The ineptness of the Bush administration knows no bounds. On Tuesday President George Bush said: “The idea of a Palestinian state has always been part of a vision,” whatever that means. A Palestinian state comprising what? Whose vision?
His vague pronouncement followed a leak on Monday by an unnamed official that Washington had intended to put forward on Sept. 24 a plan for the establishment of a Palestinian state. But the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on Sept. 11 had sidetracked the effort, the official stated.
Bush’s statement and the leak were clearly intended to give the Arabs the impression that Washington is prepared to consider their demand for linkage between Arab cooperation with the US-led campaign against terrorism and effective US involvement in Arab-Israeli peacemaking.
The timing of the Bush remark and the leak are important. They came on the eve of visits by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Oman. Washington is eager to convince these governments to permit the use of their territory for the coming offensive against Afghanistan because it seeks to minimise the use of Pakistani bases due to local sensitivities. Once again, Arab governments are supposed to sign on to a US programme of action without any concrete quid pro quo. Arab sensitivities are disregarded.
According to The New York Times, the US initiative was to have been launched by Secretary of State Colin Powell in a speech before the UN General Assembly. In this address, Powell was expected to describe the administration’s “view of a settlement,” including the delineation of borders, the refugee issue and Jerusalem. The Times said the Bush initiative would “take into account the progress made at the failed Camp David negotiations during the Clinton administration… but would stop short of the specifics [Bill Clinton] made in January in a New York speech just before leaving office.”
In this speech, Clinton called for a “sovereign and viable Palestinian state” which would share Jerusalem with Israel as its capital. Clinton also said that Israel could not be expected to accept a flood of Palestinian refugees which could transform the Jewish state into a binational state. The Clinton proposal was not accepted by the Palestinians because many key elements remained vague and neither Clinton nor the then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, both on their way out of office, were in any position to deliver.
The Times also said the Powell plan “represented the first time a Republican administration [had] backed a Palestinian state.” The administration had, also, decided that President George Bush II would condescend to meet Palestinian President Yasser Arafat on the sidelines of the General Assembly meeting, but not in the White House Oval Office where Bush has twice received Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Thus, a vague Bush statement and a leak by an anonymous official of the existence of a plan which is not revealed are supposed to convince the Arabs that the administration has good intentions. Therefore, the Arabs should support Bush’s anti-terrorism campaign by providing bases and logistical support for US military forces. The Bush remark and the leak amount to an insult piled on all the injuries heaped on the Arabs by the Bush administration over the past eight months.
It must be remembered that George Bush II and Ariel Sharon came to office at just about the same time. Sharon was one of the first foreign leaders to be received by Bush. He disengaged from regional peacemaking, allowing the peace process to collapse at a moment Palestinian and Israeli negotiators had, during talks at the Egyptian resort at Taba, approached an overall agreement. The result was eight months of continuous violence.
Both Bush and Sharon are unashamed right wingers. Thanks to Bush’s supine support, Sharon has gradually escalated his war of attrition against the Palestinian people seeking to end Israel’s brutal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Hardliners in the Bush administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld, have justified Israel’s assassination of Palestinian activists. Powell’s State Department has given Israel a clean bill of health with respect to its use of US-made weaponry – F-16 warplanes and Apache helicopter gunships and missiles – against undefended Palestinian civilian neighbourhoods and totally vulnerable Palestinian political activists and policemen. The Bush administration also backed up Sharon’s demand for “complete quiet” before engaging the Palestinian National Authority in negotiations. Powell personally granted Sharon the authority to decide when “quiet” is reached. Sharon has never made this ruling.
Since the devastating terrorist assault on the US on Sept. 11, Sharon has exploited the Bush administration’s preoccupation with the alleged perpetrator of the operation, Osama Ben Laden, to step up attacks on the Palestinians. Instead of disciplining Sharon, the Bush administration has repeatedly called upon a shunned and shamed Arafat, the most frequent visitor to the Clinton White House, to rein in Palestinian activists resisting occupation. Arafat, whose approval rating has fallen to 23 per cent, is in no position to curb Palestinian “violence.” But Sharon, the commander-in-chief of Israel’s armed forces, can, in a word, halt Israel’s use of live ammunition against Palestinian demonstrators, incursions into Palestinian self-rule areas, siege and blockade of these areas and assassinations of Palestinians.
No amount of plain talk from friends of the US, like His Majesty King Abdullah, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmad Maher and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal, seems to have made an impression on George Bush II and his court. Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef Ben Abdul Aziz warned the US during a lengthy press conference Monday night: “If Arabs or Muslims take part in a terrorist act [like the attacks in the US], we should not forget what drove them to it, namely the continuing unresolved issues from which the Arab nation suffers, topped by the cause of Palestine.” Since at least 10 of the 19 men who hijacked civilian aircraft and flew them into New York’s World Trade Centre and Washington’s Pentagon were almost certainly Saudis, Prince Nayef’s warning has a serious bearing on the present US anti-terrorism campaign. Prince Naif’s words can be paraphrased as follows: “Ignore the continuing injustice in Palestine at your own risk.”
The Bush administration’s pathetic attempt to give the Arabs the impression it is doing something about Palestine falls far short of addressing the continuing injustice in that country. Bush II should not be taken seriously until he comes up with concrete proposals for Israel’s withdrawal from occupied territory and firm timelines and implementation begins.
Mr. Michael Jansen contributed this article to the Jordan Times.