US President George W. Bush’s reaffirmation that Washington always saw the creation of a state of Palestine in the workings of the Middle East peace process is a welcome development. But we cannot but be sceptical, given that it was no secret that the US always favoured the establishment of a Palestinian state provided that (and indeed only if) it was not totally independent and had to be acceptable to Israel, and given that there is little to indicate at this point in time that Bush is willing to do what it takes to realise that objective based on justice and fairness rather than on Israel’s expansionist interests.
Convincing Israel of the inevitability of having to accept the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people as the basis for a peace agreement is the key to resolving the Middle East conflict. However, we have yet to see a change of heart in Washington or even a slight trace of that change in the Israeli mindset as could be deduced from Israel’s continued military assaults on the Palestinians. If anything, Israel has implicitly challenged the US president by asserting that it could override him if the need arises. If Israel has disagreements with the US administration, then Bush must be “fully aware of the unprecedented level of support Israel has in the Senate and Congress, and it will therefore be very hard to pressure Israel,” according to Israel’s Environment Minister Tzachi Hanegbi.
We in Jordan are sceptics by nature when it comes to public signs of US-Israeli dissent (if that is indeed the case here). But then we are perfectly justified in our approach to the issue in view of our bitter experience in dealing with the US-Israeli “strategic alliance.” The US has a totally different yardstick to measure its own founding principles when applied to Israel. As such, the thought would not go away that the affirmation of the “new/old” American position vis-é-vis the creation of a state of Palestine could be aimed at securing Arab support for Washington in its war against terrorism.
Let us keep an open mind for now and take the assertions by US Secretary of State Colin Powell that Washington’s support for the creation of a Palestinian state had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington. “The events of Sept. 11 don’t really play into this,” Powell has said. “We were hard at work before the 11th of September on trying to help in the region, and we are hard at work after the 11th of September.” The questions here are whether, however implicitly, there is a realisation in Washington of the folly of the US policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and whether Bush has the determination and ability to apply pressure on Israel.
The answers to those questions are determinant for the future of the peace process since the writing on the wall so far had been clear that the US has left it to Israel to move in whatever direction it finds fit to deal with the Palestinians and Washington could be expected to back Israel all the way. If anything, Palestinian negotiators have always felt that they were not negotiating only with Israel but also with the United States, whose intervention so far in substantial terms has always been limited to twisting the Palestinian arm into accepting compromise after compromise.
Apart from the pressure that George Bush Sr. applied on Israel to nudge it into accepting peace negotiations with the Palestinians by withholding $10 billion in housing guarantees 10 years ago, there is no record of any American move vis-é-vis Israel in favour of the Palestinians. There might have been occasions when Washington criticised Israeli actions, but a closer look at those situations would reveal that such criticism came only when the US felt it was under immense pressure from the Arab world to do so, and doing otherwise would have harmed its strategic interests with the Arabs.
But then, the resulting criticism had always been limited to words that had no real impact on the ground. On the occasions Washington was reported to have pressed Israel into resuming the peace negotiations with the Palestinians, it was also clear that such pressure was accompanied by pledges and assurances that the US would ensure that Israeli interests would not be harmed.
The bottom line is whether the US has a vested interest in ensuring that a peace agreement in the Middle East is based on the legitimate rights of the Palestinians. It does indeed, but only when seen in the broader context of the lofty principles of freedom, dignity and human rights that the US upholds. When it comes to the so-called strategic, political and economic interests of the US, there is no room for justice and fairness for the Palestinians, as seen from Washington’s vantage point at this juncture in time.
It is against this backdrop that we have to see Bush’s and Powell’s comments and try to figure out how much consideration could have been given to the thought that the anti-US fervour among hardliners in this part of the world does not originate in religion but out of frustration over the lopsided US policy that has perpetuated the Israeli occupation of Arab land with immunity against international action.
Indeed, many US officials do agree that their country’s policy in the Middle East might have given rise to anti-US sentiments, but they stop short of publicly acknowledging that there had been and still exists an unacceptable and unjust bias in favour of Israel.
We can see a breakthrough in the troubled quest for peace in the region based on people’s legitimate political and territorial rights only when Washington realises that its blind support for Israel has been and is the main stumbling block in the peace process. Indeed, that realisation should be coupled with a determination to correct the situation through action. We are waiting for signs of that determination and moves towards action from President Bush and his administration.
Mr. Musa Keilani contributed this article to the Jordan Times.