‘Bush Should Pick up The Pieces and Broaden The Search for a Mideast Settlement’

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He mistakenly thought his “parameters” for a settlement “in response to each side’s essential needs” outlined last Sunday before the Israel Policy Forum in New York can achieve more than hiding the dirt under the American rug.

On the other hand, the lame-duck American president who leaves office on Jan. 20 has spelled out new ideas or positions that have never been part of the American diplomatic lexicon – an achievement of Palestinian diplomacy which saw its finest hour when President Arafat gave his qualified nod to the American ideas. No longer were the Palestinians described as the spoilers except, of course, by some dogmatic friends of Israel here.

Whatever the result of this desperate American attempt to come up with – a new “declaration of principles” or “a presidential statement” – to crown Clinton’s tarnished legacy or win an election for Ehud Barak, the Palestinian side has managed to climb another important rung towards achieving the full goal of self-determination and statehood.

Clinton’s proposals have unexpectedly irked some friends of Israel here despite the president’s assertion that “these parameters originated with me and will go with me when I leave office.”

Robert Satloff, the executive director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, decried the “bold” American initiative which he saw as “vague” and “unclear on many points.” He pointed out that this was the “first time,” for example, that a US president has specified what percentage of the West Bank Israel should relinquish, and what the resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem should be.

Although Satloff was commenting on the published minutes of the meetings Clinton had with the Palestinian and Israeli representatives in late December, and before Clinton’s remarks on Sunday, he wondered whether the precedent- setting points raised by the outgoing American president can be disavowed by President-elect George W. Bush.

Two cases in point are Clinton’s views on Palestinian sovereignty in the Arab-inhabited areas of Jerusalem, particularly on Haram Al Sharif, and on “an international presence in Palestine to provide border security along the Jordan Valley and to monitor the implementation of the final agreement.”

In the event that Barak loses the election next month, as expected, the Bush team will have to decide, according to Satloff, “whether and how to disengage from Clinton’s proposals in such a way that the new Israeli government will not be forced to create facts on the ground (in Jerusalem) that make the proposals no longer relevant.”

Although Palestinians were angered by Clinton’s finessing of the Palestine refugees’ “right of return” – they have the right to live in a Palestinian homeland (in the West Bank and Gaza but not to Israel) – his more serious violation is his back-handed treatment of continued Israeli settlements on Arab land in violation of UN Resolutions 242 and 338, the guiding principles of the peace process launched in Madrid in 1991.

It is surprising that Clinton has not heeded recent advice from ex-president Jimmy Carter, who wrote last November that “an underlying reason that years of US diplomacy have failed and violence in the Middle East persists is that some Israeli leaders continue to ‘create facts’ by building settlements in occupied territory.”

In fact, the Clinton Administration has never admonished the Barak government for continued expansion of Jewish settlement at a pace faster than the Netanyahu government.

What Clinton and his friends in Israel have failed to grasp are Palestinian apprehensions that have mushroomed as a result of the long-winded Oslo process where Israeli foot-dragging and failure to live up to their commitments under the interim agreements.

There were undoubtedly many singular points made in the Clinton’s presentation but the lack of specificity and absence of crucial maps have, among other things, doomed this last-ditch effort.

The Bush Administration, and a newly elected leader in Israel, should pick up the pieces and broaden, as agreed, the search for a Middle East settlement. The American secretary of state-designate, Colin Powell, can start the ball rolling soon after he visits Kuwait next month for the festivities marking the tenth anniversary of the country’s liberation. President Clinton has already paved part of the way.

 

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