AL-BIREH, West Bank — Monday’s long-awaited speech by U.S. President George W. Bush was to set the pace for the Palestinians and Israelis to step back from the vicious and bloody cycle of violence that has gripped them for nearly two years. Instead, Bush and his administration have publicly adopted the Israeli agenda of battering the Palestinians into submission.
Bush’s illusion that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can be “talked away” in a series of speeches is not only a poor example of leadership but seriously places U.S. interests in the region at high risk.
Bush’s administration has utterly failed to comprehend the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and, in particular, the Palestinian predicament today, which stems from an Israeli reoccupation of small parcels of land that were transferred to the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo Peace Accords.
To add insult to injury, Bush continues to mismanage U.S. policy with unprecedented unaccountability to the U.S. Congress and the world community. Bush’s chronological attempts to address the crisis are as follows: ignore the conflict — failed; send Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region — failed; the Mitchell Report — failed; the Tenet Plan — failed; Bush’s U.N. speech — failed; Powell’s policy speech in Kentucky — failed; send Gen. Anthony Zinni on multiple missions — failed; and the most recent call for an international conference (completely ignored in Bush’s latest speech) — failed.
If the creativity applied to avoiding real U.S. action were used to put an implementation mechanism in place to end the Israeli occupation, the region would be well out of the conflict by now.
To a naive audience Bush’s speech might have sounded like a sensible framework for progress, but for anyone with any understanding at all of the Middle East, it was clearly a shallow attempt in diplomacy that amounts to U.S. surrender of its Middle East foreign policy to the ranks of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Israel’s lobby in the U.S. Indeed, the speech was praised by Israel’s right, which has rejected Palestinian statehood outright.
Bush continues to be blinded by the events of 9/11 and refuses (or deceitfully avoids) to see the Palestinian issue outside the framework of the yet undefined phenomena of “terrorism.”
Palestinians were stripped of their national, civil, and human rights decades before the word terrorism became a buzzword. By placing the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence in a 9/11 mold, the U.S. is only prolonging a solution and feeding the bloodshed, exactly as Israel has been doing for 36 consecutive years now.
Today the U.S. is ideally positioned to finally take real action and use its global leverage to end Israeli occupation; instead it has succumbed to an extremist Israeli government that views the fate of illegal Israeli settlements the same as it views the fate of Tel Aviv.
By reducing the entire conflict in the region to the existence of an individual Palestinian leader, or set of leaders, the Bush administration has fallen for the red herring that was designed, produced and marketed by Sharon.
Bush needs to remember that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was part of the international election monitoring team that gave the Palestinian presidential elections a stamp of approval. Furthermore, the Palestinians are fully aware of the weaknesses in their leadership and have been working to correct them for many years now.
Instead of supporting Palestinian reformers, the United States has chosen to make their efforts more difficult by making them look as if they are aligned to an Israeli strategy of reform before freedom. A U.S.-led international campaign to mettle in internal Palestinian politics will only set back the efforts of those Palestinians who have already started making concrete steps for change.
To craft U.S. policy in an entire region around new elections for an already expired Palestinian Authority is yet another display of Israel setting U.S. policy.
More frightening is Bush’s criteria for the new leadership to be “not compromised by terror.” We can only assume that this will be translated by way of Jerusalem to mean that only those Palestinians who have not been involved in resistance against occupation would be accepted. This is a clever way to say that no Palestinian is eligible for acceptance into this U.S. policy, thus giving Israel more time to destroy Palestinian communities and any hope for coexistence.
Sharon, Bush’s advisers, the powerful pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. and the U.S. Congress have clearly provoked Bush to become a martyr in the name of continued Israeli military occupation of Palestinians. As with most martyrs who fail to see how their emotionally charged act will negatively reflect on the real issues at hand, Bush stands proud and tall in support of Israel while the U.S. economy, U.S. allies in the region, U.S. homeland security and the U.S. global leadership position all take the brunt of his misaligned and ill-advised policy, if it can even be considered “policy.”
Over the past two years the authors of this article have written on every issue that Bush mentioned in his speech. We predicted each failed U.S. step. Each time, we have advised the U.S. that the way out of the crisis is to put forth action, not words, in ending the Israeli occupation. We still strongly believe that as long as Israeli occupation is permitted to survive, the U.S. can revisit the issue in 10 days or 10 months or 10 years and will face the same: Palestinians, stripped of their rights, dignity, land and freedom will continue to struggle, with or without Arafat, to end their predicament, and Israelis will continue to suffer.
It is time — past time, to use Powell’s words — for the U.S. to put actions behind its policies. Until then we await the next speech by Bush and brace ourselves for the next series of bombings.
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