During today’s press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, U.S. President George W. Bush departed from stated U.S. policy and two years of Road Map diplomacy. The Road Map defined timelines, set target dates, and established reciprocal steps for Palestinians and Israelis to take in order to reach a settlement. The final destination of the Road Map, as presented by Bush on 24 June 2002, was a mutually negotiated comprehensive settlement of the conflict by 2005, and an “end to occupation”.
In supporting Sharon’s unilateral Gaza disengagement plan the U.S. has violated a major principle of the Road Map and of all previous peace processes–”bilateralism. A solution that does not include the Palestinians or protect their national interests will not last. Far from being a bold move by Sharon, withdrawal from occupied territory is in fact a requirement under international law and not at the whim of the occupier or indeed the subject of negotiations.
By accepting Sharon’s plan and providing U.S. commitments on borders, settlements, and refugees, the U.S. has prejudiced three key elements of a final status agreement: borders, settlements, and the Palestinian right of return. Israel is not expected to return to the 1949 armistice line; it is allowed to keep illegally established settlements; and it does not have to open its doors to Palestinian refugees.
Sharon’s plan to withdraw from four small and isolated West Bank settlements –” and to keep four major settlement blocs – does not create even the semblance of “contiguity” to which Bush used to refer. Maaleh Adumim and Givat Zeev north of Jerusalem, Ariel in the heart of the West Bank, and the Etzion bloc in the south dissect the West Bank into four cantons, surrounded and controlled by Israel.
Sharon’s intention of keeping the Jewish enclaves in the heart of Hebron shows the extent of his disinterest in the viability of a Palestinian state even on a small scale. Some 450 Jewish settlers living among 130,000 Palestinians have divided the Palestinian city into two sections. Around 40,000 Palestinians fall under the Israeli-controlled part of Hebron along with the city’s main street and market place. About 4,000 Israeli soldiers are assigned to the Hebron settlers.
The administration’s support for the Separation Wall as a “temporary” measure undermines international law. Although Bush stated today that the U.S. expects the Wall to be taken down once a final status settlement is reached, irreversible damage has been done in terms of demolished homes, uprooted tress, destroyed water wells and most importantly loss of life. And if previous behavior is any indication, the U.S. Administration is unlikely to force Israel to dismantle the Wall if it does not want to.
Although Bush’s statement repeatedly refers to the emergence of a democratic Palestinian state, he wants a state that Israel and the United States have “confidence in” rather than a Palestinian state that the Palestinian people are confident in. Neither an imposed democracy nor an impose settlement can bring peace. Palestinian anger and rage is caused by nearly 37 years of military occupation, an occupation that they will now see as strengthened by the U.S. government.