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Bush?s Commitment Problem
Posted on May 20, 2008
George Bush has a commitment problem. On his recent Middle East trip, he had to figure out how to demonstrate his loyalty to Israel and appear committed to peace and the Palestinians, all while rattling his saber at Iran for the sake of Israeli and American hawks. A good start to achieving one of those objectives, of course, was likening Barack Obama to the appeasers of Hitler and the Nazis in front of the Israeli Knesset.
According to the White House, Bush was in the region to “reaffirm efforts toward peace and prosperity and our close work with regional allies to combat terrorism and promote freedom.” For many who have watched as the administration has ratcheted up the aggressive rhetoric toward Iran, it is understood that the Bush administration is looking to “regional allies” for complicity on their plans for Iran.
Naturally, Bush was also there to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary and to note that “[e]leven minutes later [after independence], on the orders of President Harry Truman, the United States was proud to be the first nation to recognize Israel’s independence.” He went on to say, “And on this landmark anniversary, America is proud to be Israel’s closest ally and best friend in the world.”
During this trip the president once again attempted to convince Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that Israel’s closest ally and best friend in the world is also the perfect third party to deliver an honest peace agreement between the two.
However, the Bush administration stacking the deck in favor of Israel isn’t exactly news to the Palestinians.
When Vice President Dick Cheney made an unexpected visit to Baghdad in March, that wasn’t the biggest surprise of his 10-day Middle East trip. More astounding was Cheney, arguably the sharpest-taloned hawk in the Bush administration’s war-hungry aerie, having been deployed to ostensibly do the work of diplomacy with Israelis and Palestinians. Cheney’s involvement in the so-called peace process is something of a cruel joke, despite White House claims that “he can certainly complement the kind of message that both the President and the Secretary [of State] have been consistently delivering to Israeli and Palestinian leaders about the depth of our commitment to try and make progress toward a Palestinian state.”
The real intentions of Cheney’s trip made the Palestinians the butt of the punch line. Although the vice president claimed that realizing a Palestinian state would require “painful concessions on both sides,” it was pretty clear Palestinians would have to endure the most pain when he told Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at their March 22 meeting that “our two countries have been more than just strong allies. We’ve been friends—special friends—and our peoples bound together by unique ties of history, culture, religion, and memory. Today, both our nations share the ideals of liberty, equality, human dignity, and representative government.”
The most encouraging words Cheney could offer Palestinian President Abbas was that “[t]he United States will commit resources to help the Palestinians build the infrastructure necessary for a stable, secure and prosperous democracy, and a society led by a government that joins in the fight against terror and honors the aspirations of all its people.”
Before Cheney’s departure for the region, a March 15 White House press briefing with a senior administration official foreshadowed a continuation of the pitiful and dishonest U.S. role in the process thus far: “And I think for what it’s worth, the vice president, in particular in Israel, has a long-standing and close relationship with the prime minister, but also with other very senior-level officials in the Israeli government, particularly the defense minister.”
These close relationships are not unique to Cheney, which might in part explain why previous visits by Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yielded no positive results and indeed may have only encouraged more violence.
Recall when, on March 6, a Palestinian gunman opened fire at the renowned Mercaz Harab rabbinical seminary, killing eight and wounding several. Abbas’ office issued a written statement saying, “The Palestinian Authority condemns any attack on innocent civilians.” In a phone call, Bush told Olmert that “the United States stands firmly with Israel in the face of this terrible attack.” Rice, having met with Olmert and Abbas in an attempt to resume peace negotiations the day before, echoed Bush’s sentiment. “This barbarous act has no place among civilized peoples and shocks the conscience of all peace-loving nations,” Rice said. “There is no cause that could ever justify this action.”
Yet Bush and Rice have had nothing to say about the five-day, high-intensity Israeli ground and air military operation on Gaza that began on Feb. 27, leaving more than 110 Palestinians and three Israeli soldiers dead. And despite the withdrawal of troops on March 3, Olmert promised more attacks to come, telling the Israeli parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee that “what happened was not a one-off event. ... Everything is possible ... airstrikes, ground strikes, and special operations are being discussed.”
The Israeli blockade on Gaza enforced in October 2007 made food and other goods unavailable to Gazans. Between Jan. 14 and Jan. 20—one of the worst weeks of the humanitarian crisis—the amount of food entering Gaza was only enough to meet 31 percent of the population’s basic food needs, according to the U.N. World Food Program.
In the midst of this crisis, Joe Stork, acting director of the Middle East program at Human Rights Watch, remarked that “Gazans can’t turn on the lights, get tap water, buy enough food, or earn a living without Israel’s consent.” He continued: “Israel’s rightful self-defense against unlawful rocket attacks does not justify a blockade that denies civilians the food, fuel and medicine needed to survive, a policy amounting to collective punishment.” The Bush administration, however, remained mute as the events unfolded and attempted to let it all blow over.
With Secretary of State Rice as its driving force, the Bush administration has claimed to have recommitted itself to Israeli-Palestinian peace in this final year in office. Bush, alongside Palestinian President Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, attended the November 2007 Annapolis conference aimed at producing a substantive document to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the conference did not meet its goal. China, several Middle Eastern states, Russia, members of the Arab League, the European Union and the United Nations were among the roughly 40 other countries and organizations invited. Bush also visited the Middle East in January. But the effect and even the intent of this involvement are debatable.
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