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Mediterranean Quarterly 13.4 (2002) 11-20
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The Bush "Vision" for Palestine:
Realistic or Apocalyptic?
Nicholas A. Veliotes
President George W. Bush unveiled his "vision" for addressing the Palestinian issue on 24 June 2002. As he endorsed an eventual two-state solution in Palestine, Bush
1. called on the Palestinians to stamp out violence against Israelis and
2. pressed for reform of Palestinian institutions and the election of "new" leaders.
Success in these tasks would lead to the freezing of new settlements, withdrawal of some Israeli military units at an undefined future time, and creation of a "provisional" (undefined) Palestinian state on some of the territory—a state that may or may not negotiate a final peace with Israel within three years.
Meanwhile, the president's rhetoric, or lack thereof, is widely interpreted as giving unconditional U.S. support for Israeli military actions against the Palestinians, either in response to terrorist actions or as preemptive actions to forestall violence.
The most obvious feature of the Bush "vision" is that it requires nothing of the Likud government of Israel. Indeed, some Israeli commentators have suggested that the "vision" is so one-sided that it must have been written by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is reported by the Israeli press as having listened to the speech in disbelief and despair. This view is shared by the United States' European and Arab friends and [End Page 11] allies, whose advice and interests, after extensive consultations, the president simply ignored.
Not surprisingly, Sharon and Pat Robertson of the Christian Right, along with the pro-Israeli lobby in and out of Congress, have warmly supported the Bush speech. It is worth noting, however, that the "vision" falls far short of the mark "of turning the cycle of violence into a stable peace" in the context of a balanced road map for peace as advocated by some prominent, knowledgeable Jewish Americans. 1
Palestinian public reaction has ranged from rage to statesmanlike attempts by the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership to put the best face on the speech as a useful "first step." Yassir Arafat himself has tried to side-step the issue of his removal at the top of the Palestinian Authority; he has not endorsed the concept of "new leadership" but has shuffled some ministerial portfolios. European Union governments have muted public criticism, while noting much remains to be done to turn this vision into a workable peace plan. Friendly Arab governments generally have followed the EU position in public, while stating clearly that it is up to the Palestinians to choose their own leaders. And while important voices in Washington increasingly echo Sharon's view that Arafat personally must go, several EU countries, led by the French, have had high-level contacts with Arafat since the president's speech. This all suggests that a U.S. and Israeli effort to manipulate forthcoming Palestinian elections will not have much, if any, support from friends.
Another factor—and weakness—is the lack of definition of success in the preliminary scenario, which would trigger subsequent phases, which would require difficult decisions by the Sharon government and probably result in new elections in Israel. Who—or what body—will declare success or lack thereof? If it is Sharon, there never will be any subsequent phases, just indefinite death and destruction for both parties.
There are broader policy implications to the speech. For the first time, an American president appears publicly to have sought to divorce the search for [End Page 12] peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors from the other important U.S. interests in the Middle East and, since 11 September, in the broader Muslim world.
Successive American presidents have understood since World War II that the U.S.-led peace process was an important complement to protecting our other interests in very different circumstances. Indeed, this was seen as a necessary balance to and an important element in our commitment to Israeli security.
During the Cold War, we made clear our commitment to meaningful peace processes that required compromises from all the parties...