In a comment on US President Bush’s speech concerning the Middle East, one of Sharon’s Likud ministers said that President Bush is a member of the Likud Party. Another minister said that Bush’s speech was a political victory for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, while other Israeli members of parliament praised President Bush’s speech.
These comments are exaggerated of course with an aim of creating an impression on the Israeli, Palestinian and Arab fronts that Bush entirely adopted Sharon’s position. The objective truth, however, is that Bush essentially did not take on Sharon’s or the Likud’s policies. Despite the fact that Bush was clearly sided with Israel in an unprompted manner, he confirmed the American vision, which entails that a solution lies in the establishment of a democratic Palestinian independent state that lives side by side with Israel in peace and within recognized and secure borders.
This is the crux of the contradiction between Bush’s position on the one hand and that of the Likud and its president Sharon on the other. Around two months ago, the Likud party gathered around an outright objection to the establishment of a Palestinian independent state whatever its nature and constituencies.
After stating these critical points, one can analyze Bush’s speech calmly, draw main points and establish what is required.
Bush completely concealed in his speech Israeli war crimes committed against the Palestinian people and went on to explain his vision, while unreservedly placing these crimes under the banner of ‘Israel’s right to defend itself’. This is not only unjust for the Palestinians but also violative of all humanitarian principles in its clear prejudice.
Bush considered the Palestinians, the sufferers of the Israeli occupation and the crimes it commits against humanity to be the aggressors while portrayed Israel as the victim. This is incompatible with the truth, reality and history.
Another point of prejudice in Bush’s speech is the linkage between the changing of the Palestinian leadership and the achievement of justice and the implementation of international resolutions. (This without doubt is inconsistent with democracy, political protocol and international conventions.)
This link almost seemed like a condition; one, which the Palestinians reject in principle not to mention its violation of the basic principles of freedom and democratic choice and the Palestinian people’s right to chose their leadership through free and democratic elections.
Bush’s misguided opinion also offers Israel space to create excuses for not implementing the main part of Bush’s vision, which is the establishment of an independent Palestinian State after Israel’s withdrawal from land occupied in 1967 passing by the freezing of settlements, etcé
Bush’s speech provoked wide responses, both positive and negative. The Palestinian official response presented by President Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian leadership was a wise and calm response despite the speech’s unfairness.
President Arafat welcomed the central part of the speech and confirmed in a confident and composed manner that no one except the Palestinian people have the right to choose the Palestinian leadership, democratically and under international observance. Naturally, this focused position was not expected to reiterate Palestinian daily requests to end the brutality and occupation and to put an end to daily Israeli war crimes. These were included instead in a letter sent by the Palestinian leadership to the G-8 Summit, which was held in Kananaskis, Canada, straight after Bush gave his speech concerning the Middle East.
The seven states dealt with the speech of the President of the eighth state in all calmness as well, but firmly rejected Bush’s condition of changing the Palestinian leadership as a precondition to the establishment of a Palestinian independent state.
The statement of the G-8 expressed this rejection in a diplomatic tactful way. It allowed President Bush to express his joy concerning the support he received from the 7 states on his position for a political solution in the Middle East, while at the same time confirmed with no ambiguity that the choice of the Palestinian leadership is a matter that concerns the Palestinian people only. The leaderships of the 7 states expressed that Bush’s persistence on the changing of the Palestinian leadership is unacceptable. Schroeder, Blair, Chirac and Putin declared that they would deal with President Arafat as long as he is elected democratically.
As for the issue of reforms, this is a Palestinian concern that aims at serving the interests of the Palestinian people and at creating an environment for development and the deepening of democracy in the future Palestinian independent state.
For Bush (and Sharon behind him), however, reform means the following:
Firstly: Reorganization and unification of Palestinian security institutions in order to play an effective role in preventing military acts against Israel.
Secondly: Financial reform that aims at preventing President Arafat or the Palestinian Authority from dealing with any amount of money that could be used to buy weapons or for terrorist operations according to the terminology of the Israeli intelligence report (which is untrue of course), but which Bush used as a reference while directing accusations at President Arafat.
Reform for the Palestinian people, however, is a right to request a more organized life, more just development and to prevent anyone from abusing his/her position of power to hurt the citizens or to make money illegitimately at their expense. Transparency and accountability in institutions, the right man for the right job and the right to call to account any official are Palestinian requests.
Therefore, the Palestinians should take this title, i.e. reform, from the angle of their national benefit and to work within their vision of serving these supreme interests and not that of Sharon’s, behind him Bush or vice versa.
Therefore, I suggest to the Palestinian leadership to request that European states, the USA and the G-8 states take part in the process of reform and to observe the coming elections.
Now that everyone has expressed a position on Bush’s speech, what are we required to do?
First: The Arab States that adopted during the Beirut Summit the Saudi imitative should follow-up with the American administration on the mechanisms to implement the vision, which in brief is the establishment of a Palestinian independent State after Israeli withdrawal from land occupied in 1967. This pursuit ought to be prompt and not fragile in order not to give Sharon the chance to sneak back in and deal a blow to the American vision for a solution.
Bassam Abu-Sharif is a special advisor to President Arafat.