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Bush?s Commitment Problem
Posted on May 20, 2008
“Contrary to what many are saying—that Bush hasn’t accomplished much in his trips to the Mideast—he has accomplished a great deal of harm,” says Francis Boyle, University of Illinois law professor and author of “Palestine, Palestinians and International Law.” For Boyle, Bush has only exacerbated the problems that have plagued the Palestinians for decades—the growth of Israeli settlements, the difficult living conditions of Palestinian refugees, and the further annexation of East Jerusalem into Israeli territory—by allowing these problems to flourish while trying to placate Palestinians with the lure of peace talks and the promise of a Palestinian state.
Boyle, a former legal adviser to the Palestinians, says that despite no agreement at the Annapolis conference, the gathering provided at least one reason to be hopeful. For the first time, he says, “tens of thousands of Palestinians of various political commitment—not just Hamas—protested the proposed Bantustan plan, and forced Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to reject the proposal,” referring to the condition of Palestinians as being similar to that of blacks in apartheid South Africa. The protest and outcome showed Palestinian democracy at work, but, Boyle says, the mainstream U.S. media ignored the story.
In his final State of the Union address, Bush reasserted a commitment to Israeli-Palestinian peace. “This month in Ramallah and Jerusalem, I assured leaders from both sides that America will do, and I will do, everything we can to help them achieve a peace agreement that defines a Palestinian state by the end of this year. The time has come for a Holy Land where a democratic Israel and a democratic Palestine live side-by-side in peace.”
As soon as the applause died down, Bush merged the Israeli-Palestinian issue with his bellicose stance against Iran, saying, “[W]herever freedom advances in the Middle East, it seems the Iranian regime is there to oppose it.” After again alleging that Iran has nuclear capabilities, Bush said, “Iran is funding and training militia groups in Iraq, supporting Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon and backing Hamas’ efforts to undermine peace in the Holy Land.”
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As Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies points out: “How could anyone now claim there was any legal or moral pretext for threatening Iran? But somehow the release of the NIE did not stop Washington’s talk of war. ... The White House, the President, and especially the Vice-President, all continued ratcheting up the rhetoric. In fact, the president had been told of the NIE’s overall conclusions months earlier, back in the summer of 2007.”
And when Bush arrived in the Middle East this past January for his first trip to the region as president, Iran remained atop the agenda. According to Bennis, “One of his primary goals was to reassure Israel that the NIE had changed nothing in U.S. policy trajectories towards Iran and that despite the intelligence agencies’ consensus that Iran was not building a nuclear weapon, ‘all options’ remained on the table.”
To gain the level of regional complicity among Arab states to pursue Iran required some semblance of pursuing a peace process between Israelis and Palestinians that Bush had long ago abandoned when the 2002 “road map” for peace failed.
Israel was opportunistic in taking advantage of Bush’s rhetoric linking the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Iran and Hamas. On Feb. 10, Israel’s Interior Minister Shimon Sheetrit said Ismail Haniyeh, the democratically elected Hamas prime minister, is a “legitimate target” for assassination, and added, “We must take a neighborhood in Gaza and wipe it off the map.”
For Israel, the potential that Hamas could turn to politics presents a threat, not an opportunity, according to Abunimah. He says that Israel is more comfortable with rocket fire “than it would be with hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians marching on the checkpoints in Gaza or the West Bank” because “Israel has no interest in facing Palestinian leaders who are at once committed to basic Palestinian rights, capable of delivering, and enjoy popular legitimacy and support.”
“Israel may be trying to provoke more rocket attacks,” Abunimah says, “and force Hamas into abandoning its political strategy altogether to provide the needed pretext to ‘decapitate’ the organization.”
If this sounds unlikely, consider the remarks of Tzachi Hanegbi, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, who, according to a Feb. 5 Reuters report, declared on Israel Radio that “there’s no difference between those who wear a suicide suit and a diplomat’s suit.”
In this environment, Bush’s “new cause for hope” is difficult to imagine.
Allen McDuffee writes on politics and Middle East affairs and is currently at work on a book, “No Child Left Unrecruited.” He lives in Brooklyn.
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