The Palestinians: Stripped of Hope Too

Going Backwards in Leaps and Bounds

George W Bush made two statements about the situation in Palestine; one on 4 April 2002 and the other on 24 June 2002. The contrast between then and now could not be more eloquent. Put briefly, even the so-called moderate leaders will have to admit that the USA is not an honest and impartial broker in the search for a settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

I give below the text of both statements to give the reader a full picture of the shift in American position from strong support to Israel to, in addition, total rejection of most Palestinian aspirations and rights. The latest statement lays conditions on the Palestinians, offers vague hopes for the long-term future, and demands nothing from the Israelis.

Not surprisingly, Sharon and his government welcomed the June statement. Observers in the Middle East have already suggested that the statement could not have been written more obligingly (from Israel’s viewpoint) had it been drafted by Sharon himself. Predictably, the so-called moderate Arab leaders found much to admire in Bush’s latest pronouncement. They have by now lost what little credibility and self-respect they had before the Bush announcement was made. Astonishingly, however, Arafat and his Authority also welcomed the statement although one is unable to see in what way they felt Bush’s speech helped their cause.

Bush Statement: 4 April 2002

“During the course of one week, the situation in the Middle East has deteriorated dramatically. Last Wednesday, my Special Envoy, Anthony Zinni, reported to me that we were on the verge of a cease-fire agreement that would have spared Palestinian and Israeli lives.

That hope fell away when a terrorist attacked a group of innocent people in a Netanya hotel, killing many men and women in what is a mounting toll of terror.

In the days since, the world has watched with growing concern the horror of bombings and burials and the stark picture of tanks in the street. Across the world, people are grieving for Israelis and Palestinians who have lost their lives.

When an 18-year-old Palestinian girl is induced to blow herself up, and in the process kills a 17-year-old Israeli girl, the future, itself, is dying — the future of the Palestinian people and the future of the Israeli people. We mourn the dead, and we mourn the damage done to the hope of peace, the hope of Israel’s and the Israelis’ desire for a Jewish state at peace with its neighbors; the hope of the Palestinian people to build their own independent state.

Terror must be stopped. No nation can negotiate with terrorists. For there is no way to make peace with those whose only goal is death.

This could be a hopeful moment in the Middle East. The proposal of Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, supported by the Arab League, has put a number of countries in the Arab world closer than ever to recognizing Israel’s right to exist. The United States is on record supporting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a Palestinian state.

Israel has recognized the goal of a Palestinian state. The outlines of a just settlement are clear: two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side, in peace and security.

This can be a time for hope. But it calls for leadership, not for terror. Since September the 11th, I’ve delivered this message: everyone must choose; you’re either with the civilized world, or you’re with the terrorists. All in the Middle East also must choose and must move decisively in word and deed against terrorist acts.

The Chairman of the Palestinian Authority has not consistently opposed or confronted terrorists. At Oslo and elsewhere, Chairman Arafat renounced terror as an instrument of his cause, and he agreed to control it. He’s not done so.

The situation in which he finds himself today is largely of his own making. He’s missed his opportunities, and thereby betrayed the hopes of the people he’s supposed to lead. Given his failure, the Israeli government feels it must strike at terrorist networks that are killing its citizens.

Yet, Israel must understand that its response to these recent attacks is only a temporary measure. All parties have their own responsibilities. And all parties owe it to their own people to act.

We all know today’s situation runs the risk of aggravating long-term bitterness and undermining relationships that are critical to any hope of peace. I call on the Palestinian people, the Palestinian Authority and our friends in the Arab world to join us in delivering a clear message to terrorists: blowing yourself up does not help the Palestinian cause. To the contrary, suicide bombing missions could well blow up the best and only hope for a Palestinian state.

All states must keep their promise, made in a vote in the United Nations to actively oppose terror in all its forms. No nation can pick and choose its terrorist friends. I call on the Palestinian Authority and all governments in the region to do everything in their power to stop terrorist activities, to disrupt terrorist financing, and to stop inciting violence by glorifying terror in state-owned media, or telling suicide bombers they are martyrs. They’re not martyrs. They’re murderers. And they undermine the cause of the Palestinian people.

Those governments, like Iraq, that reward parents for the sacrifice of their children are guilty of soliciting murder of the worst kind. All who care about the Palestinian people should join in condemning and acting against groups like Al-Aqsa, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and all groups which opposed the peace process and seek the destruction of Israel.

The recent Arab League support of Crown Prince Abdullah’s initiative for peace is promising, is hopeful, because it acknowledges Israel’s right to exist. And it raises the hope of sustained, constructive Arab involvement in the search for peace. This builds on a tradition of visionary leadership, begun by President Sadat and King Hussein, and carried forward by President Mubarak and King Abdullah.

Now, other Arab states must rise to this occasion and accept Israel as a nation and as a neighbor. Peace with Israel is the only avenue to prosperity and success for a new Palestinian state. The Palestinian people deserve peace and an opportunity to better their lives. They need their closest neighbor, Israel, to be an economic partner, not a mortal enemy. They deserve a government that respects human rights and a government that focuses on their needs — education and health care — rather than feeding their resentments.

It is not enough for Arab nations to defend the Palestinian cause. They must truly help the Palestinian people by seeking peace and fighting terror and promoting development.

Israel faces hard choices of its own. Its government has supported the creation of a Palestinian state that is not a haven for terrorism. Yet, Israel also must recognize that such a state needs to be politically and economically viable.

Consistent with the Mitchell plan, Israeli settlement activity in occupied territories must stop. And the occupation must end through withdrawal to secure and recognize boundaries consistent with United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338. Ultimately, this approach should be the basis of agreements between Israel and Syria and Israel and Lebanon.

Israel should also show a respect, a respect for and concern about the dignity of the Palestinian people who are and will be their neighbors. It is crucial to distinguish between the terrorists and ordinary Palestinians seeking to provide for their own families.

The Israeli government should be compassionate at checkpoints and border crossings, sparing innocent Palestinians daily humiliation. Israel should take immediate action to ease closures and allow peaceful people to go back to work.

Israel is facing a terrible and serious challenge. For seven days, it has acted to root out terrorist nests. America recognizes Israel’s right to defend itself from terror. Yet, to lay the foundations of future peace, I ask Israel to halt incursions into Palestinian-controlled areas and begin the withdrawal from those cities it has recently occupied.

I speak as a committed friend of Israel. I speak out of a concern for its long-term security, a security that will come with a genuine peace. As Israel steps back, responsible Palestinian leaders and Israel’s Arab neighbors must step forward and show the world that they are truly on the side of peace. The choice and the burden will be theirs.

The world expects an immediate cease-fire, immediate resumption of security cooperation with Israel against terrorism. An immediate order to crack down on terrorist networks. I expect better leadership, and I expect results.

These are the elements of peace in the Middle East. And now, we must build the road to those goals. Decades of bitter experience teach a clear lesson: progress is impossible when nations emphasize their grievances and ignore their opportunities. Storms of violence cannot go on. Enough is enough.

And to those who would try to use the current crisis as an opportunity to widen the conflict, stay out. Iran’s arms shipments and support for terror fuel the fire of conflict in the Middle East. And it must stop. Syria has spoken out against al Qaeda. We expect it to act against Hamas and Hezbollah, as well. It’s time for Iran to focus on meeting its own people’s aspirations for freedom and for Syria to decide which side of the war against terror it is on.

The world finds itself at a critical moment. This is a conflict that can widen or an opportunity we can seize. And so I’ve decided to send Secretary of State Powell to the region next week to seek broad international support for the vision I’ve outlined today. As a step in this process, he will work to implement United Nations Resolution 1402, an immediate and meaningful cease-fire, an end to terror and violence and incitement; withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian cities, including Ramallah; implementation of the already agreed upon Tenet and Mitchell plans, which will lead to a political settlement.

I have no illusions. We have no illusions about the difficulty of the issues that lie ahead. Yet, our nation’s resolve is strong. America is committed to ending this conflict and beginning an era of peace.

We know this is possible, because in our lifetimes we have seen an end to conflicts that no one thought could end. We’ve seen fierce enemies let go of long histories of strife and anger. America itself counts former adversaries as trusted friends: Germany and Japan and now Russia.

Conflict is not inevitable. Distrust need not be permanent. Peace is possible when we break free of old patterns and habits of hatred. The violence and grief that troubled the Holy Land have been among the great tragedies of our time. The Middle East has often been left behind in the political and economic advancement of the world. That is the history of the region. But it need not and must not be its fate.

The Middle East could write a new story of trade and development and democracy. And we stand ready to help. Yet, this progress can only come in an atmosphere of peace. And the United States will work for all the children of Abraham to know the benefits of peace.”

Bush Statement: 24 June 2002

“For too long, the citizens of the Middle East have lived in the midst of death and fear. The hatred of a few holds the hopes of many hostage. The forces of extremism and terror are attempting to kill progress and peace by killing the innocent.

And this casts a dark shadow over an entire region. For the sake of all humanity, things must change in the Middle East. It is untenable for Israeli citizens to live in terror. It is untenable for Palestinians to live in squalor and occupation.

And the current situation offers no prospect that life will improve. Israeli citizens will continue to be victimized by terrorists, and so Israel will continue to defend herself, and the situation of the Palestinian people will grow more and more miserable.

My vision is two states, living side by side, in peace and security. There is simply no way to achieve that peace until all parties fight terror. Yet at this critical moment, if all parties will break with the past and set out on a new path, we can overcome the darkness with the light of hope.

Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership, so that a Palestinian state can be born. I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror.

I call upon them to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty. If the Palestinian people actively pursue these goals, America and the world will actively support their efforts. If the Palestinian people meet these goals, they will be able to reach agreement with Israel and Egypt and Jordan on security and other arrangements for independence.

And when the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbours, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state, whose borders and certain aspects of its sovereignty will be provisional until resolved as part of a final settlement in the Middle East.

In the work ahead, we all have responsibilities. The Palestinian people are gifted and capable and I’m confident they can achieve a new birth for their nation.

A Palestinian state will never be created by terror. It will be built through reform. And reform must be more than cosmetic change or a veiled attempt to preserve the status quo. True reform will require entirely new political and economic institutions based on democracy, market economics and action against terrorism.

Today the elected Palestinian legislature has no authority and power is concentrated in the hands of an unaccountable few.

A Palestinian state can only serve its citizens with a new constitution which separates the powers of government. The Palestinian parliament should have the full authority of a legislative body. Local officials and government ministers need authority of their own and the independence to govern effectively.

The United States, along with the European Union and Arab states, will work with Palestinian leaders to create a new constitutional framework and a working democracy for the Palestinian people. And the United States, along with others in the international community, will help the Palestinians organize and monitor fair, multi-party local elections by the end of the year with national elections to follow.

Today, the Palestinian people live in economic stagnation, made worse by official corruption. A Palestinian state will require a vibrant economy, where honest enterprise is encouraged by honest government.

The United States, the international donor community and the World Bank stand ready to work with Palestinians on a major project of economic reform and development. The United States, the EU, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are willing to oversee reforms in Palestinian finances, encouraging transparency and independent auditing. And the United States, along with our partners in the developed world, will increase our humanitarian assistance to relieve Palestinian suffering.

Today, the Palestinian people lack effective courts of law and have no means to defend and vindicate their rights. A Palestinian state will require a system of reliable justice to punish those who prey on the innocent. The United States and members of the international community stand ready to work with Palestinian leaders to establish, finance and monitor a truly independent judiciary.

Today, Palestinian authorities are encouraging, not opposing terrorism. This is unacceptable.

And the United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure.

This will require an externally supervised effort to rebuild and reform the Palestinian security services. The security system must have clear lines of authority and accountability, and a unified chain of command.

America’s pursuing this reform along with key regional states. The world is prepared to help, yet ultimately these steps toward statehood depend on the Palestinian people and their leaders. If they energetically take the path of reform, the rewards can come quickly.

If Palestinians embrace democracy, confront corruption and firmly reject terror, they can count on American support for the creation of a provisional state of Palestine.

With a dedicated effort, this state could rise rapidly, as it comes to terms with Israel, Egypt and Jordan on practical issues such as security. The final borders, the capital and other aspects of this state’s sovereignty will be negotiated between the parties as part of a final settlement.

Arab states have offered their help in this process, and their help is needed.

I’ve said in the past that nations are either with us or against us in the war on terror. To be counted on the side of peace, nations must act. Every leader actually committed to peace will end incitement to violence in official media and publicly denounce homicide bombings.

Every nation actually committed to peace will stop the flow of money, equipment and recruits to terrorist groups seeking the destruction of Israel, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah.”

Realities in the West Bank

B’Tselem, the respected Israeli centre for human rights in the occupied territories, published a comprehensive report in May 2002 (Land Grab: Israel’s Settlement Policy in the West Bank). The report makes essential reading for anyone interested in the omens for peace in the Middle East. More to the point, it makes grim reading in the context of the economic and political viability of a future Palestinian State.

The map shown below (produced by the Observer on 23 June 2002 and based on the B’Tselem report), demonstrates the massive obstacles that have been deliberately placed by successive Israeli governments in the path of lasting peace founded on the idea of two sovereign states.

Isreal - The Spread of Settlements

The B’Tselem study, authored by Yehezkel Lein, reported that the built up areas of “settlements constitute only 1.7 % of land in the West Bank.” However, when municipal boundaries and regional councils are included “a total of 41.9 % of the area of the West Bank is controlled by the settlements.” Furthermore, most of the main vehicular roads are also controlled by the settlers or the Israeli armed forces.

The picture becomes even more stark when Israeli government incentives are taken into account. B’Tselem reported that “Jewish local councils in the west Bank received grants from the government averaging sixty-five percent more than those received by their counterparts inside Israel. Settlement regional councils received grants averaging 165 % more than their counterparts in Israel.” (See www.btselem.org/). No-one should be under any illusion that Israel does not want an independent and viable Palestinian state in the West Bank.

What Options Are Left for the Palestinians?

Basically, very few options. On the one hand they could could sue for peace at any price. They would get little in return, but then that is what they would achieve from a peace settlement brokered by the USA and blessed by the so-called moderate Arab leaders. Would such an option deliver peace? Most unlikely. Jewish people struggled for thousands of years to have their own homeland. The Palestinians have shown themselves to be just as determined to do the same. And they have little more to lose. Sooner or later, their struggle would begin again and, who knows, circumstances might be on their side at that time. One thing is certain, they will not give up.

The other option is for the Palestinians to bite the bullet and go all the way towards democratisation. Ostensibly, they would be meeting Bush’s demands. However, they would have to embrace real democracy in every respect; model constitution, free and transparent elections, new civil institutions, etc. These reforms would have to be supervised or even managed by independent external organisations (see Palestine 3). Real democracy, of course, might not be what Bush and Sharon are after. Even more to the point, this option might not be to the liking of the current Palestinian elite. Needless to say neighbouring Arab countries would also be alarmed by such a lunge towards democracy. Nonetheless, this is the most likely option to succeed in the long-run. A legitimate and representative Palestinian Authority could launch the fight for independence in earnest, using political means if at all possible and violent means if that becomes totally unavoidable.

Is there a third option? Yes, the Palestinians could pack their bags and go elsewhere. anywhere that is but the ‘land of Israel. That is what Israel would like to see happen. Without adoption of the second option, full and rapid democratisation, this would become the most likely outcome. Sad but also inevitable.