By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
President Bush foreign policy legacy in the Middle East is not limited to the human tragedy that he inflicted on Iraq and the region or the destruction of Lebanon and the massacres of civilians including children that was described by his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as the "birth pangs" of a new Middle East. Bush will leave a lasting legacy in Palestine too.
Bush created the make believe “peace process” while doing everything to prevent the peace. Bush aborted the Palestinian democracy experiment, the first in the Arab Middle East, by refusing to deal with the elected government. He supported murdering Palestinian civilians and abduction of their lawmakers by the Israelis and he refused to condemn Israel’s expansion policy and dividing the occupied land into ghettos. The US has spearheaded the movement to de-legitimize the only democratically elected government in the Arab World while at the same time declaring that the lack of democracy is the core problem in the Middle East.
President Bush appointed himself as the judge and arbiter of both sides in a “peace process” negotiations but he never was an honest broker. He allowed Israel to set the agenda and supported its actions. Bush so called “peace process” is an endless game of smoke-and-mirror designed in Washington and Tel Aviv and intended only to sustain the status quo in the occupied lands. Bush resisted taking an active role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict peacemaking for seven years, then in the last year of his administration he claimed there was a role for him to play by calling the photo-op meeting in Annapolis to establish a two-state solution within a year. But Bush had already played a role, albeit as a spoiler rather than a constructive role, when he defined the two-state solution in a letter he wrote to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in April 2004.
Bush pledged to support Israel’s refusal to recognize the Palestinian refugees’ right of return to their homes in Israel proper and its insistence on annexing Jewish settlements in the West Bank to Israel. Yossi Alpher, a former advisor to Ehud Barak described the Annapolis meeting as a stage for delivering ritual speeches and celebrations for launching a process where the negotiators have no power or credibility. He suggested that Olmert cannot remove even one illegal outpost in the West Bank and Abbas is incapable of expanding security beyond Ramallah and can’t do anything with Gaza.
Halting settlement activities was the only thing Israel agreed to in Annapolis; but Israel continued expanding the settlements and land confiscation and the US that guarantees to oversee the negotiations did not act while enforcing the economic blockade against the Palestinian people in Gaza. Bush supported the tight Israeli siege on the Palestinian people in Gaza that denied them any contact with the outside world and his representative in the UN repeatedly vetoed every resolution unfavorable to Israel. The sanctions tightened restrictions on people and commerce movement, reduced supplies of gas and electricity, isolated the Strip from the outside world, crippled its economy and starved its people.
The Irish investigative journalist, Donald Macintyre called the sanctions “war crime of the highest order, rampant murder of the weak by the strong. Any country that does not condemn in the strongest possible terms what is happening in Gaza and does not take steps to end it is as guilty as the Israeli leadership”. The Financial Times quoted Washington Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on September 19, 2007 that the US backed the sanctions applied by Israel against the Palestinians in Gaza.
Condoleezza Rice also said she would continue to work toward achieving an Israeli-Palestinian accord to be achieved by the end of the 2008 year. But the condition set by Rice for Abbas to maintain contact with the US and Israel is to keep his distance from Hamas. The US Secretary of State and Prime Minister Olmert told Abbas, in no uncertain terms, that if he spoke with Hamas he could forget about US economic and political support and he would lose the privilege of speaking with Israel. But any peace agreement has no chance of success unless Hamas agrees to it. Mahmoud Abbas who has no control over Gaza and its 1.4 million Palestinians will not deliver on any agreement as long as Hamas is isolated.
While Israel continues to create facts on the ground in the West Bank and Jerusalem and tighten its grip on the occupied land, it has sustained the illusion that there is a peace process only to keep the Palestinians divided. The Israeli and US players involved in the peace process have never been for a just peace.
Ehud Olmert as the mayor of Jerusalem bragged that he had been “the first who wanted to enforce Israeli sovereignty on the entire city”. Olmert is known among the Palestinians more for deceitfulness. He brought a large number of Orthodox Jews into the Old City and decided to reopen a tunnel beneath al-Haram al-Sharif, the noble sanctuary where al-Aqsa mosque has stood for thirteen hundred years. He consolidated the annexation of East Jerusalem by building a ring of settlements around the city. Mayor Ehud Olmert made the fight against what Israel calls “illegal Arab construction” his major task. According to Ha’aretz on June 2, 1998, Olmert said: “the illegal construction is a cancer that now threatens Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem”.
In his last weeks as a care taker until a new government is formed and when he was dealing with his legal problems and had no credibility or power, Ehud Olmert expressed optimism in reaching “a solid understanding and accords” with the Palestinians and the Syrians. He said “As long as I remain in office, I will not give up attempts to negotiate with the Palestinians and Syrians”. Itamar Rabinovitch, a former Israeli ambassador to the US described Olmert’s pledge as just talk. Rabinovich said what everybody knows: “the negotiations with the Palestinians and the Syrians were going nowhere”.
Palestinian Ahmad Qureia and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni who is on record as being against “moving too quickly” in the negotiations have been meeting regularly since talks were formally launched at the Annapolis US conference in November 2007. Livni who is too busy trying to secure a coalition government continues to hold meetings with Qureia just to make sure the make believe show goes on. The real negotiations she is conducting is with the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Shas Party which opposes any compromise on Jerusalem, an essential element of any future peace deal, thus making a peace agreement with the Palestinians less likely, even impossible.
Livni told Condoleezza Rice in November 2007 that Israel’s security is more important than the establishment of a Palestinian state. She has been warning that no peace deal on a Palestinian state is possible unless the Palestinian Authority (PA) controls Gaza and ends the firing of the rockets onto Jewish settlements. She expects Abbas and his Fatah faction to conquer Gaza rather than to make peace with Hamas. Livni is against the return of even one Palestinian refugee to Israel. She is on record promoting ethnically cleansing the Arab Israelis citizens. She recently told a press conference that the future of Israeli Arabs, who constitute twenty percent of Israel’s population, is in a future Palestinian state, not in Israel itself.
The PA leaders must have realized that if the Bush administration will not pressure Israel to freeze settlement or even dismantle unpopulated trailer outposts in the West Bank it will never pressure Israel to end the occupation; but the PA plays in the hands of the American-Israeli policy makers by engaging in talks that are doomed to fail. The Palestinians choose to talk because the influx of money pledged by the donor countries and controlled by the US hinges on engaging in these negotiations. Talks with the Israelis have reached a dead end but boycotting them and establishing a Palestinian national unity with Hamas will lead to reinstitution of US sanctions on the PA. The Palestinian national cause has been hijacked by the US.
The PA is wasting precious time in the endless negotiations that have given Israel time to create facts on the ground in the occupied lands, brought despair and division among the Palestinians and rendered the establishment of a viable Palestinian state impossible. It is time the PA leaders should do what honorable leaders with principles and courage do when they fail to deliver on their promises. They should turn to their long suffering people and acknowledge their failure to achieve peace; they could not halt settlement expansion, incursions by the Israeli military, settlers’ attacks on Palestinian farmers and they could not remove Israeli checkpoints. The PA leaders should step aside and make room for new blood and new approach for dealing with Israel. But I am certain the PA chief Mahmoud Abbas will follow the tradition of the Arab despotic leaders who cling to power even after conceding their people’s aspirations. I hope I am wrong!
-Born in Nablus, Palestine, Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D, is a political analyst. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.