President George Bush’s speech intensified the plight of the peace supporters in Israel, and in the entire Middle East. Since 1977, they were accustomed to American presidents playing the role of “fair mediators”: pressuring Israel to restrain violence and to negotiate with its neighbors. Jimmy Carter mediated between Begin and Saadat, Ronald Reagan brought Israel and the PLO to a first ceasefire pact in 1981, and stopped Sharon before occupying Beirut in 1982. George Bush Senior coerced Shamir to the Madrid Peace Conference after the Gulf War, and Bill Clinton was best man to Rabin and Arafat. Then, and all of a sudden, comes a president that doesn’t mediate and unilaterally supports Sharon. This is not only confusing to the Israeli “peace camp,” but places the Palestinian leadership in an awkward position, and the rest of the Arab states as well. In March the Arab League accepted a brave peace plan, initiated by Saudi Arabia, and now the President Bush dismissed it off hand.
George Bush did not present a peace plan, but instead, in the subtext, we can understand who are his allies in his war plans. During the last half a year Bush stands at Sharon’s side and spurs him onwards on his aggressive policies. The obvious question is: Why did Bush quit playing the “fair mediator” between Israel and its neighbors? The explanation I suggest here is very simple: Bush is planning to launch an attack on Iraq, and in recent months he has come to the conclusion that, for the purpose of this war Sharon is a more reliable and worthwhile ally than the moderate Arab states. Bush doesn’t care too much about peace between Israel and Palestine, nor is he all that bothered by the millions of Palestinians living under curfew in intolerable and inhuman conditions, and neither is he really concerned about the Israeli casualties caused by the despaired suicide bombers. “Let them bleed” was the Bush administration’s motto early on in its reign, until it became politically incorrect on 9/11. And yet, as long as the Bush administration continues in its plans to attack Iraq, we, Palestinians and Israelis, will continue to bleed.
What makes so clear that Bush is mainly concerned by his plans of war? It is a matter of timing. In his speech Bush suggests the establishment of a Palestinian state within three years, focusing in the meantime on replacing Arafat and installing a new democratic, uncorrupted, transparent and efficient Palestinian administration during the coming year and a half. This means the Palestinian state will be established only AFTER the war against Iraq, if at all. Bush wants a strong and deterring Israel during the attack on Iraq, first of all because Sadam Hussein might bomb Tel-Aviv, as he did in 1991, and then Sharon will surely join the war. Second, because the “US’s enemies” throughout the Arab world might awaken during such a war. Israel’s job would then be to deter, and eventually fight, the US’s enemies within its “area of influence”: the Occupied Territories, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.
How did this full understanding between Bush and Sharon crystallize? It developed smoothly since 9/11. Immediately after the attack on the Twin Towers Sharon tried to get on the “War-On- Terrorism” wagon, declaring that “Arafat is our Bin Laden.” This position was firmly rejected by the US administration, mainly because they were planning an attack on Afghanistan, and did not want to endanger the expected cooperation with the pro-American Arab states. However, during the war in Afghanistan, the Bush Administration was disappointed with the positions of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. After the end of the war and the demolition of the Taliban’s regime, Sharon was invited to Washington “to coordinate the next moves in the war against terror”, this time against Iraq. In his meeting with President Bush on December 3rd Sharon received a “green light” to attack Arafat. On December 4th, Arafat’s helicopters were bombed, and he was placed on a “city arrest” in Ramalla for five months. Even when Arafat declared a ceasefire on December 16th, the US ignored it, and when Israel breached the ceasefire by assassinating Raad Carmi on January 14th (to avoid the upcoming political negotiations), Bush continued to support Sharon. Since December 3rd the President of the USA has defined Israel’s actions against the Palestinians as “self defense,” while Arafat is always found guilty. Sharon has systematically undermined Arafat’s authority in the eyes of the Palestinians, disbanded the forces that were loyal to his command, destroyed their infrastructure, and even sabotaged the Palestinian Authority’s computers. When the UN Security Council decided to send an inquiry committee to investigate war crimes committed in Jenin in April 2002, the US administration collaborated with Israeli Government in preventing the committee to enter Israel. In the present conditions, under military occupation and without international protection, it is hard to imagine how can the Palestinians establish democratic and efficient institutions.
The Bush Administration adopted and augmented Sharon’s big lie that Arafat is the problem (not the 35-year Israeli occupation), and that a Palestinian State would be established later on (when, where and how remain constantly deferred questions). Bush decided to back Sharon’s strategy due to his own political interests. His political axiom is that the US must attack Iraq, and the question was whether he wanted a weakened Sharon in confrontation with the US, or a strong Sharon on US’s side. Bush’s speech indicated that the administration has decided in favor of full coordination with Sharon. Bush has understood that a thorough solution of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict requires two elements: time, and confrontation with the Israeli government. Since Bush is neither willing to postpone the offensive on Iraq for three years, nor is he interested in confronting Israel before the war, Sharon has become an ally. Sharon knows that “all is open” in war. He is deeply satisfied with Bush’s “Middle East Plan”, that practically means a global war managed by the BUSHARON team, in which Bush will play the role of the global sheriff, imposing a new order in the Islamic States. Sharon has been nominated as the “regional sheriff”, and he will be allowed to impose a new order in his “area of influence”.
Indeed, it is hard to believe that these are the plans of the “leader of the globe”, but Bush behavior doesn’t leave too much room for doubts. He is leading with Sharon to a global war that, according to our experience with Sharon in Israel, is expected to be disastrous. We also know that in times of war the civil society, democracy and freedom of opinion are marginalized, so it is about time to start criticizing the expected war, before it starts. Neglecting harsh realities has never been helpful.
Dr. Lev Grinberg is a political analyst, senior lecturer at Ben-Gurion University, Israel.