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Abbas visits the Emperor


In the old days it was simple. If there was a regional squabble, the Soviets took the side of one state, and the US took the side of the other state. Leaders of the client states went to their respective patrons to receive their blessing. Today however, the USA is the only game in town, so both Israeli PM Sharon in April, and Palestinian President Abbas in May, came on pilgrimage to Texas and Washington respectively to be blessed by Bush. Both of these visits were largely ceremonial. If Bush had hard words for Sharon about settlements or for Abbas about terror, these were kept very private. Each visit was crowned by effusive media events and statements that made the other side nervous.

This round of visits was mostly about Abbas receiving his crown from the American Emperor, as is the duty of every loyal vassal. The purpose was to demonstrate US backing for Abbas, to bolster his political position inside Palestine vis-a-vis Hamas and other extremists. We may be skeptical that the blessing of the US is quite what an Arab politician needs to win over people who are considering voting for Islamists, but Abbas has to show his people that his way is winning US support and will eventually get results in terms of Israeli concessions. Israel did its part by announcing the release of an additional 400 prisoners, a move that the PNA gratefully acknowledged as "politically meaningless." Sharon's visit in April was intended to balance the effects of Abbas's visit and bolster his disengagement plan, and at the time he also got some nice words and a few economic goodies. Not surprisingly, Sharon is dissatisfied with Bush's (public) treatment of Abbas, just as Palestinians were disappointed with Bush's (public) treatment of Sharon.

In April of 2004 it was Sharon's turn . He came to Rome - excuse me - Washington and got the blessings and promises of Divi Augustus - excuse me - Bush for the disengagement plan. These promises were touted by Sharon far and wide as benefits of his wise policy. The father of nations had promised, it seems, that Israel would be able to keep any place that it settled according to "demographic realities."

Now Bush seemingly erased his commitment to Sharon for the benefit of his honored guest. In fact, he went beyond the Arab interpretation of UN Security Council Resolution 242, by insisting that negotiations would have to be based on the 1949 armistice line. This generated a great flurry of press commentary, which US spinmeisters attempted to manage by promptly issuing a statement that "The United States commitments to Israel remain unchanged." That is strictly true, but also meaningless. What it means is that both what Bush said for the benefit of Abbas, and what what he wrote in his carefully crafted letter to Sharon in 2004 are meaningless. The US never committed to anything and the non-commitment remains unchanged. This is what Bush wrote in 2004:

As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is
unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.

"It is unrealistic to expect" is an observation on what is realistic and what is not realistc. It is not a policy commitment of any kind.

This is what Bush said for the benefit of Abbas:

any final status agreement must be reached between the two parties, and changes to the 1949 armistice lines must be mutually agreed to."

That does not mean that it is not "unrealistic to expect" that there will be changes. The same is true of everything else that Bush has done so far.

U.S. diplomatic statements, like everyone else's, are often like a tale told by a politician, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. The Palestinian spinmeister's got something to spin out of Bush's message and they used it to shore up Abbas's achievements with the US versus the Israelis. In reality, the main achievement of Abbas in Washington was the fact of the meeting, since the US had previously refused to negotiate with the discredited Arafat, and $50 Million in additional direct aid.

The spin generated by both Palestinians and Israelis is an inevitable and pernicious side-effect of the client-patron relations of the three "partners." The Israelis and Palestinians set their own people against concessions, and then they come to the US and say "we need you to back X position so we can sell th peace process to our people and keep our governments in power." That is the leverage that the clients have over the patron. Just before Abbas came to the US, Sharon was busy telling AIPAC that Israel would never divide Jerusalem, and Abbas and his government wer busy telling Palestinians that he insists on "Right" of Return for Palestinian refugees. Both positions make peace impossible. Then they will pressure the US to get concessions from the other side on these issues, supposedly because otherwise they would be weakened internally and could not go on with the peace process. Then, when the process fails, each side will roll their eyes skyward and blame the other.

Those who perhaps really expected more pressure or involvement in open statements, like Yossi Alpher and Ghassan Khatib of Bitterlemons, are in my view naive. The process has not matured to the point where the US can risk a high profile involvement. On the other hand, it is also unrealistic to expect, as Bush might say, that the President will publicly and openly pressure the leaders of either side. He certainly couldn't pressure Abbas in public, at his ceremonial triumph. The real pressure was spun through channels, in the reports of unnamed "sources." that Bush would pressure Sharon on settlements and other issues if the Palestinians complied with requirements to deal with terror effectively.

It was not enough. In Bitterlemons, Ghassan Khattib wrote:

It was the first mention by this administration of the green line, and it was the first time it framed its position consistent with international legality saying that any changes to the borders of 1967 must be agreed upon by the two parties.

That statement has no basis in reality. As we saw above, Bush discussed the 1949 armistice lines and UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338 in his 2004 letter to Sharon. At a certain point, "spin" stops being spin, and becomes untruth. To be sure, right-wing Israeli commentators made the same mistake, and put up an utterly unjustified wailing that the US had abandoned the borders of June 4, 1967, which were slightly better for Israel than the armistice borders.

Khattib goes on to insist that the US must pressure Israel not to do anything that weakens Abbas:

An even more immediate requirement, however, is to convince Israel to stop any activities and positions that have the effect of weakening the Palestinian Authority led by Abu Mazen.

Israel in this view, must become a virtual vassal of the USA, who must dictate its policies according to what is good for Abbas, regardless of Israeli needs, or security concerns or Sharon's political needs.

Yossi Alpher was a bit more realistic. He wrote:

What we need to hear from the American president is that, if Abbas "delivers" on security, democracy and reform, and assuming disengagement leaves the Sharon government intact, Bush will demand a serious peace process or, failing that, another massive disengagement, this time from the West Bank mountain heartland...

Why do we need to hear it from Bush right now, rather than from "a senior political source in Jerusalem??" Israel surely got the message. If the Palestinians get serious about quashing terror, the US will pressure Sharon to get serious about ending the occupation. Sharon is not worried, because Sharon is convinced that Abbas will get serious about stopping terror about the time that pigs fly. We can hope that Abbas will surprise Sharon. So far, neither Sharon nor Abbas have produced many pleasant surprises. But what is a "serious peace process?" Who defines it? Ff there is no "serious peace process," then why should Israel withdraw from the "West Bank mountain heartland?"

Alpher went on to say:

Either way, the question remains: is Bush serious? Knowing Abbas' and Sharon's weaknesses and views on final status, there is not the slightest prospect of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front after disengagement unless Bush commits.

Without disparaging the expertise of Yossi Alpher or Ghassain Khattib, If Abbas and Sharon can't do it alone, it seems to me that they won't do it with Bush's commitment either. The President of the United States is very powerful, but he is not Merlin the magician. He should not commit to the impossible. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process that began in Oslo made progress, and the Israeli-Jordanian process made progress, because the sides wanted the progress at the time. It is evident in the account of Dennis Ross, given in his book, "The Missing Peace," that the US was mostly in the way regarding detailed negotiations. Ross could scarcely conceal his annoyance that Israel and Jordan negotiated a treaty without US "help." Israel and the Palestinians opened the back door channel through Oslo and came to the US when they were ready. How can Bush commit without knowing what the reality of Palestinian society will be in six months?

Alpher wrote, if Abbas "delivers" on security, democracy and reform, and assuming disengagement leaves the Sharon government intact...

Who will decide if Abbas delivered? How much democracy and reform is good enough? Who would remember all of Alpher's preconditions and how would Bush explain his failure when at least one of those "ifs" fail?

Israeli peace negotiations with Egypt and Jordan succeeded because in each case both sides really wanted peace, but needed US help to overcome different obstacles and provide financial backing. If the assumption is that neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis want peace, there is nothing for the US to do here. What is unreasonable to expect, is that Israelis and Palestinians will go on in adversarial mode, each leveraging internal problems to insist on total US support for their side only. It is unreasonable for them to expect that after they make a mess, inciting their own side to impossible positions and then claiming that internal opposition prevents them from making concessions, the US will enter like a Deus ex Machina in the last act, find a magic formula that satisfies everyone, make peace and save us from the folly of our leaders.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000355.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 2 comments

Hi,my name is Gilda. I was born in Ireland but my father is from Palestine. I would be very grateful if you can help me. I am attempting to trace my family-father and brothers. My father's name is Wolf Feldman and came from Palestine. I believe there is a big family of the Feldmans in the Gaza Strip area whom may be related to me. Could you put me in touch with them please. I hope to hear from you soon. Your assistance would be so helpful. Kind regards,


Posted by gilda larkin-sealey @ 06/11/2005 05:13 PM CST

Bush is hardly an emprorer and the United States does not have an empire. The United states is not the only player here. You have Russia, the European Union, and the major players in the UN along with Saudi Arabia who are playing roles that are virtually equal to that of the United States.

Posted by B.Poster @ 07/09/2005 10:48 PM CST

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