Published on Sunday, June 30, 2002 in the Toronto Sun
NEW YORK -- It's hard to know whether to laugh or to cry at U.S. President George Bush's much-awaited "vision" of Mideast peace unveiled last week, a speech so obviously crafted by special interests and driven by domestic politics that the rest of the world winced in embarrassment. Even moderate Israeli leader Shimon Peres called it a "fatal mistake."
The view abroad was captured by veteran British journalist Robert Fisk, who acidly wrote that Israeli PM Ariel Sharon, who has made six visits to Bush's White House, should be allowed to run the White House press office, to "spare the American president the ignominy of parroting everything he is told by the Israelis."
Bush's message to Palestinians: basically, no state until you kick out Yasser Arafat, stop resisting Israeli occupation, develop true democracy, do what Israel tells you, create capitalism, eliminate corruption and stop causing trouble. Then, some day, the U.S. might consider an "interim" Palestinian state whose borders and sovereignty would be "provisional," provided Israel agrees.
Bush might as well have told Palestinians they won't get their freedom and homeland until they can recite the U.S. Tax Code in Apache.
Bush, a man untroubled by deep thought or irony, had the chutzpah, as we New Yorkers say, to urge Palestinians to adopt Scandinavian-style democracy, while telling them they cannot re-elect Arafat, who was elected in a fair vote by over 80% of his people - rather better than President Bush, who slid into office thanks to court orders and voter exclusions in Florida.
As for corruption, Arafat's thieving PLO cronies look like the homeless compared to Bush's mega-crook pals at Enron who helped finance his elections.
Why didn't Bush urge free elections on America's other Mideast clients - Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and the Gulf states, mostly corrupt autocracies run by generals or feudal monarchs? What the president wants is an obedient Palestinian version of Afghanistan's new leader, CIA "asset" Hamid Karzai, who was put into power with U.S. and British bayonets and billions in bribes.
Bush politely suggested Israel stop building settlements. Considering that Sharon scorned Bush when the president ordered him to pull his U.S.-armed and financed troops out of the West Bank, there is zero chance Israel will stop gobbling it up. Sharon has made it perfectly clear by his actions that he will never withdraw from the West Bank or Golan, which Israel occupies illegally, and will never accept a viable Palestinian state. Worse, Sharon appears likely to be succeeded by rival Benjamin Netanyahu, who actually calls Sharon "soft" on Palestinians.
What Bush and Israel's rightists want is apartheid-style bantustans - tribal reservations policed by Palestinian kapos, surrounded by Israeli troops, covering about 40% of Palestine. Israel will get the rest. In fact, Israeli peace groups recently revealed there are now 400,000 Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories and Golan, not the 200,000 previously believed. When the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, there were 85,000 Jewish settlers.
Arafat's U.S.-financed Palestinian Authority and its security apparatus are dictatorial, thoroughly corrupt and abuse human rights. Arafat winks at terror attacks on Israeli civilians, is a liability to his people and should make way for new leadership. But so should Sharon and Israel's expansionists, who have plunged their nation into a bloody morass and provoked anti-Semitism around the globe. A pox on both houses.
Israel, at least, has moderate, capable alternative leaders like Peres and Yossi Beilin, who can bring some sanity to the political scene. The only real Palestinian candidate, Marawan Barghouti, is in an Israel prison. The PLO is totally discredited among Palestinians because of corruption and close co-operation with the U.S. and Israel. This leaves the extremist groups - Hamas and Islamic Jihad - as the choice of a majority of Palestinians. Bush's relentless undermining of Arafat's PLO has strengthened Palestinian radicals and played into the hands of Sharon, who vows he will never deal with "terrorists."
Israelis and their American supporters greeted Bush's speech with predictable adulation. Bush and his advisers hope to increase their share of the Jewish vote in November's critical U.S. mid-term elections from 19% to over 50%. Embracing Israel's far right also delighted ardent Bush supporters on the Christian far right. Many of these rustic fundamentalists believe that when all Jews are moved into Biblical Israel (including the West Bank), their Christian Messiah will return and destroy the world in Armageddon. Good Christians will then go to paradise.
President Bush's "vision" for Palestine is a myopic fantasy seen through rose-colored glasses supplied by his alter ego, Ariel Sharon. The plan is frightful news for Palestinians, bad news for Israelis seeking peace, and bad news for Americans.
Bush has put domestic politics and his re-election before America's proper national interests. He has undermined real peacemakers among the Israelis and Arabs. Worse, instead of playing honest peace broker in the Mideast, Bush's total identification with Israel's far right ensures America will again become the target of extremists from an increasingly enraged Muslim world - and of furious Palestinians who now have nothing to lose except the cruel mirage of a fraudulent "provisional interim" state.
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