Bush's disturbing visit

The president's actions, policies are key bellwethers for coming election.

us special 2 224 (photo credit: )
us special 2 224
(photo credit: )
President Bush recently visited Israel, and, at the conclusion of the trip, announced his goal of achieving a peace treaty between the parties before the end of his presidency, one year from now. Although a peace treaty is certainly very much needed, and - many would argue - long overdue; it is not clear that linking the timetable to fall within Bush's term of office is in the best interests of the parties. Indeed, it appears that this timetable is designed more to improving Bush's historical legacy than to achieving a real and lasting peace. A further disturbing feature of the visit was President Bush's departure from his proper role as a facilitator, that is one who smoothes out procedural difficulties, while leaving the parties to sort the substantive issues out for themselves. By projecting his vision of the contours of the final agreement, he acted contrary to Israel's interests. President Bush's actions and policies are key bellwethers for the coming Presidential election, particularly for the Republican candidates. The Democratic candidates have all promised a change from the policies of President Bush, and are unwavering in their commitment to Israel's security. The Republican candidates have to declare whether they support or reject the Bush approach to government, and international relations. President Bush is often portrayed as a friend of Israel. Yet, ironically, despite this apparent sympathy with Israel's need for security, Israel is less secure today than it was at the beginning of George Bush's stewardship. As an example, Israel acceded to President Bush's call for a Palestinian State and withdrew completely from Gaza, with the result that it now subject to daily rocket attacks from a terrorist state on its border. Moreover, while visiting in Ramallah, with Mahmoud Abbas, President Bush adopted Palestinian positions and rhetoric when he called for an end to the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and called for contiguous territory for the future Palestinian state. These statements raise more difficulties than they resolve. The President's use of the term "occupation" is troubling, as it is a code word long used by the Palestinians to suggest that Israel's administration of the disputed territories is an illegal occupation of their lands. This belies the fact that prior to 1967, neither Gaza nor the West Bank was part of any Palestinian entity - which did not then exist - and were claimed by Egypt and Jordan respectively. Immediately following the conclusion of the Six-Day War, Israel offered land for peace, in conformity with UN resolution 242, but was roundly rejected by the Khartoum Conference of August 1967 which announced "... the framework of the main principles by which the Arab States abide, namely, no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it, and insistence on the rights of the Palestinian people in their own country." The agenda of the Khartoum Conference, which is still embraced by many Arab nations and a significant portion of the Palestinian people, is a refusal to even accept Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. This is not a proper framework in which to discuss peace negotiations. American policy has long recognized the need to change the borders that existed before the Six-Day War. Israel did not control any of the land in Gaza or the West Bank in May 1967, but this did not prevent the June war by Egypt, Syria and Jordan to eliminate Israel. Following the Six-Day War, a report of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff concluded: "From a strictly military point of view, Israel would require the retention of some captured Arab territory in order to provide militarily defensible borders." Regarding the West Bank, they wrote that Israel should "control the prominent high ground running north-south." This has long been US policy. For example, on September 1, 1982, President Ronald Regan said, "In the pre-1967 borders Israel was barely 10 miles wide at its narrowest point. The bulk of Israel's population lived within artillery range of hostile Arab armies. I am not about to ask Israel to live that way again." In light of this, a call by President Bush, to end the occupation that began in 1967, is both a departure from US policy and inimical to the interests of the State of Israel. Clearly, the issue of defining the borders separating Israel from any future Palestinian state needs serious thought and review, to insure that both sides can live comfortably and without the fear of recurrent warfare. This is a deliberate process that should not be rushed merely to provide President Bush with a trophy for his mantle. Moreover, it is harmful to the process for President Bush to adopt Palestinian rhetoric on this pivotal substantive issue. Also disturbing was his facile dismissal of the challenge represented by Hamas, the political entity that controls Gaza and has broad influence in the West Bank, as well, and which steadfastly maintains the intransigence of the Khartoum Conference, of non recognition of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. Hamas, is not merely an annoying problem that will soon go away. In President Bush's fantasy vision, Hamas would join the peace process as soon as they see the benefits that accrue from peace. This misunderstands Hamas's deep-seated religious objection to the existence of the State of Israel. Hamas will not abandon its principles simply because of some possible peace benefits. As long as Hamas reflects the sentiment of a significant portion of the Palestinian people, they cannot be simply dismissed. Indeed, their hostility to both Israel and Fatah, raises the possibility of separate Palestinian entities in Gaza and the West Bank. Was Bush's call for contiguous territories a plan that applies to land in the West Bank alone, or to the entire future Palestinian state, including Gaza? If the latter, and the West Bank and Gaza will be contiguous, then Israel would be bisected into two non-contiguous areas. Will President Bush modify his Road Map to propose a Three State Solution, with Israel sandwiched between two hostile terrorist states? This would be madness. The issue of proper territorial adjustment is plainly a knotty problem that can only be solved with the good will and constructive intentions of all parties. This is totally lacking here as significant portions of the Palestinian people, along with other Arab states in the region, have not made the fundamental commitment to live in peace, side by side with Israel. Until that happens, the basic preconditions for a peace treaty are lacking. What is the likelihood of a major change in the Palestinian position occurring in time to meet the Bush one-year deadline? And if this fundamental change does not occur, how much pressure will President Bush exert on Israel - led by a weak and unpopular Prime Minister - to make concessions to achieve the Bush peace treaty even though such concessions may undermine Israel's basic security? The Bush timetable of a peace treaty during his administration appears unrealistic, and if it is to be achieved, would require pressuring Israel to accept terms that could jeopardize its basic security... This observer plans to keep a watchful eye on the Republican candidates to see whether they support or reject the anticipated pressure President Bush will place on Israel in the months ahead, to achieve this dubious objective.