The following is an excerpt from Rashid Khalidi’s book, ‘The Iron Cage’, which discusses the April 2004 letter from US President George Bush to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Though written in 2006, this letter has taken on new significance of late because of US president Obama’s demand that Israel desists in further settlement expansions and the Israeli governments claim that this letter legitimizes continued expansion and provides the American government’s imprimatur for what Israel calls “natural growth” of the settlements. However, what Israel calls “natural growth”, is what looks to those who have studied the maps like the continued populating with Jewish settlers of large swaths of land mapped out in the West Bank and called ”settlement blocks.”
George Bush’s letter to Sharon was the result of limited discussion between the Israeli government and the Bush White House without any input from the Palestinians or their representatives and without any consideration of legal precedent, either from international law or from this history of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Bush’s right to give away land ends at the boundaries of his ranch in Crawford, Texas. This letter cannot be considered legitimate and should not constrain the Obama administration.
William James Martin
The Iron Cage – Book Excerpt
Excerpt from Rashid Khalidi’s book, “The Iron Cage” – Beacon Press 2006, (pp 212-216)
A far more important step in terms of whether there will ever be a state of a Palestine – and for the standing of the United States in the Middle East and the world – was President Bush’s effective repudiation of the principle of the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.” The phrase, which constitutes one of the core principles embodied insecurity Council Resolution 242, has been the bedrock of peacekeeping in the Middle East since the 1960’s, and as such has been the firm policy of seven American administrations. This principle is grounded in the preamble and the first two articles of the UN Charter, and served as the basis for the campaign to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991, as well as other efforts to uphold international law and world order against the rule of the jungle. By cavalierly dismissing this crucial principle, and the related American position that Israeli settlements were an obstacle to peace (a position reiterated only a few years earlier under his father’s administration in the American letter of assurance to the Palestinians, quoted above), with a description of the largest of Israel’s illegal settlements as “new realities on the ground,” George W Bush has established an exceedingly dangerous precedent.
The president has done much more that that with this 2004 letter. By talking about settlement blocks (without specifying their extent, or which ones he was referring to) as “realities,” he has powerfully reinforced the dynamic process of the expansion of Israeli settlements, and by so doing he helped to lay low, perhaps definitively, the increasingly dim prospects for an independent, sovereign contiguous Palestinian state ever coming into being alongside Israel. Consequently, and paradoxically, George W Bush has given an enormous impetus to the idea of a one-state solution, even as he was the first American to make a call for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
This is a momentous change indeed. We must regard skeptically the statements of both President Bush and members of his administration about the United States’ commitment to a Palestinian state. At best, this is wishful thinking; at worst, it is something much more sinister, to be understood in terms of something that ingenious theorists of continued expansion in the West Bank have termed “transport contiguity.” This would involve a string of separate Palestinian cantons which would be constricted by the presence all around them of these very “settlement blocks” George W Bush has just recognized as irreversible realities. “Contiguity” would be assured by linkage between separate isolated Palestinian cantons via tunnels and bridges, and perhaps a high speed rail link. The net effect of such a policy might be to enable Israel to settle in and annex the choicest sections of the West Bank, while leaving the remaining scraps for the Palestinians to call a “state” should they and others so choose.
It is true that on May 26, 2005, during the first visit to Washington by the new Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, President Bush stated that any changes in the 1949 armistice line, the so-called Green Line, must be the result of negotiations, and would require Palestinian consent. This would seem to contradict the language of his letter of one year earlier to Sharon. However, this letter too called for “agreement between the parties to changes in the 1949 armistice lines,” even while describing the settlement blocks as “new realities on the ground.” And what the president was in effect reiterating in the April 2004 letter by expressing his support for Israel’s retention of its massive “settlement blocks” and of its rejection of the return of any refugees to its territory was a constant of Arab-Israeli negotiations: that the parties were free to negotiate, but that during such negotiations the United States would very likely take Israel’s side on the issues, irrespective of its previous commitments.
More important than the rhetoric of the Bush administration about a Palestinian state are a number of enduring and new realities. One of the former is that the putative locus for a truly independent, viable, contiguous Palestinian state is constantly and perhaps irrevocably shrinking, and may now indeed have shrunk beyond the possibility of recovery. It is worth keeping in mind, however, that, as historian Tony Judt has memorably noted, what one politician – American or Israeli – has done, another can undo. One of the new realities is that by removing the last feeble assertion of America’s objection in principle to Israeli acquisition of territory by force, and to the building and expansion of illegal settlements, President Bush has given perhaps the last impetus necessary to the bulldozer-like progression of Israeli ,
One can assume that the present Israeli government will make the most of the opportunity provided by the new circumstances. As to what this might entail, it would probably be wise to rely on the words of Sharon himself: he stated before suffering a stroke in January 2006 that his plan for unilateral withdrawals, endorsed by President Bush, would mean that there will be no Palestinian state for the foreseeable future. Sharon’s closest advisor, Dov Weisglass, was even more emphatic: the entire idea of a political process with the Palestinians, and with it a Palestinian state, he said, had been put into “formaldehyde” by the Sharon plan, now endorsed by the United States. As Sharon said, just before going to Washington in April 2004 to receive these assurances from President Bush, his plan meant the permanent annexation by Israel not of just one or two settlements, but of several vast settlement blocks, including in particular those that chock off East Jerusalem from it West Bank hinterland, and the Ariel settlement, which splits the West Bank in two. The ongoing and ceaseless expansion of these settlement blocks, and their enclosures in the system of great walls, fences, and barriers being rapidly erected by Israel at enormous cost, has now been legitimized by President Bush, and will eventually turn the West Bank permanently into numerous small cantons. Even if the ghost of Orwell rises and walks again, and American and Israeli leaders choose to call this patchwork of open-air prison camps a “state,” the possibility of a real Palestinian state may well have disappeared with President Bush’s April 2004 letter to Sharon.
The future of the Palestinians and of the state of Israel, and the question of whether or not there will ever be a state of Palestine, will in some measure be defined by these realities and by how they develop in the near future. In the end, of course, this attempt to impose an American-Israeli devised settlement will backfire: no “agreement” that does not have the freely expressed consent of the Palestinian people will stand, any more that would an agreement made in the absence of representatives of the Israeli people. …
(The Iron Cage by Rashid Khalidi. Copyright © 2006, 2007 by Rashid Khalid. Reprinted by permission of Beacon Press, Boston)
– Author Rashid Khalidi is a professor of Arab studies at Columbia University.
— Introduction by William James Martin. He teaches in the Department of Mathematics at the University of New Orleans.