President Yasir Arafat’s coffin had barely touched the ground of his temporary tomb in Ramallah when United States President George Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair jointly made yet another statement on Middle East Peace. Setting aside the fact that the timing of the statement was disrespectful and showed ignorance of the Islamic custom of observing three days of mourning to respect the dead, Bush and Blair, seemingly jovial over Arafat’s passing, offered yet another non-starter for moving the region from its never-ending peace process to a “lasting peace.”
It is said that one can fool some of the people, some of the time, but not all the people, all of the time. President Bush and Prime Minister Blair can’t possibly believe Palestinians will fall for the same tricks that have been thrown at them for years now. The substance of the most recent Bush-Blair statement on November 12 is nothing more that an unmasked and feeble attempt to fool all of the Palestinians, yet again.
First, it was the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993. The world’s superpower not only made a public statement at the time, but the US was an actual signatory witness — as was the Russian Federation — to the infamous historic peace agreement, spearheaded by the late President Arafat and the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. That agreement was highly detailed and offered a set of dates, including one that stipulated that a Palestinian State was to be realized on May 5, 1999. Before the ink on the Oslo agreement was dry, Israel, with US backing, made it publicly clear that no dates in the agreement were to be considered sacred. The result was a failed process that has led us to the catastrophic reality in which we find ourselves today.
Next came President Bush’s much applauded policy speech on June 24, 2002. This “vision,” as it was termed, finally stated US acceptance of the creation of the state of Palestine, albeit provisional. This policy statement came at the heels of the most bloodiest and destructive Israeli military invasions of Palestinian cities. It was as if the US felt a need to take world attention off Israeli war crimes being committed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and instead, issue an upbeat red herring.
The situation on the ground became worse.
Then, almost a year later, on April 30 2003, the US revealed the newest initiative from the Quartet - the US, UN, Russia and EU, - “A Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” The US made a quantum leap from articulating a “vision” to proposing a “solution.” The Roadmap promised that the “Parties reach final and comprehensive permanent status agreement that ends the Israel-Palestinian conflict in 2005…and fulfills the vision of two states, Israel and sovereign, independent, democratic and viable Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security.” The Palestinians under the leadership of Yasir Arafat immediately accepted the Roadmap. The Israelis on the other hand, after slowly mulling over the issue, stipulated their acceptance with 14 reservations, each reservation nullifying the Roadmap’s substance.
Meanwhile, the situation on the ground steadily became worse.
Israel Reigns in US
Israelis felt international pressure building after, in essence, shunning the US’s Roadmap effort to find an exit for their strategic ally’s continued violations of international and humanitarian laws. Israel’s Prime Minister jumped into action. On a visit to the US on April 14, 2004, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon stuck the goal he could only dream of.
In an exchange of letters with President Bush, Sharon wrote, “The vision that you articulated in your 24 June 2002 address constitutes one of the most significant contributions toward ensuring a bright future for the Middle East. Accordingly, the State of Israel has accepted the Roadmap, as adopted by our government.” The trick phrase being “as adopted by our government,” which, as stated above, was so riddled with reservations that in effect it was essentially a rejection of the Roadmap initiative.
In place of the Roadmap, Sharon continued in his letter, “I attach, for your review, the main principles of the Disengagement Plan. This initiative, which we are not undertaking under the roadmap, represents an independent Israeli plan, yet is not inconsistent with the roadmap.” The arrogance of throwing President Bush’s Roadmap in his face, then shoving Israel’s own unilateral disengagement plan down Bush’s throat, all while sitting in the White House, was Ariel Sharon at his best.
In a reply letter to Israeli Prime Minister Sharon on the same day, President Bush confirmed beyond any reasonable doubt that he, and the US, were no longer passive supporters of Israel’s actions, but rather a full-pledged partner in Ariel Sharon’s ethnic cleansing plan for Palestinians. President Bush accepted Sharon’s infamous and failed strategy to declare former Palestinian President Yasir Arafat “irrelevant” and issued in his letter a declaration that was patently illegal.
Bush wrote, “The United States is strongly committed to Israel’s security and well-being as a Jewish state. It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel.” He continued, “…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…”
Playing global judge and jury, President Bush single-handedly declared for the first time ever a formal US position that prejudices a just solution and attempts to strip Palestinians of their legal and inalienable rights.
All the while, the situation on the ground became increasingly worse.
Same Old Same Old
Now, as if lessons of history refuse to be acknowledged by the US and UK, Bush and Blair played diplomatic ping pong at the Whitehouse, expressing their unbreakable love for Israel, while Palestinians and Israelis continue dying, daily. After living thirty-six years under an illegal Israeli military occupation, the Palestinians watched the events of the last 4 years while withstanding the brunt of the Israeli military. The number of Palestinians and Israelis killed since September 29, 2000 is the equivalent of over 375,000 Americans dying if the same events were taking place in the US.
To add insult to injury, this week President Bush and Prime Minister Blair have basically regurgitated the same empty statements as in the past, only this time they choose to do so on the day President Arafat was laid to rest. It is clear that Bush and Blair have no intention to give the needed time for the Palestinians to regroup and institutionalize their decision making process.
Additionally, these two leaders conveniently ignored the July 9, 2004 International Court of Justice ruling and subsequent General Assembly Resolution, which clearly state that Israel’s construction of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is a blatant violation of international and humanitarian laws and must be removed. Bush and Blair did not even hint that a new Berlin Wall — one made possible by their generous financial and political support - now exists on top of Palestinian lands.
All of this, and Bush and Blair have the audacity to call for rule of law to be applied by Palestinians before next steps of a peace process can take place. Their hypocrisy would be laughable if real people, Palestinians and Israelis, were not paying the price with their lives for the US and UK’s stubborn refusal to apply international law to this five-decade conflict. Palestinians will do their best to apply rule of law to their dealings while living under Israeli military occupation, but not because Bush or Blair called for it, but rather because it is their peoples will to do so.
Unless international and humanitarian law becomes the key reference point for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it will not really matter who the Palestinians elect to succeed Yasir Arafat. When the global community, in particular the European Union and UN Security Council member China, stop supporting US’s desire to find a political cover for what has become the latest exercise in modern ethnic cleansing, we will be one step closer to peace in the Middle East.
In the meantime, the next logical step is for the UN to immediately deploy a peacekeeping force to stop the bloodshed, to allow the upcoming elections in the Palestinian Authority to take place, and to allow the Palestinian people to consolidate their newly elected leadership. Our families’ futures depend on it.
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman living in the Occupied Palestinian City of Al-Bireh/Ramallah. Dr. Michael Dahan is an Israeli-American political scientist living in Jerusalem and teaching at an Israeli University.