Palestine, Deception and Dishonesty – Bush’s Middle East Tour

On his recent trip to the Middle East George Bush called for an end to Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank territory and expressed his support for a Palestinian state. While this statement gives the implication that the Bush administration is in the process of making some changes to its fervent pro-Israel policy and that progress on Palestinian problem is being made, I believe that these are merely hollow words and a public relations stunt. If Mr. Bush’s talk of peace and his supposed hardened tone towards Israel were really serious, it is too far little and far too late. If he was genuine of course he could take action to end the Israeli occupation and the rampant settlement building by either threatening to curb or hold back a quantity of the massive aid money the USA gives to Israel each year. This amounts to over $US4 billion and without it Israel could not sustain the military occupation of the Palestinian territories or continually build new settlements on occupied land.

A poet (Yeats, I think) once said, “Words are certain good.” But I believe he meant that is when the words are sincere. Bush knows that the Israeli government does not take any notice of advice or mild criticism from US past or present administrations; Israel is only interested in accepting US aid. The expressions uttered by Bush are meaningless when one looks clearly at his intentionally ambiguous language and his proposal is in reality only a phony gesture.

When Bush replied to a question about long standing UN resolutions calling on Israel to withdraw from occupied Palestinan territories and allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and land (resolutions the US has continually voted against), he was dismissive saying, “The UN deal didn’t work in the past, so now we are going to have to redefine the future…The past is just empty words.” Given that Bush has already given Israel written support for its demands to be allowed to annex its settlement blocks and other parts of the West Bank in the future it seems the present and future US position is also just empty words.

What Bush has plainly said, is that the 4.25 million Palestinian refugees should be given monetary compensation and a right of return to some “future” Palestinian state.

Bush also declared in 2004, that Israel should be allowed to keep settlements it built on seized Palestinan land in the West Bank, in defiance of international law, world opinion and UN resolutions. His position on these issues has not changed and he still firmly aligns himself and the US with Israel and the Israeli position, specifically, no return of Israel to its pre-1967 borders, no right of return for Palestinian refugees and keeping of all Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Rather than honouring repeated commitments to halt settlement growth and remove some smaller and newer settlements, the Israelis have put forward a scheme that is contrary to past undertakings and against international law. And just after the “peace” conference held in Annapolis, Maryland, USA where Bush hosted talks between the two sides, Israel announced plans to expand several of its West Bank settlements. The Israeli Housing Ministry also announced tenders for 300 new homes in Har Homa, a settlement in East Jerusalem. The Har Homa announcement was followed by reports of two more new settlements planned in East Jerusalem. This met with muted American criticism. According to the US ‘Road Map’ agreements Israel was to freeze “all settlement activity.”

More than 460,000 Israelis now live in settlements beyond Israel’s 1967 borders, on Palestinian land in the West Bank that was captured during the war. Israel says it will continue building in the major settlement blocs and is adamant that Israel intends to keep them in any future peace agreement. Israel’s settlement policy violates international humanitarian law, which bans an occupying power from transferring its citizens into occupied territory and from making any permanent changes in occupied area, except for the benefit of the local population or for vital military needs. These Israeli policies and continued settlement construction are precisely the main obstacles to peace and a lasting solution to the Palestinian problem.

While Bush was visiting Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made it clear that Israel intended to continue to expand its West Bank settlements and build new ones there and in East Jerusalem, despite US criticism and world censure. Israel recently revealed plans to build hundreds of new Jewish homes in existing settlements and in early January to create two new settlements in and near East Jerusalem.

One motivation for Bush’s visit to the area is definitely to promote the more acceptable administration of Abbas and to offer great rewards to Israel and any Arab states that help the US bolster his fragile government. Another reason is also to further help Israel by pushing Arab governments to engage with it, with the prospect of progress of the Palestinian issue. Hence his efforts to sound sympathetic towards ending the occupation of Palestinian land and supportive of a Palestinan state in the West Bank, in order to rally his Arab allies to his side. While in Israel, Bush urged Arab states to reach out to Israel.

The other real motives for Bush’s supposed sudden concern for Palestine situation are more to do with other US policy matters in the Middle East, like Iran, the supply of oil, etc. In the face of moves towards reconciliation and cooperation between the Gulf states and Iran, Bush wants to stop this and unite the Arab states to confront the alleged threat from Iran. For instance, in order to persuade Saudi Arabia, one of the most important Arab states to help the US contain Iran, the US has pledged to sell Saudi Arabia $US20 billion ($22billion) in advanced weaponry. The US has also offered arms sales to other US–”allied Arab Gulf states that rally to this cause.

Lastly, on the issue of a future Palestinian state being established, what sort of state is possible considering the facts on the ground that Israel has created in the West Bank.

On the West Bank, Israeli rule is pervasive, Jewish settlements are all over the place, with bits and pieces of Palestinian territory encircled by Israeli settlements, walls and military bases. The West Bank has been described appropriately as a portion of Swiss cheese, the Palestinian areas being the small holes, surrounded by the larger Israeli part. Israeli military forts and positions sit on the hilltops; Israel controls the road network and checkpoints, aquifers and other resources. Daily life, movement, the economy, everything is dependent of the whim of Israel’s military rule, its laws, regulations and curfews. The Israeli government also wants an American commitment that any future Palestinian state would have only limited independence, have no military forces, with Israel retaining control of the state’s borders, airspace and the fertile Jordan Valley. Israel also wants its military forces to have free reign to operate in the Palestinian areas. Given this situation, a viable Palestinian state cannot be built on such a minuscule area, in reality a micro, mini-state lacking any actual political, social, military and economic independence and any real resources. Yet this is exactly the kind of state that Bush, his government and Israel support and propose to set up. This is not an independent, genuine Palestinian state, nor is it a just, legitimate solution to the Palestinian Problem.

The sweeping changes that Israel has made in the West Bank prevent any real possibility for Palestinian self-determination and the establishment of an independent, viable Palestinian state there. The key to resolving the issue is to restore the Palestinan people’s rights and give them their homeland back. This is only possible in one state for all those peoples to live in equality, whatever their religion or beliefs. Any other purported solution for the region is futile, unworkable and unrealistic.