Sharing ‘visions’ of the Middle East

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The past few weeks have been full of visions in occupied Palestine. Visions of Israeli tanks inflicting massive devastation on Palestinian towns. Visions of reporters being literally kicked out of “closed military areas.” Visions of civilians under siege and curfew. Visions of death, suffering, and complete misery.

Then again, there have been other types of visions, and even new, improved visions about the realization of the initial visions. While possibly meant to be constructive, these visions foretell that the Palestinians are in for a long, long struggle.

First, George W. Bush had a vision about a region where two states live side by side. Not the most precise of omens, but so far so good. Then, two weeks into the most brutal Israeli onslaught on Palestinians, Bush had a vision that Sharon was a “man of peace.” Suddenly, the vision loses some vision. Next, Bush was having visions that the Israeli Army was withdrawing from the territories it had reoccupied three weeks ago. Is the vision now turning into a hallucination? Finally, Bush even had visions about the success of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s recent trip to the region. The vision seems to have become lost in a vivid imagination.

Perhaps envisioning that some people may be confused about the situation, especially in the midst of so many visions, President Bush summarized it as clearly as he possibly could in a speech to the Virginia Military Institute cadets, and in subsequent remarks at the White House upon Powell’s return on Thursday. Commentators anxious to analyze (and understand) the position of the Bush administration need only examine the president’s own words to comprehend how clear it really is.

To begin with, Bush explained that previous American administrations have simply not known how to handle the conflict. “Presidents and secretaries of state have sat here for a long time, trying to figure out how to reduce violence and bring peace to the Middle East. The secretary went over with a vision on how to do that.”

The reason his predecessors could not resolve the conflict was because “we’re confronting hatred that is centuries old é but I want you to know, I will continue to lead toward a vision of peace.” Bush patiently enlightened us with how he would do that: “In order for that vision to be achieved, leaders must take responsibility, leaders in the region must be responsible citizens for a peaceful world.”

Bush then hinted as to which leaders, in particular, he considered responsible. “I do believe Ariel Sharon is a man of peace. I think he wants é- I’m confident he wants Israel to be able to exist at peace with its neighbors.” Bush even elaborated on why he believed that to be a fact: “I mean, he’s told that us here in the Oval Office.”

Sharon has told Bush a number of other things, apparently all accepted by the latter without the slightest grain of salt. Bush explained that Israel’s presence in Ramallah and in Bethlehem had a perfectly obvious clarification. “In Ramallah, there is an issue with the Zeevi five killers. They’re housed in the basement where Colin visited with Mr. Arafat. I can understand why the prime minister wants them brought to justice.” What is more difficult to understand, however, is how the president allowed his secretary of state to be on the same premises as the “Zeevi five killers.” In any case, “the situation in Ramallah is based upon that particular part of the problem,” said Bush, and of course that explains everything.

As for the situation in Bethlehem, very simply, Bush seemed to find it was a small matter of no great complexity. “Once the people are out of the Church of the Nativity, Israel will leave, pull back out of Bethlehem. This is good progress.” Bush did not elaborate on where “the people” will go, but one cannot help but have one’s own visions of the newly re-opened Ketziot Desert “administrative detention” camp, which, X-Ray style, had held 14,000 Palestinians in tents between 1987 and 1996.

For those who had unkindly doubted his commitment to peace in the region, Bush had a significant reminder for them: “I just want to make it clear that the history of this administration shows that the Middle East is an incredibly important part of our foreign policy.”

Which is why, of course, Bush had immediately sent Powell to the region, with the same sense of urgency that had prompted him to call on Sharon to withdraw “immediately.” Luckily, as far as Bush is concerned, both Powell’s assignment and Sharon’s withdrawal were accomplished relatively well, though perhaps not quite immediately.

Powell apparently had a successful mission, because Bush stated that “the situation prior to the Secretary’s arrival was at a boiling point, and thanks to his hard work, he has laid out not only a vision of hope, which is important, but has convinced others that these terrorist acts will forever and constantly undermine the capacity for peace. And that is exactly where our vision is.”

As for Sharon’s withdrawal, it was apparently within the confines of Bush’s definition (or vision) of the term immediate. “Israel started withdrawing quickly after our call from smaller cities on the West Bank. History will show that they responded. And as the prime minister told me, he gave me a timetable and he’s met the timetable.”

History will show many things indeed. Powell was thankfully able to confirm this, presenting his own vision of the Israeli withdrawal from the areas it recently occupied, explaining that it would be done in the next few days, or a week or so. “(Sharon) has provided me with a timeline through this weekend.”

That explains, of course, why Powell didn’t mind that Israelis on Wednesday invaded several Palestinian areas of Jerusalem, expelling residents from their homes and arresting scores, even as he met with Yasser Arafat in his compound.

Like his president, Powell suddenly seemed to have backed down on the initial purpose of his trip, which had included the establishment of a cease-fire, let alone an immediate Israeli withdrawal. Observing that Israel was still pursuing its incursion, of which he said, “it is in the process of ending, I hope,” Powell announced he was leaving the area and claimed that “a cease-fire is not a relevant term at the moment.”

Sitting with the president in the Oval Office the next day, Powell tried to turn his whole excursion into a much more positive image. “I did try to deliver that message loud and clear that the United States does have a vision, a vision that leads to two states living in peace, side by side; the only solution to this conflict.”

At least he tried. And the message is certainly loud and clear, albeit long. Powell concluded by saying that the vision, which by then had developed into a strategy of linking negotiations to security and including “a great need for humanitarian relief, for reconstruction efforts” would only begin to work when and “if the Palestinian Authority, if Chairman Arafat and those Palestinian leaders not only denounce violence, but take action to act against those who continue to encourage violence and perform acts of terrorism and violence.”

Those who wondered about the Bush administration’s equity and knowledge of the Middle East conflict now have the facts from the top honchos. Or they can take it from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who said at Monday’s pro-Israel rally in Washington that the president “wants you to know that he stands in solidarity with you. We stand with you in this time of trial.”

Rime Allaf is a writer and specialist in Middle East affairs. She is also a consultant in international communications and new economy business.

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