In a classical American western, the difference is as glaring as the midday sun in Colorado: there are Good Guys and Bad Guys. The good ones are the settlers, who are making the prairie bloom. The bad ones are the Indians, who are blood-thirsty savages. The ultimate hero is the cowboy, tough, humane, with a big revolver or two, ready to defend himself at all times.
George Bush, who grew up on this myth, sticks to it even now, when he is the leader of the world’s only superpower. This week he presented the world with an up-to-date western.
In this western – or, rather, middle eastern – there are also Good Guys and Bad Guys. The good ones are the "moderates", who are the allies of the US in the Middle East – Israel, Mahmoud Abbas and the pro-American Arab regimes. The bad ones are Hamas, Hizbullah, Iran, Syria and al-Qaeda.
It is a simple script. So simple, indeed, that an 8-year-old can understand it. The conclusions are also simple: the good guys have to be supported, the bad guys have to bite the dust. At the end, the hero – George himself – will ride off into the sunset on his noble steed, while the music reaches a crescendo.
The classical western, of course, does not show us the heroic pioneers stealing the land from the Indians. Or the United States Cavalry attacking the camps of the Indians, burning down the tents and killing their inhabitants, men, women and children. How the US government, after signing formal treaties with the Indian nations, breaks them one after another. And how it drives the remnants into desolate regions, long before the term "ethnic cleansing" was first used.
Denial runs through the classical western like a purple thread, as it does through this speech of Bush’s. This finds its main expression in a simple fact: the occupation is hardly mentioned at all.
In the Palestinian community, for example, there is a struggle between the "moderates" and the "extremists". The extremists are killers. Why are they killers? There is no why. They are killers because they are killers. It’s in their nature. They were just born that way. The moderates are moderates because they are moderates. Some people are just born good.
So the whole problem is a Palestinian problem. They must decide. They must choose between moderates and extremists. If they choose the moderates, they will get everything they can imagine: colorful glass beads and gallons of whisky. If they choose the extremists, their end will be bitter.
The Jewish Israelis do not have to choose between good and bad. Why? Simply because there are no Bad Guys among them. They are just good. They must help the good Palestinians. "Release" the Palestinian tax moneys and give them to "Prime Minister (Salem) Fayad". Not to the Palestinian government, but to one specific named person, the darling of Bush.
What else is required from the Israelis? They must understand that their "future lies in developing areas like the Negev and Galilee – not in continuing occupation of the West Bank". (That’s the only time the occupation is mentioned at all.) They should remove unauthorized outposts and end settlement expansion. Also, they may "find other practical ways to reduce their footprint (in the West Bank) without reducing their security". Meaning: the occupation can continue, but it would be nice if we take some steps to make it less visible.
A long time ago, the United States viewed all settlements as illegal. When the Israeli government continued to expand them, James Baker, the Secretary of State under Bush the father, imposed financial sanctions upon Israel. Bush the son at first demanded that all settlements established after January 2001 should be dismantled. Later he withdrew all opposition to the settlement blocs ("centers of population"). In the "Road Map" he decreed that Israel must immediately freeze the enlargement of the settlements. Now he is satisfied with a sanctimonious request to "remove unauthorized outposts" (with no article) – that’s to say, some of those put up without the official authorization of the Israeli government itself. All this without "or else" or any mention of sanctions.
In the last few years, only one such outpost, Amona, has been dismantled, and this week Ehud Olmert decided to pardon all the fanatics accused of attacking the police during that event. The Israeli government knows that Bush is only paying lip service, and does not take him seriously.
In many classical westerns there appears a crook selling a patent medicine to heal all ills: headaches and hemorrhoids, tuberculosis and syphilis. George Bush has his own patent medicine, which appears in the speech again and again. It will heal all diseases and ensure the final victory of the Sons of Light over the Sons of Darkness.
The label on the bottle says "Building Palestinian Institutions".
How come we didn’t think of this until now? Why did we go chasing off after all kinds of solutions, and did not find this one, so simple, lying in front of us for all to see?
It is an egg of Columbus, with a whiff of Alexander the Great’s sword cutting the Gordian knot. The Palestinians have no institutions. The two good people, "President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayad…are striving to build the institutions of a modern democracy." This means: "security services…ministries that deliver services without corruption…steps that unleash the natural enterprise of the Palestinian people…the rule of law…"
All this under occupation, behind roadblocks, walls and fences, while the main roads are barred to Palestinians, while the West Bank is chopped into pieces and cut off from the rest of the world. By the way, in this matter Bush has another patent medicine: all Palestinian exports will in future go through Jordan and Egypt, not Israel.
In order to realize the vision of "building Palestinian institutions", Bush is sending along his poodle. According to Bush, the sole task of Tony Blair is indeed this: "to coordinate international efforts to help the Palestinians establish the institutions of a strong and lasting free society." (Like which example? Egypt? Saudi Arabia? Jordan? Pakistan? Morocco? Or perhaps even Iraq?)
Let’s hope no one is rude enough to mention the fact that the Palestinians held democratic elections for their Parliament, not so long ago, under the strict supervision of ex-President Jimmy Carter. As far as Bush is concerned, that just did not happen, since the majority of the people voted for Hamas. Therefore, Bush mentions only the elections held before that, when Mahmoud Abbas was elected president, practically without opposition. Everything else has been wiped off the slate.
So this is the up-to-date vision: "democratic Palestinian institutions" will be in place, free of corruption (as in the US and Israel), and "capable security forces" will be functioning, and Hamas will be eliminated, and the armed factions will be dismantled, and all attacks on Israel will be stopped, and the security of Israel ensured, and the incitement against Israel ended, and everybody will recognize Israel’s right to exist as "a Jewish state and a homeland for the Jewish people", and all the agreements that were signed in the past will be accepted – then "we can soon begin serious negotiations towards the creation of a Palestinian state." Wow!
What a wonderful sentence! "Soon" – without a timetable. "Serious negotiations" – without fixing a date for their conclusion. "A Palestinian state" (again, without the definite article, which Bush seems to detest) – without specific borders. But a hint is given: "mutually agreed borders reflecting previous lines and current realities, and mutually agreed adjustments." Meaning: the settlement blocs and much else will be annexed by Israel.
It seems as if the speech writers, after finishing the product, noticed that it was pitifully devoid of content. Nothing new, nothing that could cause a self-respecting newspaper to give it a headline.
I imagine the media advisor saying: "Mister President, we must add something that will look new." Thus the "international meeting" was born.
"So I will call together an international meeting this fall of representatives from nations that support a two-state solution, reject violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and commit to all previous agreements between the parties. The key participants in this meeting will be the Israelis, the Palestinians, and their neighbors in the region. Secretary Rice will chair the meeting."
Wonderful. A meeting which has no date yet, but has a season of the year. And for which no location has yet been fixed. And no list of participants. And no planned conclusions, except the general statement: "She (Condoleezza) and her counterparts will review the progress that has been made towards building Palestinian institutions. They will look for innovative and effective ways to support further reform. And they will provide diplomatic support for the parties in their bilateral discussions and negotiations, so that we can move forward on a successful path to a Palestinian state." The meeting will not review the progress made towards the removal of the outposts, for example.
It is not by accident that Bush omitted to identify the governments he intends to invite. Clearly, he will try to fulfill one of the most cherished dreams of Olmert: to meet publicly with a top representative of Saudi Arabia. For Olmert this would be an immense achievement: an official meeting with the most important Arab country which has no peace agreement with Israel. A meeting for which he will not have to pay any price. A free lunch.
It is dubious whether this wish will be fulfilled. The Saudis are very cautious. They do not want to quarrel with any party in the Region – not with Syria (which will not be invited, though it is a "neighbor" of the Israelis and the Palestinians) and not with Hamas. Unlike Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia cannot be bribed with money. It has enough of its own.
The final objective is a "Palestinian state", the "two-state solution". That is a far-far-off aim. Not for nothing is it called a "political horizon", since a horizon, as is well-known, recedes in the distance as one tries to approach it.
In his poem "If", Rudyard Kipling describes all the tests an Englishman has to endure in order to be considered a "man". One of them is: "If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken / Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools…"
We, the small group of Israelis who raised the banner of the "two-state solution" more than fifty years ago, now have to endure George Bush turning it into a rag to cover his nakedness. In his mouth, it is an empty, deceitful and mendacious slogan. Only a fool will fall into this trap.
As Chaim Weizmann, the prominent Zionist leader and first president of Israel, once said: "No state is given to a people on a silver platter." The Palestinians, too, will not get their state without struggle, not as baksheesh from Bush nor as a ‘"gesture" from Olmert. Nations achieve their freedom by political or military struggle. Every struggle, violent or non-violent, is a matter of power.
And power means first of all: Unity.