Little for Palestinians in Bush rhetoric
Hussein Ibish, 4/7/2002
WITH ISRAELI tanks
besieging everything from the Church of the Holy Nativity to Yasser Arafat's
compound, President Bush has finally taken the war between Israel and
the Palestinians seriously enough to dispatch Colin Powell to the region.
All previous peace
missions, including Anthony Zinni's, have been total failures for two
First, no US official
has ever been allowed to tie American aid to Israeli policies, leaving
them with little leverage over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Second, the fixation
on having an immediate cease-fire while not addressing the ongoing causes
of the conflict is an inherently unworkable strategy, because it fails
to replace the violence with a viable political process.
Bush's speech Thursday
suggests that there has been at least some movement toward addressing
the fundamental realities that fuel the fighting. He called for an end
to the Israeli occupation based on UN Security Council Resolution 242,
which does not allow acquiring territory by war.
The president was,
however, careful to include a phrase about ''secure and recognized borders''
for Israel, which some Israelis interpret as authorizing them to keep
land seized in 1967.
President Bush also
called for the creation of a viable Palestinian state and for an end to
the building of Israeli settlements. These statements reflect a growing
realization that, for the conflict to be resolved, there must be as much
attention to the Palestinian need for freedom and statehood as there is
to Israeli needs for security and recognition.
No one can argue
with Bush's condemnation of suicide bomb attacks against Israeli civilians.
They are reprehensible and unjustifiable. However, like so many other
American politicians and commentators, the president seems to notice or
condemn only attacks on Israeli civilians.
The fact that more
than 1,000 Palestinian civilians, many of them children, were killed in
the past 18 months seems to be irrelevant or justified to many people.
The deliberate targeting of Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces has
been documented by every human rights group that has looked into it. Outrage
over suicide bombings cannot be allowed to eclipse the equal immorality
of other forms of murder.
There is also the
question why Secretary of State Powell is waiting another week to go on
this urgent mission. It is hard to avoid the suspicion that the administration
expects Sharon will ignore Bush's demands and that the Israeli leader
is determined to continue, at least for a few more days, his futile campaign
to crush the Palestinians by brute force.
Much of the president's
rhetoric suggested that he buys into the absurd Israeli line that its
violent occupation of the Palestinian people is somehow analogous to America's
war against Al Qaeda. Such a fundamental error would make it impossible
for the United States to play any constructive role in resolving the conflict
between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Moreover, there is
no evidence that the administration is yet willing to confront the pro-Israel
special interest groups in the United States that furiously resist anything
less than unconditional support for Israel's colonial occupation.
But the most troubling
aspect of Bush's rhetoric concerns Arafat himself.
By placing blame
for the current situation on him personally and calling for the development
of a new Palestinian leadership, the president played into the hands of
Sharon and other Israeli extremists who seek to personalize the conflict
and make Arafat, rather than the occupation, appear to be its root cause.
What would change
if Arafat were gone tomorrow? The checkpoints, the Jewish-only roads and
settlements, the Israeli occupation forces, and the 3.5 million Palestinians
determined to resist and end that occupation by any means necessary would
all still be in place. The only obvious effect would be to further radicalize
the Palestinian population.
We can no longer
afford to pretend that this is all about one man's real or supposed failings
or that it is ''a war on terror'' or a problem that can be dealt with
in gradual stages.
What the Palestinians
are engaged in is a desperate and ruthless war of national liberation
of the most classic kind.
We are far beyond
the stage where simple cease-fires and confidence-building measures will
be effective. Difficult as it may seem, the only realistic way out is
to start serious talks designed to end the occupation completely and use
that as a basis for building a workable cease-fire that can become a permanent
is communications director of the American-Arab A nti-Discrimination
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.