Bush’s Speech a Setback for Peace

Bush’s Speech a Setback for Peace by Stephen Zunes June 26, 2002 0206israelspeech.pdf [printer-friendly version] President George W. Bush’s speech on Monday represents a setback for Middle East peace. On the one hand, it is reassuring that after thirty years of rejecting the international consensus that peace requires the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel, an American president now formally recognizes that need. The bad news is that while President Bush correctly views Israel’s right to exist as a given, Palestine’s right to exist–even as a truncated mini-state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip–is conditional first and foremost on the removal of Palestinian President Yasir Arafat. This despite the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is more hardline than Arafat on all outstanding issues of the peace process–final borders, Jewish settlements, the status of Jerusalem, and refugees. In fact, Arafat’s positions have been more consistent with international law and UN Security Council resolutions than the policies of any Likud or Labor-led Israeli government. But President Bush still insists that it is the Palestinians, not the Israelis, who must replace their elected leadership in order for the peace process to move forward. The Bush administration’s distorted priorities could not have been more glaring when in the course of his speech, the president mentioned terrorism eighteen times but did not mention human rights or international law even once. Nor did he mention the peace plan of Saudi Prince Abdullah–endorsed by the Palestinian Authority and every single Arab government–which offered Israel security guarantees and full normal relations in return for withdrawal from the occupied territories seized in the 1967 war. The Abdullah peace plan is largely a reiteration of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, long considered by the U.S. as the basis for Middle East peace. While President Bush mentioned these resolutions briefly in his speech, he failed to challenge Israel’s false claim that the resolutions do not actually require it to withdraw from virtually all of the Arab lands conquered 35 years ago, an interpretation rejected by almost the entire international community. The Palestinians are insisting on statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which is just 22% of historic Palestine. They have already recognized Israeli sovereignty over the remaining 78%. But not only did President Bush fail to demand a total withdrawal of Israeli occupation forces, he called for merely a freeze on additional Israeli settlements, when international law–reiterated in UN Security Council resolutions 446 and 465–clearly requires Israel to abandon the existing settlements. The Palestinians have such a strong case, in fact, that the Bush administration has chosen to focus instead upon their weakest link: their corrupt and autocratic leadership and the terrorist reaction to the occupation. While many Palestinians are deeply disappointed in Arafat’s leadership, President Bush’s insistence that the United States has the right to determine who shall lead the Palestinians will only breed enormous resentment in the Arab world. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, upon hearing President Bush’s speech, was quoted in Israel’s largest daily Yediot Aharonot as declaring that “making the creation of a Palestinian state dependent upon a change in the Palestinian leadership is a fatal mistake…. The abyss into which the region will plunge will be as deep as the expectations from this speech were high.” As the occupying power, the onus for resolving the conflict rests upon Israel, not the Palestinians. Just as occupation and repression can never justify terrorism, neither can terrorism justify occupation and repression. (Stephen Zunes < zunes@usfca.edu > is an associate professor of Politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. He serves as Middle East editor for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project ( www.fpif.org ) and is the author of the forthcoming book Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Common Courage Press).) to receive weekly commentary and expert analysis via our Progressive Response ezine. This page was last modified on Wednesday, April 2, 2003 12:36 PM Contact the IRC’s webmaster with inquiries regarding the functionality of this website. Copyright 2001 IRC and IPS. All rights reserved.