According to the Los Angeles Times, the wizards in the White House went through twenty eight drafts to come up with ‘the speech’. Leading up to the speech, the administration ‘leaked’ all kinds of trial balloons and made a grand show of consulting with Arab and Israeli leaders about a ‘new and improved’ American ‘peace initiative’ . In the end, George decided to forget about the Middle East and attend to the business at hand, the mid-term elections.
This was a campaign speech borrowed from the Likud. In fact, the Likud is demanding that Bush honor their copyrights to every last word. If an ‘American’ journalist like William Safire can write Op-ed columns for Ariel Sharon, why can’t Bush borrow a few lines from a notorious Israeli war criminal?
To put it mildly, the Bush speech was greeted with derision and contempt by the Arab street. If Bush wants to count the fingers, that comes out to two hundred and fifty million. Now, how much campaign funds and media favors did he get per finger?
In any case, in the unlikely chance that Bush wants to salvage a dime’s worth of America’s national reputation in the region, I have drafted a twenty ninth version of the speech.
George Bush’s 29th draft
For too long, the citizens of the Middle East have lived in the midst of death and fear. A few fanatical settlers hold the hopes of many hostage. The forces of extremism and terror are attempting to kill progress and peace by killing the innocent. And this casts a dark shadow over an entire region. For the sake of all humanity, things must change in the Middle East. It is untenable for Palestinian citizens to live in terror and under siege. It is untenable for Palestinians to have to endure the Israeli squatters and the brutal military occupation. And the current situation offers no prospect that life will improve. Israeli soldiers will continue to suffer losses at the hands of the Palestinian resistance, and indiscriminate Israeli responses will only lead to more Palestinian casualties, more resistance and more defiance. Like any occupied people, the Palestinians are entitled to defend themselves against collective punishment and the daily acts of humiliation and repression.
In this situation, the Palestinian and Israeli people will grow more and more miserable. My vision is two states, living side by side in peace and security. There is simply no way to achieve that peace until Israel ends the disastrous settlement project. Yet, at this critical moment, if all parties will break with the past and set out on a new path, we can overcome the darkness with the light of hope. Peace requires a new and different Israeli leadership, so that a Palestinian state can be born.I call on the Israeli people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by war crimes. I call upon them to build a real democracy, based on tolerance and liberty. Not just for Jews, but for all the citizens of Israel. If the Israeli people actively pursue these goals, America and the world will actively support their efforts. If the Israeli people meet these goals, they will be able to reach agreement with the Palestinians, the Syrians and the Lebanese on security and other arrangements for independence. And when the Israeli people have new leaders and new security arrangements with their neighbours, the United States of America will support the creation a liberated and fully sovereign Palestine and a permanent and final settlement in the Middle East. We will assist Israel in compensating Palestinians for all their losses. We will participate in creating reconciliation programs to get Israelis to acknowledge their many crimes against the native people of the Holy Land.
In the work ahead, we all have responsibilities. The Palestinian people are gifted and capable, and I am confident they can achieve a new birth for their nation. A Palestinian state can be built only after a complete Israeli withdrawal. The immediate Israeli withdrawal must be more than a cosmetic change, or veiled attempt to preserve the status quo of creeping annexation. True peace will require entirely new political and economic institutions, based on democracy, market economics and a commitment by all parties to non-violence. Today, the elected Palestinian legislature has no authority, and real power is concentrated in the hands Ariel Sharon. A Palestinian state can only serve its citizens with a new constitution which separates the powers of government. The Palestinian parliament should have the full authority of a legislative body. Local officials and government ministers need authority of their own and the independence to govern effectively. But the most important ingredient is for Palestine to be free of foreign occupation troops.
The United States, along with the European Union and Arab states, will work with Palestinian leaders to create a new constitutional framework, and a working democracy for the Palestinian people. And the United States, along with others in the international community will help the Palestinians organise and monitor fair, multi-party local elections by the end of the year, with national elections to follow. Today, the Palestinian people live in economic stagnation, made worse by the destructive presence of the Israeli army which has deliberately mauled the public infrastructure of West Bank towns and villages. A Palestinian state will require a vibrant economy, where honest enterprise is encouraged by honest government. The United States, the international donor community and the World Bank stand ready to work with Palestinians on a major project of economic reform and development. The United States, the EU, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund are willing to oversee reforms in Palestinian finances, encouraging transparency and independent auditing. For this task, my government recommends the services of Andersen consulting. And the United States, along with our partners in the developed world, will increase our humanitarian assistance to relieve Palestinian suffering.
Today, the Palestinian people lack effective courts of law and have no means to defend and vindicate their rights. A Palestinian state will require a system of reliable justice to punish those who prey on the innocent. Eight thousand Palestinians languish in Israeli concentration camps and have no access to due process. They must be immediately released. The United States and members of the international community stand ready to work with Palestinian leaders to establish finance and monitor a truly independent judiciary. Today, The Likud government coalition is dominated by a dangerous group of expultionists who leave the Palestinians with no hope. The Israeli government is constantly escalating the level of violence. This is unacceptable. And the United States will continue to support the establishment of a Palestinian state and will never waiver from condeming collective punishment, arbitrary arrest, home demolitions and the murder of innocents by the thugs of the IDF. This will require an externally supervised effort to rebuild and reform the Palestinian security services which have been systematically destroyed by the Israeli army. The security system must have clear lines of authority and accountability and a unified chain of command. America is pursuing this reform along with key regional states. To supplement the efforts of the Palestinian security forces, international peace troops will be provided to ward off any further Israeli attacks and incursions.
The world is prepared to help, yet ultimately these steps toward statehood depend on the Palestinian and Israeli people and their leaders. If they energetically take the path of reconciliation, the rewards can come quickly. If Palestinians embrace democracy, confront corruption and firmly reject illegal forms of resistance, they can count on American support for the creation of a permanent state of Palestine. With a dedicated effort, this state could rise rapidly, as it comes to terms with Israel, Egypt and Jordan on practical issues, such as security. The final borders, the capital and other aspects of this state’s sovereignty will be negotiated according to the Saudi Beirut initiative. Arab states have offered their help in this process, and their help is needed. I’ve said in the past that nations are either with us or against us in the search for peace. To be counted on the side of peace, nations must act. Every leader actually committed to peace will end incitement to violence in the ethnic media, and that includes the Sulzberger boys at the New York Times. Every nation actually committed to peace will stop the flow of money, equipment and recruits to resistance groups after the occupation ends – including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hizbullah. As a nation committed to peace, we must end our shipment of military supplies to the IDF and ask our European allies to also impose an arms embargo on Israel until the occupation ends. The Israelis must also choose to make peace with Syria, return the Golan Heights and provide compensation to both Lebanese and Syrian casualties of the 1982 war. Leaders who want to be included in the peace process must show by their deeds an undivided support for peace. And as we move toward a peaceful solution, Arab states will be expected to build closer ties of diplomacy and commerce with Israel, leading to full normalisation of relations between Israel and the entire Arab world.
Israel also has a large stake in the success of a democratic Palestine. Permanent occupation threatens Israel’s identity and democracy. A stable, peaceful Palestinian state is necessary to achieve the security that Israel longs for. So I challenge Israel to take concrete steps to support the emergence of a viable, credible Palestinian state. As we make progress towards security, Israel forces need to withdraw fully to positions they held prior to June 5, 1967. And consistent with the recommendations of the Mitchell Committee, Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories must stop. The Palestinian economy must be allowed to develop. Freedom of movement should be restored immediately, permitting innocent Palestinians to resume work and normal life. Palestinian legislators and officials, humanitarian and international workers, must be allowed to go about the business of building a better future. And Israel should release frozen Palestinian revenues into honest, accountable hands. I’ve asked Secretary Powell to work intensively with Middle Eastern and international leaders to realize the vision of a Palestinian state, focusing them on a comprehensive plan to support Palestinian reform and institution-building. Ultimately, Israelis and Palestinians must address the core issues that divide them if there is to be a real peace, resolving all claims and ending the conflict between them. This means that the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 will be ended through a settlement negotiated between the parties, based on UN resolutions 242 and 338, with Israeli withdrawal to secure and recognize borders. We must also resolve questions concerning Jerusalem, the plight and future of Palestinian refugees, and a final peace between Israel and Lebanon, and Israel and a Syria that supports peace.
All who are familiar with the history of the Middle East realise that there may be setbacks in this process. Trained and determined killers, as we have seen, want to stop it. We need not go into the details of Sharon’s war crimes and his rejection of every peace plan, including Camp David and Oslo. Yet the Egyptian and Jordanian peace treaties with Israel remind us that with determined and responsible leadership progress can come quickly. As new Palestinian institutions and new Israeli leaders emerge, demonstrating real performance on security and reform, I expect Israel to respond and work toward a final status agreement. With intensive effort by all, this agreement could be reached within three months from now. And I and my country will actively lead toward that goal.
I can understand the deep anger and anguish of the Palestinian people. You’ve lived too long with fear and funerals, seen your native lands stolen, your homes demolished and have lived under curfews.. The Israelis has rejected your generous offer to accept only 22% of Palestine as a homeland and they have responded with draconian levels of violence against your children. You have a right to a normal life; you have a right to security; and I deeply believe that you need a reformed, responsible Israeli partner to achieve that security. I can understand the deep anger and despair of the Palestinian people. For decades you’ve been treated as pawns in the Middle East conflict. Your interests have been held hostage to a comprehensive peace agreement that never seems to come, as your lives get worse year by year. You deserve democracy and the rule of law. You deserve an open society and a thriving economy. You deserve a life of hope for your children. An end to occupation and a peaceful democratic Palestinian state may seem distant, but America and our partners throughout the world stand ready to help, help you make them possible as soon as possible. If liberty can blossom in the rocky soil of the West Bank and Gaza, it will inspire millions of men and women around the globe who are equally weary of poverty and oppression, equally entitled to the benefits of democratic government.
I have a hope for the people of Muslim countries. Your commitments to morality, and learning, and tolerance led to great historical achievements. And those values are alive in the Islamic world today. You have a rich culture, and you share the aspirations of men and women in every culture. Prosperity and freedom and dignity are not just American hopes, or Western hopes. They are universal, human hopes. And even in the violence and turmoil of the Middle East, America believes those hopes have the power to transform lives and nations. This moment is both an opportunity and a test for all parties in the Middle East: an opportunity to lay the foundations for future peace; a test to show who is serious about peace and who is not. The choice here is stark and simple. The Bible says, “I have set before you life and death; therefore, choose life.” The time has arrived for everyone in this conflict to choose peace, and hope, and life. Thank you very much.
Mr. Ahmed Amr is Editor of NileMedia.com in Seattle and a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN).