PALESTINE -- PEACE NOT APARTHEID
THE GEORGE W. BUSH YEARS
A national election in Israel occurred soon after the inauguration of George W. Bush in January 2001. Well known for having been aggressive in dealing with Palestinians, Ariel Sharon was easily elected prime minister within the troubled environment of the new intifada. He strongly opposed the Oslo peace agreement and emphasized his total commitment to counteract attacks on Israeli citizens and armed forces -- almost all of which were occurring on Palestinian territory.
Violence increased during this second intifada, costing the lives of more than a thousand Palestinians and nearly two hundred Israelis, and late in March three crucial events occurred, almost simultaneously. On March 27, a suicide bomber took his own life in an explosion that killed thirty Israelis in the midst of a Passover holiday celebration at the Park Hotel in Netanya, a coastal city. Instant condemnations of terrorist acts came from leaders around the world, including American officials and the U.N. Secretary-General.
The next day, at the Arab League meeting in Beirut, twenty-two nations ended a long debate by endorsing a resolution introduced by Saudi Crown Prince (soon to be King) Abdullah. It offered Israel normal relations with all Arab states if Israel complied with U.N. Resolutions 194 and 242. Asked how "normal relations" were defined, the Saudis responded, "We envision a relationship between the Arab countries and Israel that is exactly like the relationship between the Arab countries and any other state." They further explained that "all occupied Arab territories" and "the return of refugees" were deliberately vague enough to allow the Israelis to settle those matters through negotiations with the Palestinians, Syrians, and Lebanese.
The White House responded: "President George W. Bush urges other leaders to build on the Crown Prince's ideas to address the cause of peace in the troubled region."
The next day, March 29, a massive Israeli military force surrounded and destroyed Yasir Arafat's office compound in Ramallah, leaving only a few rooms intact. Convinced that Arafat was supporting the intifada, Prime Minister Sharon informed members of his cabinet that he wanted to arrest Arafat and expel him from the Palestinian territories. "The only commitment we've made," Police Minister Uzi Landau announced, "is not to kill him." Secretary of State Colin Powell called for Sharon to "consider the consequences" of his actions and limit civilian casualties, and later the United States voted for a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding Israeli withdrawal from Ramallah, which Israel had declared to be under Palestinian self-rule in 1995. Israel ignored the resolution.
Arab diplomats accused Sharon of deliberately sabotaging the Arab peace overture, and Crown Prince Abdullah called the prime minister's assault on Arafat "a brutal, despicable, savage, inhumane and cruel action." Except for one brief interlude, Arafat was to be permanently confined to this small space until the final days of his life. Having limited contacts with his own people and with minimal remaining authority, he was still held responsible by the Israelis for every act of violence within the occupied territories.
Responding to strong international pressure to break the costly impasse, in June 2002, President George W. Bush announced a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which was the first time an American leader had described the future Palestinian government as potentially sovereign. However, the president precluded any further involvement in the process by the Palestinians' only elected leader, Yasir Arafat, declaring, "Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership, so that a Palestinian state can be born." Responsibility for a lack of progress toward peace was placed on the Palestinians, and President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon declared that the response to any violent actions on their part was to be equated with the global war against terrorism.
The only American demands on the Israelis were that they return to the military positions they had occupied before September 2000, when violence had erupted after Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount, refrain from any new settlement activity in the occupied territories, and negotiate terms sometime in the future for ultimate compliance with U.N. Resolution 242, after the Palestinians demonstrated their ability to stop all violent resistance in the occupied territories. Prime Minister Sharon quickly accepted the elements of the proposal that concerned Palestinian violence. The Palestinians maintained that almost 200,000 Israeli occupying troops could not prevent every act of potential violence, and it would not be possible for their imprisoned and isolated leader to guarantee total peace, especially with only a few of their security force permitted to have sidearms or communications equipment.
Since Arafat was not acceptable to Bush or Sharon as an interlocutor, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) was chosen as the first prime minister of the Palestinian Authority in March 2003. Abbas was known as "the face of Palestinian moderation" and the chief architect of the Oslo Agreement; his choice was strongly supported by Israel and the United States. Arafat also responded favorably, claiming that this change was just an endorsement of his own reform efforts. In fact, it led to no genuine peace talks with Israel and to a struggle between Abbas and Arafat over control of security services.
In April 2003 a "Roadmap" for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was announced by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on behalf of the United States, the United Nations, Russia, and the European Union (known as the Quartet). Annan stated,
Such a settlement, negotiated between the parties, will result in the emergence of an independent, democratic Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors. The settlement will end the occupation that began in 1967, based on the Madrid Conference terms of reference and the principle of land for peace, U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242, 338 and 1397, agreements previously reached by the parties, and the Arab initiative proposed by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and endorsed by the Arab Summit in Beirut.
The Palestinians accepted the road map in its entirety, but the Israeli government announced fourteen caveats and prerequisites, some of which would preclude any final peace talks (see Appendix 7 for the full list). Israeli provisos included:
1. The total dismantling of all militant Palestinian sub-groups, collection of all illegal weapons, and their destruction;
2. Cessation of incitement against Israel, but the Roadmap cannot state that Israel must cease violence and incitement against the Palestinians;
3. Israeli control over Palestine, including the entry and exit of all persons and cargo, plus its airspace and electro-magnetic spectrum (radio, television, radar, etc.);
4. The waiver of any right of return of refugees to Israel;
5. No discussion of Israeli settlement in Judaea, Samaria, and Gaza or the status of the Palestinian Authority and its institutions in Jerusalem;
6. No reference to the key provisions of U.N. Resolution 242.
The practical result of all this is that the Roadmap for Peace has become moot, with only two results: Israel has been able to use it as a delaying tactic with an endless series of preconditions that can never be met, while proceeding with plans to implement its unilateral goals; and the United States has been able to give the impression of positive engagement in a "peace process," which President Bush has announced will not be fulfilled during his time in office.
A Middle East summit meeting, hosted by Jordanian King Abdullah II and attended by President Bush, Prime Minister Sharon, and Prime Minister Abbas, was held in Aqaba, Jordan, in June 2003 for a general discussion of the Roadmap's step-by-step process. Some phrases of the closing statements were quite interesting, as I have italicized. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said,
The Government and people of Israel welcome the opportunity to renew direct negotiations according to the steps of the Roadmap as adopted by the Israeli government. ... We can also reassure our Palestinian partners that we understand the importance of territorial contiguity in the West Bank, for a viable, Palestinian state. Israeli policy in the territories that are subject to direct negotiations with the Palestinians will reflect this fact....
We accept the principle that no unilateral actions by any party can prejudge the outcome of our negotiations.
President George Bush responded, "I'm also pleased to be with Prime Minister Abbas. He represents the cause of freedom and statehood for the Palestinian people. I strongly support that cause. ... In addition, Prime Minister Sharon has stated that no unilateral actions by either side can or should prejudge the outcome of future negotiations."
Abbas resigned from his post in October, citing his exclusion from substantive peace efforts by Israel and the United States and some opposition to his role from within the PLO.
Although the initial proposals and timetable for the Roadmap for Peace have been largely ignored or abandoned, the statement on basic elements of a permanent two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been retained by the Quartet members, including an end of the occupation begun in 1967 and full commitment to the key U.N. resolutions.
The International Quartet realizes that Israel must have a lasting and comprehensive peace. This will not be possible unless Israel accepts the terms of the Roadmap and reverses its colonizing the internationally recognized Palestinian territory, and unless the Palestinians respond by accepting Israel's right to exist, free of violence.