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Sharon as Bush PR Flak

Put your flak jackets on, President George Bush has spoken. He wants a regime change in Palestine, just as he wants a regime change in Iraq. He reads the Israeli government press handouts and accurately quotes them to his American people.

Ariel Sharon, wants the destruction/ liquidation/ resignation of Yasser Arafat. So does Mr Bush. “Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership so a Palestinian state can be born,” Bush told the fearful American people, waiting for the next apocalypse, be it on 4 July or after.

So, no Palestinian state unless Arafat goes. There were no Bush conditions for Israel. He did not secure an end to the continuing building of Jewish settlements for Jews and Jews only on Arab (that is somebody else’s) land. Nor did he secure a halt to continuing Israeli military “incursions” — how I love that word “incursions”.

Mr Sharon, in his highly mendacious demand for Palestinian “‘transparency”, has demanded Palestinian reform must be neither cosmetic nor an attempt to preserve Arafat. And what does Mr Bush say? Why, that Palestinian reform “must be more than cosmetic changes or a veiled attempt to preserve the status quo”.

Why, I wonder, doesn’t Mr Bush let Ariel Sharon run the White House press bureau? Not only would it be more honest–we would at least be hearing the voice of Israel at first hand–but it would spare the American President the ignominy of parroting everything he is told by the Israelis.

All that he offers to the Palestinians is a ghastly mockery of what the Palestinians are told to do by the Israelis.

There never has been an “interim” state, let alone a “provisional” state. These are fantasies of the Israelis and Mr Bush. White House “officials” — we can guess who they are — believe a Palestinian state can be “achieved” within 18 months. Let’s forget international law provides for no such entity.

Let’s go over again that most crucial — and most dishonest — part of the Bush statement.

“When the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbours,” he told us, “the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state, whose border and certain aspects of its sovereignty will be provisional until resolved as part of a final settlement in the Middle East.” Let’s see what this means: when the Palestinians have elected a leader whom the Israelis want — a condition that could go on to the crack of doom — the Americans will support a Palestinian state whose very existence will mean nothing unless Israel approves what that state wants to do.

In other words, the United States will be Israel’s spokesman in any negotiations. A growing number of Americans know they are being suckered by their own government and their own press, that their country’s foreign policy is being manipulated to give maximum support to one — and only one — country in the Middle East. So will “certain aspects of its sovereignty”. Note these weighty words. “Certain aspects” of its sovereignty.

What, I wonder, does this mean? Do these “certain aspects” include the continuation of illegal Jewish settlement building? Or the absence of any international guarantees for this interim/provisional state? Or perhaps a get-out clause for the United States to wash its hands of the whole shebang if Israel decides to annex the entire West Bank?

Note, again, the weasel words. Palestine’s borders will be “provisional … until resolved as part of a final settlement in the Middle East”. Yet never before has an occupied people been led by so pathetic a person as Yasser Arafat. Nineteen years ago, this same Yasser Arafat swore to me — on a hilltop above the Lebanese city of Tripoli — that his “Palestine” would be “a democracy among the guns”. His Palestine, he told me, would be unlike any other Arab state. There would be no secret policemen, no “regime”, no cronyism, no corruption.

Fast forward to the spring of 1998. I am listening to a French diplomat who has returned from Gaza. He and his delegation carried a personal letter to Arafat from President Chirac. Again and again, Arafat disregarded the letter, only interested in when the new French school in Gaza will open. The diplomats understand. One of Arafat’s relatives will be the headmistress of this school. Family before nation. The Chirac letter stays unopened.

Yes, as Nabil Shaath, one of the most loyal — and most obsequious — of Arafat’s ministers, says, “a state is a state, and you cannot be provisionally pregnant and you cannot have a provisional state”. It might have been wiser — and more honest — if he had reminded us that the CIA trained the gunmen and intelligence thugs who worked for Arafat; if he had outlined the imprisonment and torture that Arafat inflicted on his Palestinian opponents with the complicity of those who supported the “peace process”.

For it is becoming ever more obvious that Arafat did not fail in his duties as Palestinian leader. He failed in his duties as Israel’s — and thus America’s — proxy colonial apparatchik in the West Bank and Gaza. The fact he is a corrupt little despot does not change this.

He was given time to prove his loyalty to the West, to America, to Israel. He was supposed to have made Israel’s settlements both safe and sacred.

Now, when he can no longer control the people he was supposed to control — remember the BBC’s repeated question: “Can he control his own people?” — his usefulness is at an end. He must go, to be replaced by our choice of leader — forget elections — who will be as democratic as the new Afghan “interim” government.

George Bush insulted the Palestinians and enraged the leadership of the Arab world. Who cares about the latter? Most of them were appointed by us. But I have a feeling that the Palestinians will not accept this nonsense.

Which is why they will be condemned — as never before — as “terrorists”.

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Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

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