Saturday, January 12, 2008


Bush Offsets Plus of His Palestinian Visit*

By Nicola Nasser**

On the “plus” side from a Palestinian perspective, US President George W. Bush concluded his visit to the Palestinian Authority (PA) stating that the Israeli occupation “must end,” reiterating commitment to his two-state vision, priding himself to be the first US president to articulate an “overdue” independent Palestinian state whose territory “isn't going to work” with the “Swiss cheese” it has become with the Israeli settlements, and optimistically hoping for a peace accord before he leaves the White House in January 2009.

Palestinian officials were grateful, hailing his visit as “important and successful,” “historic” with “net profits” and a “significant achievement” tantamount to recognition of the existence of a Palestinian entity because “Bush for the first time used the term state of Palestine.”

However, a flow of official statements by Bush on the eve and during his Middle East tour leaves no doubt that he has already backtracked a long way away from the hopes he had raised among the Palestinians during the Annapolis conference on November 27.

The White House, on the same day Bush’s Air Force One took off for Israel and the PA, denied a report by The Washington Post that Bush is “already scaling back … ambitions” for the peace process by confirming that, “The President has never said that … we would actually have a sovereign, final Palestinian state by the end of 2008.”

Bush’s backtracking was noted by Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to US: “I think he has become more realistic…In the last couple of days he said that the United States is not going to impose any timeline; … He said that what he believes the Annapolis process could or should accomplish is to draw up the outline of a future Palestinian state, which is very different than having a Palestinian state established by January 2009… I think he definitely lowered the expectations.” (Foreign Policy Jan 2008).

Over-burdened with an impossible attempt to balance himself between the conflicting demands of the two protagonists, Bush had fallen victim to the prerequisites of his country’s strategic alliance with Israel, heavily influenced by the dictates of the election campaign which already kicked off back home, to loose balance and fall into contradictions that offset the plus side of his Palestinian visit.

Refuting Palestinian euphoria, Bush within a few hours of landing in Israel backtracked even on his two-state “vision” to tell his hosting Israeli counterpart, Shimon Peres, in Jerusalem that while his role was to “foster a vision of peace,” the “role of the Israeli and the Palestinian leadership is to do the hard work necessary to define that vision.”

The US mission is not to create a Palestinian state by the end of Bush’s term next January, but “to stay focused on” reaching “an agreement that gives definition to a Palestinian state,” he said.

On each and every one of the final status issues Bush either adopted the Israeli interpretation or chose not to publicly challenge it as he did challenge the details of the Palestinian version for a political settlement.

“The alliance between our two nations helps guarantee Israel's security as a Jewish state,” Bush said on the day of his landing in Israel, pre-empting the final status issue of Palestinian refugees and compromising the legal status of Israel’s 1.2 million-strong Arab minority. Moreover he did not hesitate to act as the spokesperson of the Palestinian people to call for “new international mechanisms, including compensation, to resolve the refugee issue.”

On Jerusalem, the future of which could make or break any peace process, Bush had nothing at all to comment on the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s statements that the city and its colonial settlements “are not (of) the same status” as the Israeli-occupied West Bank and that the settlement expansion there will continue.

Similarly he had nothing to say about the Apartheid Wall Israel is building illegally on the occupied Palestinian West Bank.

On the borders Bush was outspoken in supporting the annexation to Israel of the largest settlement blocs through “mutually agreed adjustments to the armistice lines of 1949 to reflect current realities,” which in realpolitics means condoning Israel’s territorial expansion acquired by war in violation of international law, UN resolutions and charter as well as the ruling of the International Court of Justice in the Hague in 2004.

On the refugees, Jerusalem, borders, settlements and all final status issues the Palestinian leadership is on record as in opposition to any action or statement that pre-empt the negotiations over them; Bush’s statements during his visit were in letter and in spirit pre-empting the outcome of negotiations and igniting a US green light for Israel to continue its creation of facts on the ground that would settle the issues in its favor before negotiations start.

“On the red carpet that was laid out for him in the Holy Land, he has managed to bury the Palestinian state before it was even born,” rendering his two-state vision as a “pipe dream,” and “Instead of bridging the divide between the Israelis and the Palestinians, he has made it wider,” Pierre Heumann wrote in Der Spiegel on January 10. Abbas was hoping Bush's visit would boost his own standing among Palestinians, but “By pointing out Abbas' shortcomings” on Gaza Strip “in public, Bush has made him even weaker,” Heuman added.

** Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied territories.

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