Saturday, July 21

President Bush’s Speech and its Significance

In the midst of the frustrations and futility between the Palestinians and the Israelis, President Bush gave a speech on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict from the White House on Monday, July 18, 2007– a sort of a sequel since his last major speech on the subject about 5 years ago. This sequel seems to be a desperate attempt on his part to leave some form of his legacy in the Middle-East, much of which he botched. He botched up in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the chances of him being a facilitator in this conflict is close to zero. He has little credibility and the Palestinians do not have much love for him or confidence in him at all. Whenever he talks about the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, one feels like cringing in shame because of his total naivety and lack of understanding of the problems in this conflict.

He spoke about a new vision between the Palestinians and Israelis which he rehashed from his previous speech in the Rose Garden five years previously. This vision is still far from being attained. Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister, who is now a special envoy to the Middle East, is also not the ideal choice. The fact that he and Bush were partners in botching up Iraq after the downfall of Saddam Hussein does not add much to Blair’s credentials either. Both leaders are held with suspicion by the Palestinians, especially the extremist Hamas faction that dominates Gaza. Hamas is also a threat to the West Bank under Fatah control. They view President Mahmoud Abbas and P.M. Salam Fayyad as Israeli agents. They refuse to recognize the emergency government. A situation like this has many dangers. Hamas is uncompromising in its stance towards recognizing Israel. It remains to be seen whether Abbas and his emergency government will be able to resist Hamas control of the West Bank. The possibilities of a Hamas take over in the West Bank remains a viable danger. The security forces of Abbas would collapse like a pack of cards as they did in Gaza without Israel’s help in preventing Hamas from seizing power in the West Bank.

It is in this background that Bush made his futile speech. He emphasized Hamas cruelty and violence but he has not offered any solutions. It was an exercise in polemics – saying the obvious but offering nothing. He reiterated the various moves Israel took towards compromise, including the unilateral disengagement from Gaza in August 2005 – an absolute mess which achieved nothing. This proved once again that unilateral actions without a water tight agreement with the Palestinian leadership will only exacerbate the conflict and add unwanted players to the conflict such as Iran, maybe even Al Qaeda (Hamas denies this). Each player has its own agenda and it is not the well being of the Palestinian people. It is a matter of power and exploitation of the Palestinians for the achievement of a form of strong Islamist domination of the Middle East with Iran at the helm.

Bush made another impotent and naïve call for an international meeting in autumn of nations that support a two state solution and give support to the new Hamas-free Palestinian government under Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad. He also said that Secretary Condoleezza Rice would chair the meeting. A final date for this meeting or summit is still to be set.

The speech does not seem convincing especially coming from a lame duck president nearing the end of his term. P.M. Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas found the speech agreeable, but the rest of the Arab World has mixed feelings towards the speech and the rejectionists, such as Hamas, found the speech unacceptable.

This speech like so many of Bush’s speeches on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict will be another speech that will fill the dustbin of history. The Hamas hate for Bush, Blair and Olmert is uncompromising. Hamas is adamant in not recognizing Israel’s right to exist and will continue to be a major obstacle towards any movement towards a settlement of the conflict. One cannot conduct any form of negotiations successfully without Hamas participation. Burying one’s head in the sand and boycotting Hamas, which does have great influence amongst the Palestinians is an error of judgment. The main players, who talk about peace in the Middle East, are very weak whether it is Bush, Blair, Abbas and Olmert. The Iraqi crisis has weakened Bush and Blair’s credibility, adding strength to Hamas. Iraq has become the US’s second Vietnam. Olmert’s credibility is also poor, not only amongst the Palestinians, but also in Israel. He has his own private vendetta against the State Comptroller, Micha Lindenstraus, for his conduct during the Lebanese War of July-August 2006 as well as personal problems of his acquisition of a home in Cremieux St, Jerusalem.

Bush has no understanding of the people’s of the Middle East. His speech illustrated that very well. His vision of future peace is unrealistic and is a total non starter.

According to a report in Haaretz, June 2007–07–20, “U.S. President George W. Bush's vision of two states for two nations, which he repeated during his speech early this week, is a messianic vision. And it is being shattered against the walls of the Islamic resistance he is unfamiliar with, and which even great America under his leadership cannot breach despite its power and wealth. And from the pro-Israeli declarations in his speech we can see how far behind the times he is, even regarding Israel's transparent situation. Israel, he said, has to be a Jewish state "and the national home of the Jewish people." What he doesn't know is that many Israelis, including MK Menahem Ben-Sasson, the chairman of the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee - and other Jewish Knesset members - no longer agree with this Zionist conclusion.

Suicide bombers and Qassam rockets, which caused death and destruction in Israel, were the Palestinian responses to Bush's famous speech about the "vision of the Palestinian state," which is five years old this summer. But these things, including the intensification of Qassam terrorism after the destruction of the Jewish settlements in Gush Katif, did not teach a lesson either to the U.S. president or the political leaders in Israel.”

Bush’s vision of a two state solution – Palestinian State alongside Israel seems to have reached the end of the road. What is the alternative? There have been ideas of a binational state. This idea would be unacceptable to Israel and unworkable at this stage. Many would say that we are now at the stage of post-Zionism. This is not an ideology but rather a period after the advent of Zionism. However, discussion of the binational state issue and its pitfalls could be useful if the parties to the conflict are prepared to be objective and fair – a possibility that is remote.

The idea of Israel and the US bolstering Abbas and Fayyad could so easily boomerang. Their open support of Abbas and Fayyad would weaken them even further. This would encourage extremist action on the part of Hamas and its Islamic Jihad allies. It could create mass hysteria in Palestinian street. The Hamas propaganda machine would come out in full force against the emergency Palestinian government. It would not serve the interests of Abbas and Fayyad if they were labeled as stooges or lackeys of Israel and the US. Their response would be further violence in the form of suicide bombings and an acceleration of Qassam rocket fire in the south. The situation is “catch 22”.

Democracy will not be achieved and the vacuum caused by the eventual withdrawal of Israel from the West Bank will be filled rapidly by Islamist Hamas extremists that would pose a great danger to Israel’s security. Iran and Al Qaeda are waiting on the sidelines for this eventuality. The situation in the West Bank and Gaza would slide into lawlessness, bloodshed and suicide terror resembling Iraq. This could threaten the moderate Arab states as well. Even the Saudi Peace Plan will not be accepted by Hamas ruled Palestine as provisions are made for Israel’s recognition.

The Palestinian people will be subjected to a very orthodox, uncompromising sharia (Moslem religious law) which would limit their freedom of choice and personal freedom.

Another problem is who will attend the so-called Bush convened conference apart from Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinians. Perhaps it would be a good idea to insist on the participation of Hamas in this conference because of their strong support amongst the Palestinian people. Without Hamas participation, there will never be any form of rapprochement between Israel and the Palestinians.

An international conference must address all the issues and obstacles so that peace could be achieved and this could only be achieved by including all the parties involved in the conflict including those parties who are boycotted. All gestures offered by Israel without Palestinian agreement or acknowledgement would create further terror in the West Bank.

No comments: