Bush fulfilled all of Sharon’s demands and wishes, if we consider what was said at the press conference held by the two at the White House as expressive of what went on in their meeting and the positions they reached.
Though President Bush considered that the ministerial changes that President Yasser Arafat conducted do not satisfy the ambitions of the Palestinians and that this form of change is not what is needed, he was in accord with Sharon on insisting that reform in the Palestinian Authority is a precondition for convening an international peace conference. Therefore, he refused to set a timetable or dates for the start and end of the conference, and refused to define its content.
This is exactly what Sharon wanted.
What is interesting is that President Bush did not refer at all to the Israeli army’s complete reoccupation of Ramallah and the besieging of President Arafat’s compound again, except by expressing his agreement of Israel’s right to self-defense.
This was considered a green light to prolong the period of the occupation of Ramallah and the siege of President Arafat. This is what we are living through at this moment.
Despite Sharon saying that he wants peace, for which Bush applauded him, what he wants and is planning for is far from peace. He wants the Palestinians’ surrender to his plan which aims at keeping the Palestinians under the control of the Israeli occupation and that they administratively rule 42% of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Sharon seeks to achieve that using tactics that are very obvious to us, but do not appear obvious to President George W. Bush.
During his press conference with President Bush Sharon did not hide the fact that:
The truth is that Sharon took advantage to the fullest, relying on the powerful lobby that supports him in Congress and exerts constant pressure on the American administration in favor of Israel, and relying on the negative reactions to the Palestinian cause generated by the bombing operations inside Israel, to rapidly accumulate a negative approach in the U.S. towards the Palestinian Authority and towards Yasser Arafat.
This provided him with powerful cards with which to exert pressure on the administration to accept his plan to sign a transitory agreement (that could last for ten years according to his request) and to conduct peace discussions following that.
Sharon wants time and is working hard to have time on his side. Settlement, or building settlements and bringing in immigrants to colonize the West Bank (basically) is what he is trying to gain time to achieve.
Sharon’s refusal to freeze settlement is undoubtedly his most dangerous condition as the other conditions can be argued. Sharon will not mind discussing the other conditions (and prolonging the discussion) as long as settlement colonization is going ahead, because, according to Sharon’s belief, he would have created a new reality within ten years é one that cannot be denied or removed.
The Ma’ariv newspaper was alone in publishing, the day before yesterday, information regarding this plan of Sharon’s. The information states that the method of settlement will change radically. The Jewish immigrants used to come to the land of Palestine as individuals and families and absorption committees would then distribute them to settlements, Kibbutzes and other places based on their plans for population distribution and the Israeli economic needs. This time, however, entire integrated communities will be brought over under the leadership of their rabbi.
For example the Jewish communities in Argentina will be brought over as integrated communities to be planted in the West Bank integrated as they were in Argentina with the same religious leadership that lead them in Argentina.
Sharon seeks to bring in a million Jews from Latin America over the next ten years. This is why Sharon wants a temporary agreement for ten years as he has announced more than once.
But what is Sharon’s tactic to prepare for that?
These days Sharon keeps talking of a complete stop to violence and of radical reforms in the Palestinian Authority, especially with regard to the security services and the money granted to the Palestinian Authority.
Regarding the security services, Sharon seeks to re-impose the control of the Israeli civil administration upon all territories and direct supervision of Palestinian security personnel (as was the case from 1967 until the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority).
He will continue to reject the reforms being carried out by the Palestinian Authority, and will continue to carry out incursions into cities, villages and camps using tanks, until he imposes a formula that will enable Israel to supervise the operation of the Palestinian security services (even if that is though a trilateral Palestinian-American-Israeli committee).
The disbanding of all the military services of the factions.
Collecting all weapons and handing them over to Israel, and in case of dispute, handing them over to the Americans.
Imposing a strict security system that prevents the restoration of the infrastructure of the military organizations belonging to the Palestinian factions.
“Sifting” and “weeding out” all members of the various security services so there is not one among them who belongs to any “extremist” faction or one who practices “terrorism” according to one of Sharon’s security advisors.
As for money, Sharon wants that a committee of donor countries be formed to monitor the way the money is being spent and that no cash be transferred to the Palestinian Authority, instead the committee should tie the spending of the money with economic projects and that the committee supervise the implementation. In Sharon’s mind this is besieging the Palestinian Authority (financially) and also the Israeli companies will have the lion’s share in implementing the economic projects the donor countries decide to fund.
Sharon plans all this in the shadow of a complete rejection of implementing the Tenet accord and the Mitchell committee recommendations in order to keep the suffocating siege imposed on the entire Palestinian people and their cities, villages and camps. Also in the shadow of keeping the military roadblocks that divide the homeland and its people and at which the Palestinians are tortured and humiliated every day.
Of course the schools and universities will remain closed, as well as factories and private institutions because students and employees cannot reach their places of study or work.
The number of Palestinians who live below the poverty line has reached a terrifying number; more than 68% of the Palestinians live below the poverty line. This means that two million Palestinians are suffering from this situation, not to mention that the remaining third are living at the edge of that line because of the bankruptcy of companies and institutions and the Palestinian Authority’s inability to pay money due to these institutions and companies.
No doubt many people know that commercial banks are full of cheques from the Ministry of Finance, sitting there without being paid because there are no funds to cover them because Israel is confiscating the Palestinian people’s money and has been, for months, hindering the transfer of international aid to the Palestinian people.
President Bush said at the press conference he held with President Husni Mubarak at Camp David that it was still too soon to set a date and timetable for the Middle East peace process.
What is President Bush waiting for? Are a hundred years of suffering and thirty-five years of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip not enough for the Palestinians?
When can President George W. Bush comprehend the crimes that are taking place in the Holy Land?
The Palestinian people want peace and have sought, and continue to seek, it. The initiative to negotiate about peace was launched by the Palestinians and the father of the current President, George Bush Sr., knows this fully. But what President George W. Bush is being dragged to, be it for internal reasons or for reasons related to the position of the American Jews regarding his election for another term in the White House, is a dangerous matter that will reflect negatively on the stability of the Middle East. This means that it will reflect negatively on the United States.
Offering the Palestinian people up as a scapegoat at the altar of the reelection of President George W. Bush will bring great harm to the American nation. What is required of President Bush is to think first and foremost of the best interest of the American nation. This best interest requires that the U.S. champion right and international legitimacy resolutions, and that the Israeli occupation be ended and an independent Palestinian state be established on the lands occupied in 1967 and that Israel’s regional security be guaranteed.
Bassam Abu-Sharif is a special advisor to President Arafat.