secretary of State Powell’s policy speech in Kentucky — failed, send General Zinni on multiple missions — failed, and the most recent call for an international conference (completely ignored in Bush’s latest speech) — failed. If the creativity applied to avoiding real U.S. action were used to put an implementation mechanism in place to end the Israeli occupation the region would be well out of the conflict by now.
To a naive audience President Bush’s speech may have sounded like a sensible framework for progress, but for anyone with any understanding at all of the Middle East, it was clearly a shallow attempt in diplomacy that amounts to U.S. surrender of its Middle East foreign policy to the ranks of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Israel’s lobby in the U.S. Indeed, the speech was praised by Israel’s right, which has rejected Palestinian statehood outright.
President Bush continues to be blinded by the events of 9–11 and refuses (or deceitfully avoids) to see the Palestinian issue outside the framework of the yet undefined phenomena of “terrorism”. Palestinians were stripped of their national, civil, and human rights decades before the word terrorism became a buzzword. By placing the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence in a 9–11 mold, the U.S. is only prolonging a solution and feeding the bloodshed, exactly as Israel has been doing for 36 consecutive years now. Today the U.S. is ideally positioned to finally take real action and use its global leverage to end Israeli occupation, instead it has succumb to an extremist Israeli government that views the fate of illegal Israeli settlements the same as it views the fate of Tel Aviv.
By reducing the entire conflict in the region to the existence of an individual Palestinian leader, or set of leaders, the Bush Administration has fallen for the red herring that was designed, produced and marketed by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. President Bush needs to remember that Former President Carter was part of the international election monitoring team that gave the Palestinian Presidential elections a stamp of approval. Furthermore, the Palestinians are fully aware of the weaknesses in their leadership and have been working to correct it for many years now. Instead of supporting Palestinian reformist the U.S. has chosen to make their efforts more difficult by making them look as if they are aligned to an Israeli strategy of reform before freedom. A U.S. led international campaign to mettle in internal Palestinian politics will only setback the efforts of those Palestinians that have already started making concrete steps for change.
To craft U.S. policy in an entire region around new elections for an already expired Palestinian Authority is yet another display of Israeli setting of U.S. policy. More frightening is President Bush’s criteria for the new leadership to be “not compromised by terror.” We can only assume that this will be translated by way of Jerusalem to mean that only those Palestinians who have not been involved in resistance against occupation would be accepted. This is a clever way to say that no Palestinian is eligible for acceptance into this U.S. policy and thus give Israel more time to destroy Palestinian communities and any hope for co–existence.
Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, President Bush’s advisors, the powerful pro–Israel lobby in the U.S. and the U.S. Congress have clearly provoked President Bush to become a martyr in the name of continued Israeli military occupation of Palestinians. As with most martyrs who fail to see how their emotionally charged act will negatively reflect on the real issues at hand, President Bush stands proud and tall in support of Israel while the U.S. economy, U.S. allies in the region, U.S. homeland security and the U.S. global leadership position all take the brunt of his misaligned and ill advised policy, if it can even be considered “policy”.
The authors of this article have written throughout the last two years on every one of the issues the President spoke about in his speech. We predicted each failed U.S. step. Every time we have advised the U.S. on the way out of the crisis — to put forth action, not words, in ending the Israeli occupation. We still strongly believe that as long as Israeli occupation is permitted to survive, the U.S. can revisit the issue in 10 days or 10 months or 10 years and would face the same — Palestinians, stripped of their rights, dignity, land and freedom will continue to struggle, with Arafat or without, to end their predicament, and Israelis will continue to suffer.
It is time — past time, to use Secretary of State Powell’s words — for the U.S. to put actions behind its policies. Until then we await the next speech by President Bush and brace ourselves for the next series of bombings.
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian–American businessman living in the besieged Palestinian City of Al–Bireh in the West Bank and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is co–author of HOMELAND: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians (1994). Dr. Michael Dahan is an Israeli–American political scientist living in Jerusalem and can be reached at email@example.com.