Mr. Bush finally spoke. And the Palestinian people, in spite of their experience with US foreign policy during the past fifty years, listened carefully, hoping that they would hear something new, something hopeful.
In their naïve optimism, they thought that maybe the US administration had modified slightly its anti-Palestinian policy. Or maybe, after all the visits and meetings and clarifications, it had reconsidered its foreign policy and could offer something balanced and morally just, on par with its acclaimed moral status in the international arena.
During those brief ten minutes, however, it became devastatingly clear that politics and policies are not the result of diplomatic courtesies or charming rhetoric exchanged politely around a negotiating table. Policies and politics are founded on the protection of the interests of the powerful (who will go to great lengths to maintain their power).
Mr. Bush and the US administration had a unique opportunity to regain some of the respect and credibility they had lost in front of the millions of people suffering from the oppression and injustice that result from the double-standards of US foreign policy. The simplistic “vision” for solving the conflict that Mr. Bush delivered to the Palestinians exposed not only the colonialist mentality on which US foreign policy is based, but also a complete bias toward Israel.
His first premise is that Israelis, as victims of terror, have the right to defend themselves. This obviously translates into the belief that the Palestinian resistance movement is a movement of terror and, as such, is the root of the problem. No mention is made, of course, that Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian lands may be the root of the problem. In self-defense, Israel apparently has the right to use any and all tactics “necessary” to combat terrorism — assassination, brutal siege of captive civilian populations, arbitrary restriction of movement, etc.
During the brief time it took Mr. Bush to articulate his “vision,” the occupation army had assassinated six Palestinians from Gaza, among them three brothers. And just after the speech, Israeli tanks invaded Hebron and killed four more Palestinians. Israel presently occupies almost all Palestinian cities and villages in the West Bank and is imposing a 24-hour curfew on two million people.
Mr. Bush prides himself on his discovery of the formula for peace in the Middle East: new Palestinian leadership must be “found,” so that a Palestinian state can be born. Mr. Bush has conveniently decided that President Arafat is the obstacle to peace. Not the Israeli occupation. Not the illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. Mr. Bush apparently believes that the solution to the conflict will come about in spite of the Israeli occupation and the continued presence of the occupation army. And he is prepared to work together with Israel to force the Palestinians to accept this solution.
Mr. Bush’s “logic” is clear. Israeli suffering must be stopped. The cause of this suffering, namely the Palestinian resistance (terror) movement, must be stopped. Since the Palestinian leadership (Palestinian Authority) is unable to stop the resistance movement, it must be changed. This change in leadership must be brought about through democratic elections, provided that the newly-elected leadership has nothing to do with the resistance movement against occupation. In order to ensure an “appropriate” new leadership, the elections must be held according to US and Israeli criteria while the occupation continues.
In the meantime, various Palestinian security services must be restructured. The focus of these services would be to subdue the Palestinian people and their resistance activities, as well as to guarantee the security of the Israeli population.
What Israel was unable to achieve in 35 years of military occupation, with its superior army, secret police, and methods of collective oppression, should now be achieved through a new Palestinian Authority and its restructured security services. Its success would probably be measured by the number of Palestinians imprisoned or killed while resisting the Israeli occupation. Years ago, many political activists feared that the Oslo agreement, even if implemented properly, would produce a small Vichy government. Now it seems that this Vichy government is being established.
Mr. Bush did happen to mention the establishment of a Palestinian State. But rather than being founded as a result of the resistance movement, it should come to life through the grace of the United States, and only after Mr. Bush decides that he is content with the outcome of Palestinian elections and the new (puppet) leadership. Is this the “democracy” touted by Mr. Bush?
What if the Palestinians elect Mr. Arafat again?
Mr. Bush has stipulated three tasks that must be accomplished:
1. The annihilation of the Palestinian national resistance movement, since it has been declared a terror organization. This includes the suppression of all historical Palestinian political parties that oppose US policies, as well as the election of a new Palestinian leadership that can provide security for Israel. 2. The restructuring of Palestinian security services that would then be used to oppress the population (strikingly similar to the situation in many other Arab regimes). 3. The creation of an economic system modeled on the US vision, and under full control of the IMF, the World Bank, and other similar entities.
In order to ensure the success of this process, the US must remain in control. This means that:
1. Any Palestinian state with potential to be approved by Bush would be temporary. This allows the US to easily withdraw its backing if the elected leaders do not conform to US policies. 2. The entire election process would be implemented while Palestinians remain under complete Israeli occupation. (Perhaps this is what Mr. Bush means when he speaks of free and democratic elections.) 3. The three-year designated time frame for the process ensures that any outcome could be sufficiently controlled.
Underlying everything, of course, is the threat that if the Palestinian leadership refuses to play by the rules, they will be kicked out of the game. (Slightly reminiscent of Mr. Clinton’s ultimatum to Mr. Arafat in January 2001: If you do not sign the agreement, Israel will wage war against you with the support of the United States.)
All is clear so far.
But when Mr. Bush attempts to articulate the final aim of his vision, we are met with an ambiguity that seems to indicate his unwillingness to take a definitive stand. What we are left with is: The negotiations between both parties will determine the outcome.
How are we to interpret such an ambiguous conclusion to an otherwise crystal clear plan of action?
Mr. Bush happened to mention that the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 should end, according to UN resolutions 242 and 338. He even stated that Israel must withdraw to secure and recognized borders that will be determined through negotiations by both parties. What he failed to mention, however, was that within the context of a thirty-five year military occupation, the phenomenon of suicide attacks began only recently. What does this have to say about the “root of the problem?”
Mr. Bush knows that Israel is confiscating more land and building more settlements. He sees the efforts expended to continue the occupation. And yet, the paternalistic language he uses when speaking to Israel can only be understood as words of unconditional support and understanding — the language of an ally and an accomplice. Even the demand for Israel to comply with and execute the US-patented Mitchell Plan is now connected to Palestinian compliance with US conditions.
A couple of months ago, when asked about the implementation of the Mitchell Plan and Israeli withdrawal, Mr. Bush replied in no uncertain terms: Israel must withdraw NOW.not tomorrow, not next week.but IMMEDIATELY. His “new vision,” however, has no apparent connection to previous demands. Instead, without naming any time frame, he simply says that Israeli forces need to withdraw fully to positions they held prior to 28 September 2000.
More omissions: Mr. Bush made no mention of Israel’s plan to construct “walls of apartheid.” He obviously has no idea of the magnitude of suffering that will be caused by these walls. He probably has not even realized that these walls will be built on occupied territory, in clear violation of all international conventions. Mr. Bush does not even acknowledge the assassinations or the wanton destruction of Palestinian infrastructure or the 24-hour curfews imposed on every Palestinian child, woman, and man. All is justified, it seems, as Israel’s right to “self-defense.” (And God forbid that one should call the Palestinians “victims” of “terror!”)
When Mr. Bush responded to the Arab initiative presented during the Summit in Beirut, he called on all Arab countries to normalize their relations with Israel even before it withdrew from the territories. But he did not stop there. Arab leaders, he said, should fight terrorism (as defined by the US administration). To paraphrase Mr. Bush: “Those who are not with us are against us. And those who are against us have aligned themselves with the axis of evil and very soon will experience the wrath of the United States.” Instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to challenge the United States, the Arab leaders reverted to their former submissiveness and more or less agreed to comply with US dictates.
As the world’s guardian of moral norms, Mr. Bush saw no need to address the European community or other countries. He is apparently satisfied with Europe’s role to pick up the pieces left by the occupation and to pay the cost of whatever is needed in the wake of the destruction wrought by occupation.
And so, Mr. Bush finally spoke. Unfortunately, he got it all wrong.
1. The Palestinian cause and the Palestinian/Israeli conflict are more complex than Mr. Bush’s simplistic “vision” can capture. Blind Palestinian compliance with US and Israeli demands is not a solution. 2. The logic of power and the Israeli military occupation have not been able to crush the Palestinian resistance movement during the past 35 years. Palestinian culture has become a culture of resistance due to the occupation. This culture includes an awareness of injustice, an experience of humiliation, a vision for a better future, and a firm determination to gain freedom and independence. Unjust dictates and imposed solutions will be totally rejected, especially if they do not address issues of basic human rights. 3. The collective memory of the world community is deeper and more complex than Mr. Bush realizes. You cannot fool all of the people all of the time. 4. The simple fact remains: the Israeli occupation alone is the root of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.
If Mr. Bush truly understands the “deep anger and despair of the Palestinian people,” then he must also understand that the occupation must end before anything else can be achieved.
If Mr. Bush honestly believes that the “interests of the Palestinian people are held hostage to a comprehensive peace agreement that never seems to come, as your lives get worse year by year,” then he must understand that the occupation must end before anything else can be achieved.
If Mr. Bush honestly believes that we “deserve democracy and the rule of law.an open society and a thriving economy,” then he must understand that the occupation must end before anything else can be achieved.
If Mr. Bush believes that we “deserve a life of hope for our children,” then he must understand that the occupation must end before anything else can be achieved.
Only when the occupation is ended can “libertyblossom in the rocky soil of the West Bank and Gaza.” Only when the occupation is ended can liberty “inspire millions of men and women around the globe who are equally weary of poverty and oppression, equally entitled to the benefits of democratic government.”
Either the occupation is ended once and for all or the doors of history will remain open for the conflict to continue, with or without the United States.
Nassar Ibrahim works with the Alternative Information Center and Dr. Majed Nassar is deputy director of Health Work Communities. They may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.