Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 2004, pages 10-14
Both George Bush and Ariel Sharon Agree: Rob the Palestinians
Bush Endorses Israel’s Colossal Theft of Palestinian Land and Hope
By Paul Findley
ON APRIL 14 George W. Bush gave presidential blessing to Israel’s extensive acquisition and occupation of Palestinian territory by force of arms. In effect, he approved conquest that is expressly outlawed by the United Nations Charter and other international agreements, prohibitions that both Israel and the United States have long been pledged to support.
Bush did so in a televised news conference in the White House. He announced that the U.S. government will not, in future diplomatic negotiations, demand that Israel vacate large Jewish settlements it unlawfully has established within Palestinian territory over recent years. He also announced that the U.S. government will no longer support another property right clearly recognized in international law, the right of Palestinians to reclaim private property they were forced to abandon years ago when Jewish military forces took control of territory that now comprises Israel proper.
It is shocking to witness our chief executive cavalierly dismissing the important legal rights of an aggrieved nationality. It is particularly galling to see Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon smiling broadly at his side.
Sharon should be tried as a war criminal, not honored at the White House. A few years ago, he was found complicit by an official Israel board of inquiry for his major responsibility in the 1982 massacre of hundreds of defenseless Palestinians in Beirut refugee camps. During the same period, Sharon was an architect of Israel’s aerial bombardment of Beirut that slaughtered over 18,000 innocent civilians. The aircraft, artillery and munitions used in this slaughter were donated by the U.S. government.
Three years ago, the prime minister magnified this criminal record by ordering ruthless military sweeps through Palestinian territory that left large-scale death and destruction in their wake. In recent months, with no provision of due process, he ordered the assassination of countless Palestinians purely on suspicion of terrorism. One of the victims was a widely revered Islamic leader, a nearly-blind quadriplegic blown to bits by U.S.-supplied helicopter gunships while emerging from a mosque in a wheelchair. Upon his return from his White House visit, Sharon ordered the assassination of Abdel Aziz Rantisi, Yassin’s successor.
This gross, malignant behavior not only is illegal, it defies the rules of every major religion, including Judaism. To top it all, Sharon currently faces corruption charges brought by Israeli prosecuting attorneys. Bush, perhaps unwittingly, dignifies this rascal and advances the prime minister’s political fortunes by approving his plan to wipe away the legal rights of dispossessed Palestinians.
From the standpoint of U.S. national interests, the timing of this spectacle is unfathomable. President Bush acts as if he is oblivious of Middle East realities. In a prime time television address the night before his appearance with Sharon, Bush urged other nations, including Arabs, to help quell rising lethal violence against U.S. forces occupying Iraq—a nation, like Palestine, that is largely Muslim.
Bush does not seem to understand that one of the reasons for the insurgency is Iraqi awareness of the U.S. government’s long complicity in Israel’s brutal abuse of its Arab neighbors in Palestine. Injuries he helps Israel inflict on Arabs in Palestine are bound to incite greater violence against U.S. troops, as well as terrorist measures elsewhere.
Bush’s announcement will surely add fuel to anti-American passions in Iraq. It is tantamount to stabbing our own soldiers in the back. It will fuel similar passions worldwide, not just among Arabs and Muslims. Bush should be trying to build goodwill in Arab countries, not destroy it.
The Iraqi insurgents and other anti-American protestors worldwide surely view the otherwise mighty government in Washington as the pawn of Israeli manipulation, the meek errand-boy of tiny Israel, whose officials openly and accurately boast that Israel has full control of the U.S. Congress, as well as the presidency.
I predict that members of Congress will be lining up in the next few days to applaud Bush for endorsing Israel’s gargantuan theft of Arab legal rights. There will be few, if any, words of lament. And no one in elective office seems willing to acknowledge the colossal cost of U.S. aid to Israel: more than $1.3 trillion since 1975. Although staggering in monetary terms, it is a trifle when contrasted with the damage done by Bush’s abandonment of Palestinians.
Uri Avnery, an Israeli peace activist and a Jew, recently declared: “America controls the world, and Israel controls America.” Our president and our members of Congress should hang their heads in shame.
Paul Findley, a Member of Congress for 22 years, is the author of They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby and chairman emeritus of the Council for the National Interest. He writes books and articles from his home in Jacksonville, IL and lectures widely on international affairs.
Bush’s Dramatic Shift in Mideast
By Helen Thomas
If President Bush wants to give land away, there is always his 1,600-acre ranch at Crawford, Texas.
But he has no right to endorse the Israeli claim to the captured or settled property on the West Bank that belongs to the Palestinians.
Bush had Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in glowing smiles Wednesday when he praised Sharon’s plan to retain permanent possession of parts of the West Bank that Israel seized in the 1967 war.
The president also backed Israel’s declaration that Palestinian refugees have no right of return to their homes in the territory Israel has conquered.
The dramatic switch in U.S. policy on the West Bank comes against the background of near silence on the part of the Bush administration about the wall that Israel is building on Palestinian land, a construction project that will effectively add more territory—described as the size of the state of Rhode Island—to Israel.
Sharon wasn’t shy about proclaiming his triumph after meeting with Bush.
The Washington Post quoted an unidentified White House official as spinning the U.S. cave-in in terms of alleged administration fears that Sharon would lay claim to the entire West Bank. This scenario would have us believe that the administration boldly insisted that the Israeli leader settle only for mere chunks.
Bush’s backing of the West Bank land grab was an historic reversal of U.S. policy. And, again, Bush has put the United States in a go-it-alone posture.
Javier Solana, foreign policy chief for the European Union, was quoted in the Financial Times as saying Europe would not accept any change to Israel’s borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war unless both Israel and the Palestinians agreed to it.
“Final status issues can only be resolved by mutual agreement between parties,” Solana said.
Several Arab leaders said Bush had doomed the peace process in the Middle East because of his new policy.
Bush’s endorsement of Israel’s West Bank settlements isn’t a mere “tilt” toward Sharon’s policy—it is a total embrace that has stunned those who hoped the United States would have an “honest broker” role in Middle East affairs.
Bush has not made the slightest effort to appear even-handed. He failed to consult any Palestinians before announcing the new U.S. policy toward the West Bank.
Since he came into office Bush has ignored Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader who has negotiated with several presidents in the past.
Bush still talks lamely about his “road map” for peace in the Middle East, but his new West Bank policy has destroyed any shred of legitimacy that the plan may have had. What’s left to negotiate?
Secretary of State Colin Powell defended the new policy, saying it recognized “realisms that exist on the ground.”
And Americans wonder why the Arabs—who once revered us for our political ideals—now despise U.S. policies? Preach on, Mr. President, about democracy and freedom in the Middle East.
The new Bush stance is interpreted by some political pundits as a bid for the Jewish vote in the November election in order to boost the president’s prospects in battleground states such as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Bush’s moves also could help his continuing pursuit of Christian fundamentalists, who established close ties with Israel when Menachem Begin and Jerry Falwell made common cause in the Carter era.
Pollster John Zogby—who has his finger on the pulse of the Arab world—said: “This is pretty much the final nail in the coffin of the peace process as far as Arabs are concerned. It’s not even a political issue. It’s a bloodstream issue.”
Zogby was referring to the blow to the entire history of the search for Middle East peace.
Americans concerned that Bush has taken the wrong turn shouldn’t look to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate. Kerry signed on to the Bush-Sharon bargain in embarrassing haste, without blinking an eye.
“I think that could be a positive step,” Kerry said. “What’s important, obviously, is the security of the state of Israel, and that’s what the prime minister and president, I think, are trying to address,” Kerry added.
This is a time when peace prospects for the Middle East have never looked grimmer.
Why Did Bush Take My Job?
By Saeb Erekat
JERUSALEM—President Bush apparently has taken my job.
Until the Bush-Sharon press conference on April 14, I was the chief negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organization, the only internationally recognized entity that has a mandate to negotiate a permanent peace with Israel. But then Bush appeared on television, standing at the White House next to a beaming Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, and announced that he had accepted Israel’s claim to illegally occupied Palestinian land. He further determined that Palestinian refugees would never be allowed to return to their homes in Israel and would instead have to be resettled in a Palestinian state, vast tracts of which he had just given away.
In so doing, Bush reneged on the 1991 U.S. Letter of Assurances provided to the Palestinians by his father’s administration; the letter said that “no party should take unilateral actions that seek to predetermine issues” and that “the United States has opposed and will continue to oppose settlement activity in the territories occupied in 1967.” Bush, as the self-appointed Palestinian negotiator, finally exposed the “Middle East peace process” for the charade that it has become—a mechanism by which Israel and the United States impose a solution on the Palestinians.
In this era of unmatched and unchallenged U.S. power, Bush abandoned America’s historical role as facilitator and mediator of Middle East peace and instead simply adopted the positions of an expansionist, right-wing government in Israel. It is mind-boggling that an American president, often citing the rule of law, would use the power of his position not to enforce international law against illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory but instead to legitimize them as “currently existing Israeli population centers,” thereby giving Israelis an incentive to build even more. It is mind-boggling that a president who supports equality and non-discrimination would dismiss the rights of Christian and Muslim refugees to return to their homes in the “Jewish state”—a term often repeated but never defined or even left to the parties to negotiate. And it is mind-boggling that the leader of the free world, the president of a nation whose very existence is based on liberty and justice, would act so callously to deny liberty and justice to the Palestinian people.
The positions taken by Bush are completely contrary to, and thus seriously undermine, the expressed objectives of American policy of democratic reform in the Middle East. Freedom? Of course—unless you are a Palestinian, in which case your rights must be approved by Israel. The rule of law? Absolutely—unless you are Israel, in which case you need not concern yourself with U.N. resolutions, the Fourth Geneva Convention, international refugee law or human rights treaties.
Accountability? Without a doubt—unless you are Ariel Sharon, in which case you may freely conduct assassinations, build walls and settlements, oppress an entire population and then be rewarded with unquestioning support.
Bush wants to reform the Arab world while serving as the Washington franchise for an Israeli government bent on the expropriation of Palestinian land and the domination and humiliation of the Palestinian people. As long as the United States refuses to play an evenhanded role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as long as it continues to cede its Middle East policy to the Israeli government, U.S. efforts to win the war on terrorism are seriously undermined.
Israel’s non-negotiated disengagement from Gaza will cause many Palestinians to conclude that violence, and not negotiations, is the only option for securing their rights. The majority of Palestinians who support a peaceful, negotiated two-state solution now see that Palestinians are no longer even welcome at the negotiating table. Israel is now negotiating peace with the United States—not with the Palestinians. It is impossible to describe how deeply this has undermined Palestinian moderates, such as myself, who have continued to argue for a solution that is based on reconciliation and negotiation and not on revenge and retaliation.
The primary beneficiaries of these developments are extremist groups throughout the Middle East. The leaders of such groups could not have invented a better method of recruitment than the Bush-Sharon press conference. The reality is that as a result of the positions taken by the Bush administration, we are farther away from a permanent peace than we have ever been, and many innocent people on both sides will die in the coming months and years as a result.
My role as chief Palestinian negotiator may have been taken from me, but I retain my role as a Palestinian father. I am determined to teach my children that violence is not the answer. President Bush has not made my job any easier.
Saeb Erekat is chief negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organization. This opinion first appeared in The Washington Post April 25, 2004. Reprinted with permission.
The Last Straw?
By Gwynne Dyer
You never know which straw will finally break the camel’s back, but it may have been Wednesday’s summit between President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The public endorsement that Mr. Bush gave to Mr Sharon’s abandonment of the “peace process” in favor of “unilateral disengagement” was mostly symbolic, since the Israeli leader was committed to doing it anyway. But in the Middle East, patience is finally running out.
Look at the past month from an Arab perspective. At the end of March Israel assassinated Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder and leader of the Palestinian Islamist organization Hamas. Sheikh Yassin was a staunch supporter of the use of terror against the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territory—but he was also an elderly paraplegic who was widely seen as a holy man, and for many years Israel avoided attacking him.
Many Palestinians saw Sheikh Yassin’s murder as a deliberate attempt by the Israeli government to stimulate massive terrorist attacks which would distract international attention from Mr Sharon’s massive land grab in the West Bank. They were probably right, though the attacks have not yet come. What did come was a statement by Dr. Abdelaziz Rantissi, Hamas’s new leader in the Gaza Strip [and since assassinated by Israel], that “America has declared war on Allah. Allah has declared war on America and Bush.”
Most people in the West have forgotten that international terrorism was once the specialty of secular Palestinian nationalists. They stopped all that dead in 1988, after they got international recognition that the Palestinians were a people with a claim to their land and not just anonymous “Arab refugees” who could be put anywhere. ALL subsequent Palestinian terrorism has been directed exclusively against Israel, whose soldiers occupy that land—until now.
What Dr. Rantissi was saying is that America’s complicity in what Israel is doing to the Palestinians is so great that the United States will also become a target of Palestinian terrorism. Of course, Hamas hasn’t even retaliated against Israel for Sheikh Yassin’s death yet. Still....
Spin forward a week to Iraq, where the ham-fisted mismanagement of the U.S. occupation regime turns the killing of four men in Falluja and the banning of a 10,000-circulation newspaper published by a radical young cleric into two full-scale sieges of major Iraqi cities. It will be a miracle if the U.S. military don’t kill a thousand Iraqis this month (they’re already up to 800), and no matter what the American military spokesman says, people watching Arab television can see that the makeshift hospitals are full of wounded women and children as well as young men. Perhaps the United States is not the Arabs’ enemy, but look at it through Arab eyes.
And finally, Wednesday at the White House. It was obvious why Mr. Sharon, in trouble at home on several fronts, needed Mr Bush’s support for his radical plan to pull out of the Gaza Strip (where there are only 7,500 Jewish settlers among 1.3 million Palestinians), but hang onto almost all of the far bigger settlements on the West Bank and confine the Palestinians there behind his “security fence,” thus unilaterally settling the new borders of an emasculated Palestinian pseudo-state. It is less clear why Mr. Bush had to give it to him.
For 37 years, Republican and Democratic administrations alike have insisted, along with everyone else in the world, that Israel’s legal border is the pre-1967 one, and that it can only be changed by freely negotiated agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. Yet there was Mr. Bush, with Mr. Sharon beaming by his side, announcing a new U.S. policy: “In the light of new realities, including already existing Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic that the outcome of final-status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the [pre-1967 borders].”
Not a word about how those “already existing Israeli population centers” were planted there by force after the Israeli military occupation in 1967; not even a nod to the U.N. resolutions that have been the bedrock on which every previous negotiation was built. There aren’t going to be any more peace negotiations, of course, which suits Sharon fine—but why does it suit the United States? Mr. Bush’s unnecessary concessions to Israel were so effective in alienating Arab opinion that his speech might have been ghost-written by Osama bin Laden.
This may not prove to be the final straw, but we are getting very close. For 40 years the United States has managed to preserve a dominant position in the Arab world despite its permanent disagreement with the Arabs about Israel, but now it is throwing it away. The Arab regimes that depend on U.S. backing are getting very worried, and five or 10 years from now the Middle East may look a lot more like Mr. bin Laden’s dream than Mr. Bush’s.
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist (<www.gwynnedyer.net>). This commentary first appeared April 14, 2004.
Sharon’s Banana Republics
By Afif Safieh
The study of American-Israeli relations has preoccupied two generations of scholars. Two competing schools of thought addressed the “who wags whom” debate. The first school spoke of “an American Israel,” with the United States dictating to the local ally its regional policy in accordance with the American global vision. Noam Chomsky wrote two decades ago that Washington was the contemporary Rome and Israel its regional belligerent, Sparta. The second school projects the image of “an Israeli America,” a complex relationship where the global superpower adopts the regional policy of its client state and integrates it in its global strategy. This is seen as a result of a powerful pro-Israel lobby that succeeded in turning “Capitol Hill into another Israeli-occupied territory.”
I have always believed that both schools of thought were correct but at different moments in history, depending on the strength of the American president, how comfortable he is in the country and in Congress, and how comfortable the U.S. is in the world.
After the horror of 9/11, when the predictable retaliation was being discussed, the pro-Israel lobby emerged as the “maximalist school,” which wanted to expand the theater of operations beyond Afghanistan to engulf Iraq, Syria and Libya. That lobby has grown accustomed to using one muscle too many and one pressure too far. The collusion between the U.S. and Israeli agendas has put America on a collision course with the Arab world, which now perceives the U.S. as Israel’s belligerent Sparta and the aim of American foreign policy to be docility, not democracy.
Tony Blair has always had a more sophisticated approach than George Bush. Blair knew that military challenges and security threats needed political responses. That to win the battle of hearts and minds, the West had to be seen as engaged in resolving the Palestinian problem. The test and the extent of his influence in Washington depended on who Bush needed more: Blair internationally or Ariel Sharon domestically.
Last week was a sad moment for international diplomacy. The world’s two most powerful leaders, Bush and Blair, caved in to the most unscrupulous politician in the Middle East, who was found to be “unfit for public office” by an Israeli inquiry committee after the massacres of Sabra and Shatila in 1982.
Sharon is not hiding his game. In a recent interview with the leading Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea, he said Israelis should see his plan of unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip not as a reward but as a punishment of the Palestinians. He announced that the Palestinians could operate neither a port nor an airport in Gaza, and that Israel intended to keep control of territorial water and airspace. Nor would they have control of the borders. He added that this would delay the discussion of a Palestinian state for many years. He forgot to mention that Gaza, with its 1.3 million inhabitants, is only about 1 percent of historic Palestine.
Why Bush considered Sharon’s intentions “courageous” and “a golden opportunity” can be explained by the electoral considerations of an embattled president. But I remain puzzled by Blair’s enthusiasm for Sharon’s machinations and his conviction that they are in harmony with the road map. He has more experience in power than Bush, is better advised, and electoral considerations in Britain run in the opposite direction. Opinion polls show a 2-1 ratio in favor of Palestinian aspirations as compared with the Israeli position. Debates in parliament, across the political divide, should encourage him to be more assertive. All indications show that, on Palestine/Israel, Blair does not reflect the depth of feeling in Britain.
Sharon has been dealing with the U.S. and Britain as though they were his own banana republics. To his intransigence they constantly respond with abdication of responsibility and self-inflicted impotence. The way ahead under the road map would have been to secure a reciprocal cessation of violence that all Palestinian factions accept; pressure Sharon to couple a complete withdrawal from Gaza with a pull-out of the urban centers in the West Bank to allow the creation of a Palestinian state “with temporary frontiers”; and to make Palestinian elections possible—presidential, parliamentary and municipal—and pave the way for final-status negotiations.
None of that has been undertaken. Bush and Blair are allowing Israel to dictate what is possible. Sharon will pursue his policy of politicide, vandalizing Palestinian society and the economy, and crushing any national representation and government. Despite Hamas’s self-restraint since the assassination of Sheikh Yassin and its dialogue with other factions to minimize civilian deaths on both sides, he has pressed ahead with decapitating the Palestinian leadership by killing Abdul-Aziz Rantisi.
For years it has been my belief that the ideal U.S. president for Middle East peace would be one who had the ethics of a Carter, the popularity of a Reagan and the strategic audacity of a Nixon. Alas, we have a president who has the ethics of a Nixon, the popularity of a Carter and the intellectual agility of a Reagan.
Afif Safieh is the Palestinian General Delegate to the UK and the Holy See. This opinion first appeared in The Guardian April 19, 2004. Â©The Guardian 2004. Reprinted with permission.
Why All the Fuss About The Bush-Sharon Meeting?
By Ali Abunimah
The April 14 meeting between President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Washington sent Palestinian leaders into a flying panic. But their response reeks of desperation and self-interest rather than any real concern for the fate of the Palestinian people and their land or because the results of the meeting represented any new setback for Palestinian rights.
Hours before departing Israel, Sharon announced that large Israeli settlement blocs would remain in the West Bank forever. Referring to the largest Israeli colony, east of occupied Jerusalem, Sharon said, “Ma’aleh Adumim will remain part of the state of Israel forever and ever.” Sharon, who spoke at a Passover celebration in Ma’aleh Adumim itself, named other settlements he plans to keep, including the large Gush Etzion block south of Jerusalem, Giv’at Ze’ev, Ariel and Kiryat Arba.
When he got to Washington, Sharon received the two public assurances he badly wanted from Bush as prize for his announced withdrawal from Gaza. At their joint press conference following their meeting, Bush said that Palestinian refugees should be resettled in a Palestinian state, not in Israel. Sharon had wanted such a statement of U.S. opposition to Palestinian refugees exercising their right of return to homes in Israel from which they were expelled or fled. Bush also said that any final peace deal should reflect that “realities on the ground and in the region have changed greatly.” This was a nod to Sharon’s demand that Israel ought to be allowed to keep its large illegal colonies in the occupied West Bank.
Prior to the Bush-Sharon summit, Palestinian leaders were hysterical about the prospect of such American assurances—which had been widely previewed in the Israeli press. Palestinian negotiations minister Saeb Erekat declared that “the maintenance of six settlement blocs in the West Bank is a recipe for closing all the doors in the peace process and its destruction.” Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei was no less strident, warning that “any U.S. guarantees to Israel that affect the final status issues...are unacceptable and will be rejected.” On the day of Sharon’s Washington visit, Yasser Arafat issued a hyperbolic statement from his Ramallah prison predicting that Bush’s guarantees would “end the peace process” and cancel all existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians—as if there were a peace process, and signed agreements were worth more than the paper they are printed on to either Bush or Sharon.
But, really, what is all the fuss about? Sharon and Bush did not say anything new. In fact, Sharon’s position indicates a significant shift toward Israel’s traditional Labor-led “peace camp,” while Bush simply rephrased formulas already used by former President Bill Clinton. Consider the vision former Israeli Labor Party Prime Minister Ehud Barak laid out in a May 24, 2001 New York Times commentary:
“What Israel ought to do now is take steps to ensure the long-term viability of its Jewish majority. That requires a strategy of disengagement from the Palestinians—even unilaterally if necessary—and a gradual process of establishing secure, defensible borders, demarcated so as to encompass more than 80 percent of Jewish settlers in several settlement blocs over about 15 percent of Judea and Samaria, and to ensure a wide security zone in the Jordan Valley. We need to erect appropriate barriers to prevent the entry of suicide bombers and other attackers.”
What on earth is the difference between Barak’s vision of 2001 and Sharon’s vision of 2004? While Barak is viewed as being at the “hawkish” end of the Labor Party, things don’t get much better at the “dovish” end. Barak’s successor as Labor leader, Gen. Amram Mitzna, was one of the architects of the so-called Geneva Initiative—a virtual peace plan signed by Israeli opposition politicians and former PA officials acting with Arafat’s blessing. Attempting to sell the virtues of this initiative to a skeptical Israeli public, Mitzna wrote in Haaretz last Oct. 16:
“For the first time in history, the Palestinians explicitly and officially recognized the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people forever. They gave up the right of return to the state of Israel and a solid, stable Jewish majority was guaranteed. The Western Wall, the Jewish Quarter and David’s Tower will all remain in our hands. The suffocating ring was lifted from over Jerusalem and the entire ring of settlements around it—Givat Ze’ev, old and new Givon, Ma’ale Adumim, Gush Etzion, Neve Yaacov, Pisgat Ze’ev, French Hill, Ramot, Gilo and Armon Hanatziv will be part of the expanded city, forever. None of the settlers in those areas will have to leave their homes.”
Mitzna named more settlements he wants to keep than Sharon!
Yossi Beilin, of the far-left Meretz Party, is former Israeli justice minister, and the main force behind the Geneva Initiative. Beilin confirmed Mitzna’s interpretation of the Geneva parameters last February in Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper, writing that if Israel and the Palestinians managed to sign an agreement in the “spirit” of Geneva, “Israel will receive many benefits.” Among them, “an internationally recognized eastern border; a large capital including the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall—recognized by the world, with all embassies moving to it from Tel Aviv; the refugee problem will finally be taken off Israel’s agenda and all the relevant U.N. resolutions will be replaced by the signed agreement.”
Yet when Shlomo Ben-Ami, Barak’s “dovish” foreign minister who headed the Israeli negotiating teams at Camp David in July 2001 and in Taba in December 2001, criticized the Geneva plan it was because it was much too generous to the Palestinians. In a Dec. 11, 2003 interview with France’s Le Figaro newspaper, Ben-Ami complained that Beilin and the other Israeli participants in Geneva were “outbidding each other with concessions.”
Sharon is laundering the extreme and racist policies of the Labor Party.
Looking at the accumulation of evidence, there is no qualitative difference whatsoever between what Sharon on the one hand, and the mainstream Israeli “peace camp” on the other are prepared to give the Palestinians. There are slight differences in emphasis and perhaps over a few percentage points of West Bank land. Sharon is committed to keeping Kiryat Arba near Hebron, seen even in Israel as a hotbed of settler fanaticism, while the Labor-led “peace camp” might be prepared to sacrifice it since its inhabitants would never vote for them anyway. What is indisputable is that Sharon and his “opposition” agree that Gaza is a burden that Israel is best rid of, while the vast majority of the settlers in the biggest settlements in the West Bank should remain precisely where they are forever.
But as far as the Palestinian Authority is concerned, there is a difference—not in substance, but in style. While Labor has historically preferred to get PA endorsement and consent for Israeli colonization (and the PA has with few exceptions obliged), Sharon has no need for the PA. This explains why Palestinian leaders are prepared to make a fuss when Sharon says something, but remain silent and cooperative when their “friends” in the Israeli “peace movement” say exactly the same things or worse. For Palestinian “ministers” actual peace is not a requirement. All they need is an endless “peace process” in which they are seen as “partners.” For this they have repeatedly shown that they will pay any price unless and until pressure from the people they purport to represent stops them from committing irreversible blunders.
For Israel’s “peace camp” Palestinian agreement to the humiliating terms on which they agree with Sharon is far preferable to unilateral action because they believe it will give them what they deeply crave—international credibility and respectability without any significant sacrifice of Israel’s ill-gotten gains. The Palestinian Authority, the Israeli “peace camp” and a lot of liberal commentators in the United States all find it convenient to pretend that Sharon is the problem. The real problem is the Israeli consensus that a demographically and therefore politically untenable “Jewish democratic state” in Palestine must be preserved, entirely at the cost of the Palestinians. Recognizing this reality means facing the unpalatable truth that a fair and workable partition of Palestine is not possible today, if it ever was.
Sharon, the man who literally tried to destroy the Palestinian national movement and the Lebanese state, and who always believed that “Jordan is Palestine,” is laundering the extreme and racist policies of the Labor Party. From Sharon, such policies suddenly appear moderate or, as Bush called them, a demonstration of “boldness and courage” that ought to be matched by the Palestinians.
It might be argued that what distinguishes Sharon’s initiative from earlier Labor Party declarations is that he managed to get a U.S. president to publicly support his position. But here, too, there is less new than meets the eye. President Clinton announced his “parameters” for Palestinian-Israeli “peace” in a speech to the Israel Policy Forum on Jan. 7, 2001, and in writing to Barak and Arafat shortly before he left office. These explicitly included “the incorporation into Israel of settlement blocks, with the goal of maximizing the number of settlers in Israel while minimizing the land annex.” Clinton did not mention removal of any settlements, simply incorporating as many of the settlements as possible—intact—into Israel.
On the right of return, Clinton declared, “We cannot expect Israel to make a decision that would threaten the very foundations of the state of Israel, and would undermine the whole logic of peace. And it shouldn’t be done.” In other words, Clinton explicitly supported the Israeli view that it should have an absolute veto on the return of any refugees, lest they threaten its “Jewish character.” Clinton actually defined the notion of refugees returning home in accordance with international law and U.N. resolutions to be anti-peace. Arafat accepted Clinton’s parameters and they formed the basis of the Taba talks, in which all the Palestinian officials now protesting Sharon’s statements gleefully participated.
The dismay expressed by the PA leaders also reflects how much they have mortgaged themselves to the whims of the United States and how little faith they put in the justness of the Palestinian cause. So what if Bush is against the right of return, as were Clinton and Barak? The right of return still exists and it will not disappear just because Bush and Sharon want it to. Palestinians, thank goodness, do not draw their inalienable human rights from the lips of George Bush.
Of course, one could argue that Clinton is history and guarantees from the current administration represent a new and dangerous setback for the Palestinians. Perhaps so, but this would hardly justify the PA’s recent professions of outrage and panic when they have been willing partners in approving, encouraging and promoting so many disastrous Israeli ideas for so long.
Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada,<http://electronicIntifada.net>. This commentary first appeared April 14, 2004. Reprinted with permission.