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More on US President Bush's new Israeli-Palestinian push

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Update from AIJAC


July 19, 2007
Number 07/07 #08

Some additional important commentary has appeared on US President Bush's latest Middle East initiative on Monday. This Update attempts to bring you some of the most valuable.

First up is Israeli historian Michael Oren who writes that the contents of the speech demonstrate that the "Bush doctrine" - setting out a blueprint for reform and democratisation prior to the establishment of a Palestinian state - remains US policy. Oren argues that the concentration on Bush's announcement of an international conference ignores what the conference will do, which is "monitor the Palestinians' progress in building viable civic and democratic institutions",  and detracts from where Bush has placed the onus for finding a path to peace. For Oren's take on this latest development, as well as Palestinian prospects for succeeding in reform ,CLICK HERE.

Next up, Ron Bin-Yishai, security reporter and columnist for Israel's largest daily Yediot Ahronot, also explores what Bush is proposing. He says this is a serious effort, based on extensive consultation both in Washington and the Middle East, to re-assert Washington's leadership based on principles designed to exclude and weaken Hamas and its Iranian and Syrian sponsors. For Bin-Yishai's discussion, CLICK HERE.

Finally, the distinguished Israeli political scientist Shlomo Avineri offers some historical context for the current Hamas-Fatah split among Palestinians. He points out that, despite the Palestinian narrative of their history as one long united struggle against Israel and Zionism, the reality was more often than not marked by infighting and inability to "devise coherent political institutions and a unified military command." For Avineri's assessment of the legacy the Palestinians will have to overcome to achieve a stable two-state resolution, CLICK HERE.


The Bush Doctrine Lives

The president isn't selling out Israel or relaxing his call for Palestinian democracy

BY MICHAEL B. OREN

Wall Street Journal, Wednesday, July 18, 2007

JERUSALEM--Newspapers in Israel yesterday were full of stories about President Bush's call on Monday for the creation of a Palestinian state and an international peace conference. While Israeli officials were quoted expressing satisfaction with the fact that "there were no changes in Bush's policies," commentators questioned whether the Saudis would participate in such a gathering and whether Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, with his single-digit approval ratings, could uproot Israeli settlers from the West Bank.

But all the focus on the conference misses the point. Mr. Bush has not backtracked an inch from his revolutionary Middle East policy. Never before has any American president placed the onus of demonstrating a commitment to peace so emphatically on Palestinian shoulders. Though Mr. Bush insisted that Israel refrain from further settlement expansion and remove unauthorized outposts, the bulk of his demands were directed at the Palestinians.

"The Palestinian people must decide that they want a future of decency and hope," he said, "not a future of terror and death. They must match their words denouncing terror with action to combat terror."

According to Mr. Bush, the Palestinians can only achieve statehood by first stopping all attacks against Israel, freeing captured Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit, and ridding the Palestinian Authority of corruption. They must also detach themselves from the invidious influence of Syria and Iran: "Nothing less is acceptable."

In addition to the prerequisites stipulated for the Palestinians, Mr. Bush set unprecedented conditions for Arab participation in peace efforts. He exhorted Arab leaders to emulate "peacemakers like Anwar Sadat and King Hussein of Jordan" by ending anti-Semitic incitement in their media and dropping the fiction of Israel's non-existence. More dramatically, Mr. Bush called on those Arab governments that have yet to establish relations with Israel to recognize its right to exist and to authorize ministerial missions to the Jewish state.

Accordingly, Saudi Arabia, which has offered such recognition but only in return for a full withdrawal to the 1967 borders, will have to accept Israel prior to any territorial concessions. Mr. Bush also urged Arab states to wage an uncompromising battle against Islamic extremism and, in the case of Egypt and Jordan, to open their borders to Palestinian trade.

If the Israeli media largely overlooked the diplomatic innovations of Mr. Bush's speech, they completely missed its dynamic territorial and demographic dimensions. The president pledged to create a "contiguous" Palestinian state--code for assuring unbroken Palestinian sovereignty over most of the West Bank and possibly designating a West Bank-Gaza corridor. On the other hand, the president committed to seek a peace agreement based on "mutually agreed borders" and "current realities," which is a euphemism for Israel's retention of West Bank settlement blocks and no return to the 1967 lines.

Most momentous, however, was Mr. Bush's affirmation that "the United States will never abandon . . . the security of Israel as a Jewish state and homeland for the Jewish people." This means nothing less than the rejection of the Palestinians' immutable demand for the resettlement of millions of refugees and their descendents in Israel. America is now officially dedicated to upholding Israel's Jewish majority and preventing its transformation into a de facto Palestinian state.

Beyond these elements, the centerpiece of Mr. Bush's vision was the international conference. The Israeli press hastened to interpret this as a framework for expediting the advent of Palestinian statehood, yet it is clear that the conference is not intended to produce a state but rather to monitor the Palestinians' progress in building viable civic and democratic institutions. The goal, Mr. Bush said, will be to "help the Palestinians establish . . . a strong and lasting society" with "effective governing structures, a sound financial system, and the rule of law."

Specifically, the conference will assist in reforming the Palestinian Authority, strengthening its security forces, and encouraging young Palestinians to participate in politics. Ultimate responsibility for laying these sovereign foundations, however, rests not with the international community but solely with the Palestinians themselves: "By following this path, Palestinians can reclaim their dignity and their future . . . [and] answer their people's desire to live in peace."

Unfortunately, many of these pioneering components in Mr. Bush's speech were either implicitly or obliquely stated, and one might have wished for a more unequivocal message, such as that conveyed in his June 2002 speech on the Middle East. Still, there can be no underrating the sea change in America's policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict brought about by this administration. If, under U.N. Resolution 242, Israelis were expected to relinquish territory and only then receive peace, now the Arabs will have to cede many aspects of peace--non-belligerency and recognition--well in advance of receiving territory.

Similarly, Mr. Bush's commitment to maintain Israel's Jewish majority signals the total rescinding of American support for Resolution 194, which provided for refugee return. Moreover, by insisting that the Palestinians first construct durable and transparent institutions before attaining independence, Mr. Bush effectively reversed the process, set out in the 1993 Oslo Accords, whereby the Palestinians would obtain statehood immediately and only later engage in institution building. Peace-for-land, preserving the demographic status quo, and building a civil society prior to achieving statehood--these are the pillars of Mr. Bush's doctrine on peace.

But will it work? Given the Palestinians' historical inability to sustain sovereign structures and their repeated (1938, 1947, 1979, 2000) rejection of offers of a state, the chances hardly seem sanguine.

Much of the administration's hope for a breakthrough rests on the Palestinians' newly appointed prime minister, Salaam Fayyad, who is purportedly incorruptible. Nevertheless, one righteous man is unlikely to succeed in purging the Palestinian Authority of embezzlement and graft and uniting its multiple militias.

The Saudis will probably balk at the notion of recognizing Israel before it exits the West Bank and Jerusalem, and Palestinian refugees throughout the region will certainly resist any attempt to prevent them from regaining their former homes. Iran and Syria and their Hamas proxies can be counted on to undermine the process at every stage, often with violence.

Yet, despite the scant likelihood of success, Mr. Bush is to be credited for delineating clear and equitable criteria for pursuing Palestinian independence and for drafting a principled blueprint for peace. This alone represents a bold response to Hamas and its backers in Damascus and Tehran. The Palestinians have been given their diplomatic horizon and the choice between "chaos, suffering, and the endless perpetuation of grievance," and "security and a better life."

So, too, the president is to be commended for not taking the easy route of railroading the Palestinians to self-governance under a regime that would almost certainly implode. Now his paramount task is to stand by the benchmarks his administration has established, and to hold both Palestinians and Israelis accountable for any failure to meet them.

Mr. Oren is a fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and the author of "Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present" (Norton, 2007).


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Not giving up

President Bush's speech aims to reinforce America's leadership status in Mideast

Ron Ben-Yishai

Ynet.com,  07.17.07, 21:59

The Gaza Strip takeover by Hamas disrupted all the plans, not just in the Israeli-Palestinian arena, but for the entire region. None of the regional players have a recipe for handling the split and schism created in the Palestinian camp and everyone fears its implications.
 
The Palestinians are in deep depression and many of them have given up the possibility of having their own state. In Israel, Hamastan in Gaza and Fatahland in the West Bank are starting to be seen as a permanent situation; politicians and academicians in Washington and Israel have begun reviving the idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation, a prospect that horrifies the Jordanian king.

Meanwhile, moderate Arab states were forced to boost Mahmoud Abbas' status in the Sharm al-Sheikh summit while at the same time urging reconciliation with Hamas.

Even Iran and Syria, which lauded Hamas' victory, are now calling for reuniting the Palestinian camp in order not to undermine the struggle against Israel.

This state of affairs, whereby regional leaders are confused and perplexed, with each one attempting to formulate his own Palestinian policy, threatens the Mideastern pro-western camp's unity. President Bush, who currently needs every ounce of support and assistance he can garner from regional pro-western regimes, cannot allow himself to create cracks in his camp.

Disagreements between and with regional leaders over the Palestinian question could later come back to haunt him in Iraq, and on the Iranian front too when the time comes. Therefore, he was quick to deliver his speech Monday and outline clear guidelines for handling the situation that has emerged in the Palestinian arena.
 
This was not a hasty, improvised response. Rather, policymakers in Washington waited for several weeks, consulted with regional leaders and with the international Quartet, and formulated a policy that would, they estimated, produce two results: Firstly, it would be adopted by all players in the theater (with the exception of Iran and Syria,) thus enabling them to work together in order to secure clear objectives and goals. Secondly, it would deprive Hamas of international legitimacy and boost Mahmoud Abbas' status.

Another objective of the Bush speech Monday was to bolster the American president's leadership status in the Mideastern and domestic arena. It was an opportunity to show Congress, as well as regional leaders, that the United States, despite its failure in Iraq, is the number one global and regional superpower and that its president does not shy away from outlining clear guidelines that everyone is supposed to adopt.

Decisive anti-Hamas line

The speech itself did not contain many new ideas aside form the announcement regarding a regional conference to be convened by the US in the fall on the Arab-Israeli conflict. The mere announcement regarding the conference aimed to signal that Bush, in his last year as president, has no intention of giving up and ceasing his efforts to advance a diplomatic solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
 
Another novelty and an important component in the speech was the decisive anti-Hamas line adopted by Bush. No negotiations, no cooperation, and no aid to the radical Islamic group until it agrees to recognize Israel and renounce the armed struggle against it.
 
This was a big hint to Abbas aimed at warning him against any attempt to form a new national unity government, and also served as a signal to the Saudis, Egyptians, and Qataris to refrain from pushing Abbas into Khaled Mashaal's arms.
 
Bush presented to each regional leader, and particularly to Olmert and Abbas, a series of demands and tests that will prompt the world and the US to offer any assistance possible should they be met.
 
Bush does not hide his intention to entice the Palestinians to follow Abbas and abandon Hamas. Abbas received a pledge for about $400 million should he undertake the required reforms and refrain from terror. Israel received a less detailed but nonetheless determined promise that the US would stand by it on every issue should it evacuate West Bank outposts, ease the plight of Palestinians, and assist Abbas.
 
In addition, Bush made sure to confirm his support for the notion of an impendent Palestinian state alongside Israel in order to calm Jordan's King Abdullah, who fears attempts to annex the Palestinians in the West Bank to his kingdom.

Bush also took the opportunity to express his support and give his blessing to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who will be representing the Quartet in the region. Bush clearly hinted that Blair will in fact serve as his personal envoy.
 
At this time, it is difficult to assess how the speech will affect regional countries, if at all. Yet there is no doubt that Washington had to have its say at this time and that President Bush said it in a clear and decisive manner.


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For Palestinians, a coherent body politic is wanting

By Shlomo Avineri

Daily Star (Lebanon), Wednesday, July 18, 2007
 
Every week, it seems, brings another backward step for Palestine. President Mahmoud Abbas' failure to convene the Palestinian Legislative Assembly, due to a Hamas boycott, may lead inexorably to the final breakdown of the political structures created under the Oslo Accords. Sadly, this is only the latest chapter in the Palestinians' tragic history of failed attempts to create a nation-state.

Palestinians see their history as one of struggle against Zionism and Israel. But the reality is more complicated, and marked by repeated failures to create a coherent body politic, even when historical opportunities beckoned. Perhaps the first failure occurred in the 1920s, when the British Mandatory government in Palestine encouraged the two national communities - Jewish and Arab - to establish communal institutions of self-government to look after education, welfare, housing, and local administration.

The Jews - then less than 20 percent of British Palestine's population - set up what became known as the National Committee (Vaad Leumi), based on an elected body, the Representative Assembly of Palestinian Jews. Regular elections to this assembly took place, sometimes with more than a dozen parties competing.

This autonomous institution became the forerunner of the political structure of the nascent Jewish state, and its leaders - David Ben-Gurion among them - emerged as Israel's future political elite. Israel succeeded as a nation, with a vibrant and sometimes obstreperous parliamentary life, precisely because its leaders used this opportunity.

The Palestinians, however, never created similar embryonic state structures: an Arab Higher Committee was established, made up of regional and tribal notables, but no elections ever took place. The mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, became its chairman, but it never succeeded in creating a generally accepted national leadership or in providing the Arab community the panoply of educational and welfare services offered to the Jewish community by its elected institutions.

The second failure occurred during the Arab Revolt against British rule in Palestine in 1936-1939, which was accompanied by attacks against Jewish civilians. The revolt itself was brutally suppressed by the British army, but not before a split within the Palestinian community resulted in two armed militias - one based on the Husseini clan, the other on the more moderate Nashashibis - that turned on each other. More Palestinians were killed by contending militias than by the British or Jewish forces.

The third failure - even more tragic - occurred in 1947-1948, when Palestinian Arabs rejected the United Nations partition plan, which envisaged separate Arab and Jewish states after the departure of the British. While Jews accepted this compromise, the Palestinian Arabs, supported by the Arab League countries, rejected it and went to war against the emerging state of Israel.

The Palestinian Arab defeat in this endeavor, and the resulting refugee problem, was a defining moment for Palestinians. But what sometimes gets lost in this narrative is that, while practically all sectors of Palestinian Arab society rejected the UN plan, Palestinians were unable to devise coherent political institutions and a unified military command with which to confront the much smaller Jewish community. By contrast, the besieged Jewish community, under Ben-Gurion and the Jewish self-defense force (the Haganah) was able to mobilize, through its democratic institutions and with only marginal dissent, the resources needed for a successful military campaign.

Indeed, many Palestinian political leaders absconded to Beirut or Cairo once violence broke out. The Husseini clan set up its militia in the Jerusalem area. Near Tel Aviv, in adjoining Jaffa, a competing militia under Hassan Salameh, took control. In the north of the country, a Syrian-based militia, under Fawzi al-Kaukji, attacked Jewish villages. The more moderate Haifa Arabs tried, not very successfully, to stay out of the fray.

Disunity made the Arab defeat almost inevitable. Moreover, the scars of the 1930s virtual civil war have still not healed: mutual suspicion and memories of internecine massacres vitiated cooperation and trust.

The last failure occurred when the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization set up the autonomous Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat. Instead of creating the infrastructure of the future Palestinian state, with various functions slowly transferred from the Israeli Army to the Palestinian Authority, Arafat created a security state.

Arafat and his Fatah-based supporters established almost a dozen competing security services - sometimes indistinguishable from clan-based militias - which consumed more than 60 percent the Palestinian Authority's budget, at the expense of education, housing, welfare, and refugee rehabilitation. Into this vacuum burst Hamas, with its network of schools, welfare services, community centers, and support organizations. The Hamas takeover of Gaza was but the latest step in this development.

It is easy to blame the current Palestinian crisis on individuals - be it Arafat or Abbas. It is even easier to blame the Israeli occupation or American policies. To be sure, there is a lot of blame to go around. But all national movements - the Greek as well as the Polish, the Jewish as well as the Kurdish - begin in adversity.

The Palestinians have a difficult history to overcome. They now stand again at a crossroads, and whether they will be able to transcend their tragic heritage depends on their own actions. No one can help them if they cannot come up with a coherent, consensual, and reasonably united leadership - what Abbas himself calls "one law, one authority, one gun."

Shlomo Avineri is a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a former director-general of Israel's Foreign Ministry.

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