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Bush Push on Israeli Palestinian Peace: New Hope?


This evening, United States President Bush gave a major speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The speech supposedly initiates a new push for Israeli-Palestinian and regional peace. Either that, or it is the swan song of the peace process. Some of the main points:

The United states will call an international conference this fall of all "regional" states that support a two state solution.

The United States will support the government of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad with major incentives including $190,000,000 in aid.

The Fayyad government must provide good government and security for the Palestinians, and the solution must provide security for both Israelis and Palestinians.

The United States will push for a two state solution and calls upon Hamas to recognize Israel and forswear violence and incitement.

Israel must dismantle illegal outposts and freeze settlement activities.

The negotiated solution must be based on borders that provide for a contiguous Palestinian state, and that take into account historical and existing reality.

Bush said,

"The vision of President [Mahmoud] Abbas and Prime Minister [Salam] Fayad is the vision of a peaceful state called Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people..."

"By following this path, Palestinians can reclaim their dignity and future and establish a state of their own."

"All responsible nations have the duty to help clarify the way forward by supporting the reforms of President Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayad."

Both PM Olmert and President Abbas welcomed the speech.

Unfortunately, there is a big shortage of responsible nations in the Middle East. The speech is viewed by skeptics as a "last ditch effort" to salvage the two state vision of the Bush administration.

There is more and less in this effort than meets the eye. The speech is not so much a function of developments in the Israeli-Palestinian arena, which do not provide promising conditions for a peace effort, but a reflection of what the United States needs in order to bolster its position in the Middle East. Mr. Bush is caught between Iraq and a hard place. US failure in Iraq, which becomes ever more evident with each daily SNAFU of the Iraqi government and each guerrilla attack, successively erodes the ability of the US to influence Middle East states regarding Israeli-Palestinian peace. At the same time, pressure from those same states -- particularly Saudi Arabia, is mounting for a solution to the Palestinian problem, which Bush must deliver in order to get support for continued US intervention in Iraq.

The peace initiative has several vulnerabilities. Nobody can make peace between Israelis and Palestinians by ignoring reality. That was demonstrated conclusively by the Oslo negotiations, which attempted to produce bits of paper about peace while settlements and suicide bombers were sprouting outside the conference rooms.

Today, Hamas is reality. Nobody can ignore them, whether they are considered to be the "legitimate" and "democratically elected" government, or a genocidal group that is unalterably opposed to peace. They are there, and they they control the Gaza strip, and a large portion of the Arab Palestinian population. They will certainly not cooperate in any peace effort. Peace in the Middle East would put them out of business. Their business is genocide. No amount of wishful thinking or op-eds published by Hamas officials in US newspapers will change the facts. Khaled Meshal, and not Ahmed Youssef, calls the shots in the Hamas.

Likewise, the Syrian and Iranian backers of Hamas are not interested in this peace effort or any peace effort, which is why they back Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In particular, they are not interested in the success of any American-backed peace effort, because it is American-backed. Unless and until the Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and their backers in Tehran and Damascus are neutralized, the inevitable, unlooked for and unwanted result of this peace effort must therefore be a dramatic escalation in terror attacks, similar to escalations that accompanied all previous peace efforts. It may even help to catalyze the threatened war between Israel and Syria. Unless the United States has a plan for neutralizing the Hamas, Syria and Iran, this peace effort is very likely doomed. No such plan is in the offing as far as anyone knows.

The second major weakness is the Palestinian government headed by Mahmoud Abbas. It is hard to believe that the Fateh organization, which failed to reform itself in all the years of the Oslo process, will suddenly become a force for progress, rectitude and good government. Salem Fayyad has a good reputation, but he is one man. The performance of Fateh security forces in Gaza, where they were routed by tiny Hamas forces, does not suggest that any amount of training is going to turn the Fateh into winners again. Moreover, it must be recognized that from the Palestinian point of view, the major failure and sin of the Fateh is not necessarily the corruption and malfeasance, but rather, cooperation with the United States and Israel. To deflect attention from its plundering of the Palestinian people, the Palestinian government blamed every aspect of Palestinian misery on the "occupation." Many Palestinians are convinced that the "occupation" is somehow responsible for the violence of the Hamas, the lack of health services provided by the Palestinian Authority, the rising unemployment, and every other misery to which they are subjected. Of course, the occupation was there in 1992, when Palestinians enjoyed a much higher standard of living, but this is a difficult point to argue with Palestinians.

The two-state solution, in which Israel remains a Jewish state, is, to say the least, not popular among Palestinians, who support the right of refugees to return to Israel. Likewise, a territorial solution in which any settlements remain standing, or in which Israel has any sovereign rights in the old city of Jerusalem, is considered to be surrender by many, if not most Palestinians. That was the stand of Abbas himself in 2000. That was the reason he gave for rejecting Israeli peace proposals then. He stated at the time:

"Our position on the issue of Jerusalem is simple: Jerusalem is part of the territories occupied in 1967 and, hence, Resolution 242 applies to it. Jerusalem must return to our sovereignty and we will establish our capital on it. We have no objection that East and West Jerusalem will be open to one another and cooperate in municipal activities."
"The issue of the refugees was at least as important as the Jerusalem issue, and judging by the results, maybe even more important and difficult. We encountered, and will encounter in the future, fierce resistance on this subject from the Israeli government, because the bottom line is that [the return of refugees] means altering the demographic character [of Israel] that the Israelis hope to preserve. In addition, recognition by Israel of the existence of a refugee problem entails an acknowledgment of Israel's responsibility for this humanitarian tragedy."
The right of return has priority and whoever does not wish it, may demand compensation.

Whether they are right or wrong, these positions are without doubt supported by the majority of the Palestinian people, and whether they are right or wrong, they are positions that no Israeli government can accept. Gaining the support of the Palestinian people for the Fayyad government, and at the same time arriving at a reasonable final settlement, are therefore somewhat contradictory goals.

The third weakness is the Olmert government, which shows every sign that it is not interested in peace or war, but rather in staying in power. This government that has been doing everything possible to stay afloat, that has done little to reform the IDF or itself, cannot be expected to take risks for peace.

The Bush government forced Israel to allow the PNA to hold those disastrous elections in which Hamas took power, against the provisions of the Oslo accords, and the Bush government and the quartet all but abrogated responsibility for the consequences. From the Israeli point of view, despite all the verbiage about peace and isolation of the Hamas, Qassam rockets continued to rain down incessantly on Sderot, while the quartet and the US and the "international community" did nothing at all. The political consequence in Israel is that "disengagement," "concessions," and "peace," have become dirty words.

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert is well aware that even the smallest act of terror will be ascribed to any further peace moves made by his government. Israel has agreed to release 250 Fateh prisoners, and is allowing absorption of "wanted men" into the Palestinian security forces. These moves are clearly the result of urging by the United States. However, they are not enough for the Palestinians, and little as they are, they are meeting stiff opposition in Israel. The simple act of dismantling the illegal outposts, which is not a "Palestinian demand," but is rather a condition to which Israel agreed, has not been carried out until today. Israel goes through the periodic ritual of announcing intentions to remove the outposts, in the same way, and with about the same result, as Orthodox Jews pray for the coming of the Messiah. For all we know, removal of the outposts may have to await that event. These outposts are not a security asset for Israel. They are illegal under Israeli law as well, and they are a political time bomb. Yet all the prestige of the United States and all the verbiage of the Israeli government about peace has apparently not succeeded in removing even one of these outposts permanently.

We all hope that these moves will rekindle a real peace process, but hoping is not enough. Even if all these ex-terrorists become loyal servants of law and order, and even if the Israeli government makes a good and honest peace offer, there is still the Hamas to be reckoned with in Gaza. The PNA wants to start discussing a final settlement, but the PNA can't really offer anything in return, as they do not control the Gaza strip and the Hamas. Moreover, Ehud Olmert is not going to give in to demands for right of return or exclusive Arab Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem beyond the Green line.

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/00000607.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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