President Bush today made a speech in the White House with the clear intention of assuring an ever-skeptical world that he is concerned about the Palestinian question, and that he’s confident that PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Abbas’s illegitimately installed Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, can “deliver” something worthwhile to the Palestinian people.
In order to do this, Bush had to airbrush out a whole lot of extremely unsavory facts about the circumstances in which the Fayyad administration came into being. For example, he said,
- The alternatives before the Palestinian people are stark. There is the vision of Hamas, which the world saw in Gaza — with murderers in black masks, and summary executions, and men thrown to their death from rooftops…
There’s another option, and that’s a hopeful option. It is the vision of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad; it’s the vision of their government; it’s the vision of a peaceful state called Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people. To realize this vision, these leaders are striving to build the institutions of a modern democracy. (Ahem, what about the parliament that the Palestinians democratically elected back in January 2006, which the US government systematically tried to undermine from the day it was elected, and which has now been rendered inoperative through Israel’s broad arrests of legislators and through Abbas’s unconstitutional appointment of Fayyad?? ~ HC) They’re working to strengthen the Palestinian security services, so they can confront the terrorists and protect the innocent. (!) They’re acting to set up competent ministries that deliver services without corruption. (!) They’re taking steps to improve the economy and unleash the natural enterprise of the Palestinian people. And they’re ensuring that Palestinian society operates under the rule of law. (!) By following this path, Palestinians can reclaim their dignity and their future — and establish a state of their own…
So the way he presents it, Hamas is only a “terrorist” organization that uses unconscionable violence against Palestinians (as well as Israelis). He makes zero mention at all of Hamas’s victory in the 2006 elections– or, of Israel’s quite unforgivable detention of more than half of the duly elected Hamas legislators. All that is airbrushed out of Bush’s view of “history.”
Luckily, yesterday US readers were able to read this sterling piece of reporting by the NYT’s Steve Erlanger, who used his extensive understanding of the realities in the occupied Palestinian territories to write at length about the deep corruption into which Fateh has fallen, the horribly corrosive effects Israel’s stonewalling on the peace “process” has had on the lives of Palestinians, the commission by some Fateh bodies of torture and other forms of gross abuse against other Palestinians over the years, the US- and Israel-orchestrated campaign against the Parliamentary leadership elected by the Palestinians last year, and so on…
And nor does he spare Hamas from his scrutiny (though he gives a far more informed description of the political realities within which it operates, and in which it has grown so strong in recent years than anything G.W. Bush could even dream of producing). Erlanger led his piece thus:
- Palestinians never used to do these things to one another. Putting bullets in the back of the heads of men on their knees. Shooting up hospitals. Killing patients. Knee-capping doctors. Executing clerics. Throwing handcuffed prisoners to their deaths from Gaza’s highest (and most expensive) apartment buildings. There is a madness in Gaza now. Hamas — a religious political-military organization that dominated the last Palestinian elections — claimed it was fighting infidels, with a holy sanction to kill. Fatah — the largest group in the Palestine Liberation Organization — was nearly as brutal as Hamas and claimed it was fighting the Nazis. Poor young men from the squalid, stinking refugee camps of Gaza, their heads filled with religious slogans and revolutionary cant, took off their knitted black masks to pose in front of the gilded bathrooms of the once-powerful and rich men of Fatah. Then they stole the sinks, toilets, tiles and pipes, leaving the wiring and the metal scraps for the ordinary, unarmed poor.
Not quite the image of Fateh as the nonviolent “peace-lovers” that George Bush was trying to convey, it seems?
(Do read the rest of Erlanger’s piece, if you can.)
So, back to Bush…
He describes a few fairly rapid steps he wants the US and its allies in the so-called “Quartet” to take. Then, he says this:
- With the proper foundation, we can soon begin serious negotiations toward the creation of a Palestinian state.
These negotiations must resolve difficult questions and uphold clear principles. They must ensure that Israel is secure. They must guarantee that a Palestinian state is viable and contiguous. And they must lead to a territorial settlement, with mutually agreed borders reflecting previous lines and current realities, and mutually agreed adjustments. America is prepared to lead discussions to address these issues, but they must be resolved by Palestinians and Israelis, themselves.
I really don’t see how anyone can take seriously any more the notion that America has any remaining legitimacy to continue “leading” the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. For 34 years now– ever since the brief convening of an international Middle East peace conference in Geneva in December 1973– the US arrogated to itself the claimed “right” to dominate all aspects of Israeli-Arab peacemaking. And for a while, the rest of the world was, for a broad variety of reasons, prepared to go along with that.
Twenty years later, in 1993, the Norwegians handed to the Americans on a plate a unique opportunity to build on the relationships of trust that Norwegian negotiators had built up between the PLO and Israeli leaders, including a commitment the Israelis and Palestinians had both signed on to, that by 1999 they would have concluded a permanent peace agreement between them– and the Americans completely squandered that opportunity… Through first and foremost their continued pursuit of blatantly one-sided pro-Israeli partisanship, but also through their recourse to all sorts of silly, time-wasting ruses under the rubric of “confidence-building”, peace-“processing” etc, etc, and through President Clinton’s deep failure to engage with the need to work seriously on the all-important negotiations for a final peace agreement (as opposed to all those time-wasting little side-talks about this or that situation under the endlessly prolonged ‘interim’ situation.)
Well, 34 years of failed American “leadership” in the Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy notwithstanding, here is President Bush breezily telling us that once again, “America is prepared to lead discussions to address these issues, but they must be resolved by Palestinians and Israelis, themselves.”
No mention there, you will note, of such things as “the principles of international law”. No. Under this so-called American “leadership”, these two parties– the one a state with the world’s third- or fourth-largest army, a GNP in the mega-billions, nuclear weapons, a massive prison system, and many other means of violent coercion at its disposal, and the other a ragtag collection of sad and corrupt little US-financed “ministries” under Abbas’s and Fayyad’s control, deploying a few little pop-guns (but oh, not against Israel)– are going to be able to sit down together and negotiate a fair, sustainable outcome?
I don’t think so.
That’s why getting a firm grounding of “the principles of international law” into the process is so important. Without that, the Palestinians can’t “negotiate” anything worthwhile or lasting.
Bush goes on, embedding some fairly racist assumptions about the nature of Palestinians into his discourse:
- To make this prospect a reality, the Palestinian people must decide that they want a future of decency and hope — not a future of terror and death. They must match their words denouncing terror with action to combat terror. The Palestinian government must arrest terrorists, dismantle their infrastructure, and confiscate illegal weapons — as the road map requires. They must work to stop attacks on Israel, and to free the Israeli soldier held hostage by extremists. And they must enforce the law without corruption, so they can earn the trust of their people, and of the world. Taking these steps will enable the Palestinians to have a state of their own. And there’s only way to end the conflict, and nothing less is acceptable. (I’m not sure what the first half of the preceding sentence means. But maybe it doesn’t matter? ~HC)
Israel has a clear path. Prime Minister Olmert must continue to release Palestinian tax revenues to the government of Prime Minster Fayyad. Prime Minister Olmert has also made clear that Israel’s future lies in developing areas like the Negev and Galilee — not in continuing occupation of the West Bank. This is a reality that Prime Minister Sharon recognized, as well. So unauthorized outposts should be removed and settlement expansion ended. At the same time, Israelis should find other practical ways to reduce their footprint without reducing their security — so they can help President Abbas improve economic and humanitarian conditions. They should be confident that the United States will never abandon its commitment to the security of Israel as a Jewish state and homeland for the Jewish people.
The “reduce their footprint without reducing their security” line is quite cute… But it falls far short of calling for an unequivocal withdrawal of Israel from the areas its army occupied during the war of 1967. Whatever happened to that fine clause embedded in Resolution 242 about “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force”? Has George Bush, the Emperor of the Whole World, now decided that acquiring territory by force has become quite acceptable?
- The international community must rise to the moment, and provide decisive support to responsible Palestinian leaders working for peace. One forum to deliver that support is the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee — a group chaired by Norway that includes the United States and Japan, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan. (This ‘Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee’ completely follows the model the Bushites love to use for addressing thorny international issues. Rather than using the existing and far more legitimate channels for multilateral action– primarily, the UN– they like to pull together ‘ad-hoc committees’ of their own choosing, and under their own leadership, to address this or that problem– and quite free from the constraints of anything called ‘international law’. I really don’t don’t see why other countries continue to go along with this norm-corroding, self-serving approach. Unfortunately, regarding the ‘Quartet’, even the UN itself went along. ~HC) Today I call for a session of this committee to gather soon, so that the world can back its words in real support for the new Palestinian government.
The world can do more to build the conditions for peace. So I will call together (He honestly thinks he’s been elected ‘leader of the whole world’? What madness is this?) an international meeting this fall of representatives from nations that support a two-state solution, reject violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and commit to all previous agreements between the parties. The key participants in this meeting will be the Israelis, the Palestinians, and their neighbors in the region. Secretary Rice will chair the meeting. (Take that, Tony Blair!) She and her counterparts will review the progress that has been made toward building Palestinian institutions. They will look for innovative and effective ways to support further reform. And they will provide diplomatic support for the parties in their bilateral discussions and negotiations, so that we can move forward on a successful path to a Palestinian state.
And then we have this… I knew it had to come into the speech somewhere!
- The conflict in Gaza and the West Bank today is a struggle between extremists and moderates. And these are not the only places where the forces of radicalism and violence threaten freedom and peace. The struggle between extremists and moderates is also playing out in Lebanon — where Hezbollah and Syria and Iran are trying to destabilize the popularly elected government. The struggle is playing out in Afghanistan — where the Taliban and al Qaeda are trying to roll back democratic gains. And the struggle is playing out in Iraq — where al Qaeda, insurgents, and militia are trying to defy the will of nearly 12 million Iraqis who voted for a free future.
Ceding any of these struggles to extremists would have deadly consequences for the region and the world. So in Gaza and the West Bank and beyond, the international community must stand with the brave men and women who are working for peace.
So let’s see what this sudden burst of (claimed) Bushist enthusiasm for Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy leads to… Will we see a serious attempt by the US government to curb Israel’s settlement-building project? Will we see a serious attempt by them to push Israel into lifting the debilitating shackles it has placed on the ability of the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza to maintain anything like a “normal” economic, social, and political life?
I wait to be pleasantly surprised. But I am not holding my breath. Quite honestly, I think humanity could devise a better mode of global “leadership” than this one.