Much of the world expected President Bush to use his long-awaited speech to announce a peace conference and articulate a vision of how a Palestinian state would be created. He would lay out a time table for Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders, eliminate the illegal settlements that had been forbidden under the Oslo Accords of 1993, and turn over East Jerusalem to the Palestinians. Of course, they also expected that the US would ask for Arab cooperation in the fight against terrorism, and insist that Arab states normalize relations with Israel.
What came on June 24 was the “dampest of damp squibs,” according to The Economist. Bush waxed eloquent on the need for Palestinians to reform not only their institutions, but also to remove their leadership. He made no similar demands of Israel. Warm praise for the plan came from Avignor Lieberman, an extreme right-wing politician. Israeli commentator Nahum Barnea wrote, “The voice was Bush’s, but the hand that wrote the speech was Sharon’s.”
The one-sided nature of the speech caused the Israeli foreign minister, Shimon Peres, to turn off his television. Peres, who had listened to the speech “with restrained anger and deep sorrow,” concluded that it would unleash a bloodbath. Another writer argued that the unbalanced nature of the speech was a huge step forward for Sharon and a step backward for peace. While grateful for the President’s support, Israelis are mindful of the fact that changing the Palestinian leadership will not eliminate terrorist attacks.
Bush has never met Arafat, and this may explain why there is no positive chemistry between them. He has met Sharon on numerous occasions, going back to the time when he was Governor of Texas. This may explain why he chose to call Sharon a “man of peace” at the height of the March incursions, and why he did not impose any sanctions on Israel for not letting in a team of UN inspectors find out what happened in the Jenin refugee camp. Bush has embraced Sharon’s strategic objectives. First, dismantle the Oslo peace process, and with it all talk of returning to the 1967 borders. Second, evict Arafat, since he is single handedly responsible for the violence and terrorism that has hit Israeli cities during the past 20 months.
With a straight face, Bush asked the Palestinians to remove their existing leaders, create a functional democracy with separation of powers, write a constitution, and implement a market economy. No state in world history, and certainly not one under foreign occupation, has ever done this in three years. After a half-century of independence, none of the Arab states satisfy the Bush criteria. According to the cynics, Bush knows that the Palestinians can never meet these criteria, and thus a Palestinian state will never be created.
Just as important as what the president said is what he left unsaid. He did not mention the plight of four million Palestinians, since “their leaders have failed them.” He did not talk of a peace conference, because “there can be no peace without security.” He did not ask Israel to go back to the 1967 borders-the lynchpin of the Saudi Peace Plan-since these “borders are indefensible.”
Why did Bush decide to put the prestige of the White House behind Sharon’s policies? He has his eyes on the November elections, where the control of Congress and the fate of his brother Jeb in Florida hang in the balance. In the aftermath of 9/11, US public opinion is solidly behind Israel. Citing Biblical prophecy, no less than 55 million evangelical Christians are calling on Washington to make Israel a cornerstone of US foreign policy.
According to Georgia’s Republican state chairman, Ralph Reed, “There is an undeniable and powerful spiritual connection between Israel and the Christian faith. It is where Jesus was born and where he conducted his ministry.” Onetime Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer goes further: “The Bible is pretty clear that the land is what is called covenant land, that God made a covenant with the Jews that that would be their land forever.” This land includes all of Jordan, the Sinai, and chunks of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, in addition to the current state of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. The Cato Institute’s Doug Bandow questions whether “crackpot theology” should be allowed to guide US foreign policy.
The president is not known for his nuanced approach to public policy. There is no room for ambiguity, whether in his foreign policy or his energy policy. Such a worldview creates polarization and makes confrontation inevitable. It glides over Sharon’s numerous acts of terrorism in Southern Lebanon during the eighties, and former Prime Minister Begin’s acts of terrorism against the British.
The official Arab response to the Bush plan was surprisingly mealy-mouthed. According to Brookings’ Fellow Shibley Telmani, moderate Arab leaders did not want to be on Bush’s bad side because “they remain tethered to the United States-and the military, economic and political support it provides.” Public scorn of US-friendly governments in the region has increased significantly over the past several months, as Arabs have watched Palestinian blood being shed by Israeli tanks and F-16s. Arabs are unhappy with their leaders’ inability to stop the Israeli onslaught. That is why Crown Prince Abdullah floated his peace plan, and subsequently visited Bush at his Texas ranch, emphasizing the need for the US to pull the region back from the precipice of certain disaster.
Instead of moving the warring parties toward peace, the plan strengthens the hardliners on both sides. Sharon has already used the Carte Blanc implicit in the plan to escalate his military campaign in the West Bank. All major cities are under military occupation, and more than a million people are experiencing collective punishment for the acts of a few. At the same time, those who carry guns in the Palestinian Authority have been vindicated. They will continue to inflict terror and suffering on the Israelis in order to force an Israeli withdrawal, like they did from southern Lebanon.
The G-8 communique failed to endorse the position that Arafat should be replaced as a precondition for the creation of a Palestinian state. In the first sign of dissent with Washington, Tony Blair said that the Palestinians have the right to elect their own leader. The peace plan has no takers, outside of the US and Israel.
Ahmad Faruqui, an economist, is a fellow of the American Institute of International Studies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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