Bush's Mideast Blunder

Words (excluding footnotes): 712
Date: June 26, 2002

President Bush's speech outlining his Mideast "vision" made one thing clear: His ignorance of the region's history will only lead to further bloodshed.

The Palestinian people's right to an independent state was established in the United Nation's 1947 resolution partitioning Palestine into two countries, one Jewish and the other Arab, with Jerusalem separate from both and administered by the U.N. Because Israel's legal legitimacy is based on that resolution, which declared that the two states "shall come into being," Israel cannot oppose the creation of a Palestinian state.[1]

The fundamental problem, though, has always been Israel's maximalist objectives. As long ago as 1949, the American ambassador to Syria angrily cabled Washington that "Unless Israel can be brought to understand that it cannot have all of its cake (partition boundaries) and gravy as well (area captured in violation of truce, Jerusalem and resettlement of Arab refugees elsewhere) it may find it has won [the Palestine] war but lost peace."

Ambassador J.H. Keeley concluded that "if Ben-Gurion would meet Za'im [the Syrian leader] half way," there might be "peace in our time."[2]

But Ben-Gurion and later Israeli prime ministers (other than perhaps the assassinated Yitzhak Rabin) have never been willing to meet the Arabs half way.

The Israelis demand sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, although the partition resolution made it an international city not part of either state.

The Israelis insist on the right to permanently expel the Palestinian refugees it created--sometimes deliberately, sometimes not--in the 1948 war. The U.S. supports this demand despite our condemnation of ethnic cleansing elsewhere, and the established right under international law for refugees to return home. This right is acknowledged in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966, and U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 (III) of 1948.[3]

And the Israelis insist on keeping, not only the territory captured in 1948 (which went far beyond the partition boundaries), but large swathes of the land occupied since 1967. This violates the settled principle of international law--reiterated in U.N. Resolution 242, which is acknowledged by the international community as the basis for Middle East peace--that territory cannot be acquired through force.

In stark contrast, the Palestine Liberation Organization recognized Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state in 1988.

(The PLO's previous position called for a "democratic secular state"--one for Moslems, Christians, and Jews living together--in all of Palestine. The media consistently characterized this older position as a call to "drive the Jews into the sea," but it was no such thing.)

And then, in 1993 at Oslo, the PLO made its historic compromise, agreeing to accept the 22 percent of historic Palestine consisting of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The PLO was willing to acknowledge Israeli sovereignty over the remaining 78 percent of Palestine, even though the partition resolution had allocated Israel only 55 percent (at a time when the population of Palestine was just one-third Jewish).

And yet, when Sharon explicitly rejects the principles of Oslo, hoping to force the Palestinians to accept disconnected pockets of territory covering some 44 percent of that 22 percent (i.e., 9.7 percent) of Palestine, our puny president acclaims the Butcher of Lebanon as "a man of peace," while excoriating the Palestinians.[4]

While the reaction of the servile American press was predictably positive, the rest of the world saw Bush's speech for what it was. The Guardian of London called it a "one-sided offer that will change nothing."[5] An unnamed Western diplomat quoted in the Los Angeles Times observed that "This is not just a green light for Sharon. Bush's foot is on the accelerator."[6] Israeli Environment Minister Tzahi Hanegbi offered Bush an honorary membership in Sharon's far-right Likud party.[7]

And Shimon Peres was quoted in the Israeli press as warning after the speech that "there will be a bloodbath." (His aides later denied the remark.)[8]

Sadly, the Palestinians expected little else of Bush.

Are Americans prepared to demand more?

Or are we willing to allow our make-believe president to lead our country further into shame and international censure?


1. General Assembly Resolution 181 (November 29, 1947)

2. Quoted in Benny Morris, _Israel's Border Wars, 1949-1956_, Oxford University Press, 1997 revised and expanded edition, page 17.

3. The text of all four documents is available on the Right to Return page of the Human Rights Watch website.

4. My understanding is that Sharon wants the Palestinians to accept only areas A and B, which comprise 17.2% and 23.8% (total of 41 percent), respectively, of the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip. As the Gaza Strip (360 sq. km.) is much smaller than the West Bank (5860 sq. km.), its inclusion increases the area that Sharon reputedly wants to transfer to the Palestinians to 44% of the territories occupied in 1967. The percentages of land within West Bank areas A, B and C are given in "Recapitulating the Redeployments: The Israel-PLO `Interim Agreements,'" (Geoffrey Aronson; April 27, 2000).

5. "One-Sided Offer that Will Change Nothing" (Suzanne Goldenberg; The Guardian; June 25, 2002)

6. The following was circulated by Gush Shalom, the Israeli peace bloc, after the speech, on either June 24 or 25.

Some of the most outspoken criticism of President Bush's speech on the Middle East came from none other than Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister in the Sharon Government. The veteran Yediot Aharonot journalist Shimon Shiffer had watched Peres watching the Bush speech on TV last night and today gave a vivid description:

"Shimon Peres' face became more and more weary and angry, the longer Bush went on with his speech. "He is making a fatal mistake" remarked Peres. "Making the creation of a Palestinian state dependant upon a change in the Palestinian leadership is a fatal mistake" he repeated again and again. "Arafat has led the Palestinians for 35 years, kept their head above the water in the international arena. No, no, you can't just brush him aside with one speech."

Peres did not watch the speech to the very end. He got up, turned off the TV and left the room, saying before he left: "The abyss into which the region will plunge will be as deep as the expectations from this speech were high. There will be a bloodbath."

7. "Israel Presses Ahead with Offensive" (Jeffrey Heller; Reuters; June 25, 2002)

8. "Two Basic Questions Dog Bush's Mideast Peace Plan" (Robin Wright and Tracy Wilkinson; Los Angeles Times; June 26, 2002)

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