The Star Tribune’s editorial (“Aiding Abbas”, Feb 12th) lauded President Bush’s “remarkable new initiative, a $350 million fund for Palestinian humanitarian and security projects, which would give the peace process important new momentum.” The problem is that part of the money is earmarked for human rights violations. Glenn Kessler noted in the Feb 6th Washington Post, that “A White House official said $50 million of the $350 million that Bush announced in his State of the Union address to ‘support Palestinian political, economic, and security reforms’ could be given to Israel for [checkpoint] terminals because faster passage through Israeli checkpoints is presumed to be a help to the Palestinian economy.”
Israeli checkpoints primarily serve to limit the movement of the Palestinian population to and from different areas in their occupied territories. Some of the proposed high tech checkpoints will be part of Israel’s West Bank Barrier, which the International Court of Justice condemned as “contrary to international law” in July 2004. Reports from human rights organizations and on the ground experience tell us that whether a checkpoint is open at any given moment is arbitrary and, in any case, the necessary passage permits are rarely granted to Palestinians.
The Council for the National Interest [www.cnionline.com] reports that much of the fund has been “cobbled together from already funded projects in Gaza and the West Bank (desalination works, for example) that had never been spent.” So what are we left with? Money diverted from genuine humanitarian initiatives to projects that will strengthen Israel’s control over the Palestinians. This is the goal that Bush’s plan advances, Israel’s 37-year-old occupation is the main beneficiary, and the Star Tribune’s shallow grasp on the roots of the conflict is an embarrassment to thinking Minnesotans.
Saint Paul, MN
Editorial: Aiding Abbas/A timely proposal from Bush
Star Tribune, 12 February 2005
President Bush has kept his distance from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict these last four years, refusing to deal with the late Yasser Arafat and resisting advice to send a special envoy to the region. But in the budget he sent to Congress last week, Bush proposed a remarkable new initiative, a $350 million fund for Palestinian humanitarian and security projects, which would give the peace process important new momentum. His strategy is excellent and his timing is perfect; Congress should approve the money.
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has spurted and faltered repeatedly over the last decade, is now at a crucial moment. The new Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is courageously telling his constituents that violence will not advance their interests and is making good-faith efforts to stop attacks against Israelis. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon shows every sign of taking Abbas at his word and treating him as a legitimate negotiating partner.
But no one should underestimate the difficulty of Abbas’ task. Palestinians seem to have concluded that the last four years of violence have gained them nothing, but many feel that the previous seven years of negotiations with Israel also got them nothing. Abbas’ chief rival, the Islamist group Hamas, continues to endorse violence against Israel and enjoys substantial popular support among Palestinian voters.
Abbas needs to show Palestinians that the nonviolent track will actually gain them something, and that is where the United States can help. Bush’s plan would fund new housing in the impoverished Gaza Strip, schools and industrial infrastructure in the more populous and developed West Bank, and high-tech security equipment at border crossings.
The United States has much at stake in a Palestinian-Israel peace: security for Israelis, justice for Palestinians, success for a fledgling Arab democracy, credibility in the larger Muslim world. Bush’s plan advances all of these goals.