Notable only for a lack of imagination

The most notable thing about US President George W. Bush’s July 16 speech was that it marked a continuation of US policies that have failed in the Middle East in general and with respect to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in particular. The general reaction in the region was therefore negative, and any excitement generated did not last for more than a day.

To start with, Bush lacks the credibility and the credentials to make proposals that commit the parties and the international community to any clear course of action. The idea of an international conference, for example, might have been taken seriously if it came from the Quartet, and if it came after some study, preparation and coordination.

His repeated reference to the "moderates" is confusing and even backfires. Who are the moderates? Are they the ones who believe in a negotiated solution based on international law? In this case most Israelis, including the present government, are excluded.

The reference to making peace with the Jewish state on the basis of "current realities" is very loaded. To Palestinian ears that can only mean Bush intends for us to accept an illegal reality that was created by force. The only consequence of such words is that they will increase the Israeli appetite for more settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Unfortunately, referring to the current reality as a benchmark–the facts on the ground in the form of settlements and the wall–implies that the illegal changes that Israel has imposed on the occupied territories are irreversible.

The only way to convince anybody on the "other side"–i.e., the Palestinians and the Arabs in general–of Bush’s seriousness, is to use American-Israeli relations to at least put an end to ongoing illegal Israeli measures that consolidate the occupation, particularly the expansion of settlements. Bush cannot convince Palestinians and Arabs that he is serious about his "vision" of two states living side by side unless he contributes to such a solution by making sure some space is left for the one state that hasn’t been realized yet.

Another problem with Bush’s speech is that it envisions continued US monopoly on the peace process, even when critics, including many in the administration itself, have pointed out Washington’s abject failure in this regard. This determination to maintain a US monopoly is evident in the American attitude on the future mission of Tony Blair. It was reported that in a telephone conversation a few days before his speech, Bush told President Mahmoud Abbas that Blair’s mission would be confined to coordinating international aid, economic and social development and building the institutions of a future Palestinian state, while the political file would remain with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The American monopoly on international peace efforts, America’s special relations with Israel, as well as the compromising of international law by Washington are among the main reasons for the failure of the peace process and the subsequent deterioration and radicalization. The US justification has always been the vital strategic role Israel plays vis-a-vis American and western interests in the region. However, it is evident that Israeli influence on the US agenda in the region, particularly as regards Iran/Iraq and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, is directly responsible for the many negative setbacks to western interests, regional stability and general development that we are witness to now.

It is about time that other countries, particularly European countries, take a more proactive role. Europeans need to promote an alternative approach infused with European understanding to coordinate international efforts and base them on international legality to solve this conflict and potentially many more. It can only be hoped that such a rational approach will eventually win the full backing of the US.