Here’s a question for George W. Bush. Do you believe your June 24 speech on the Middle East crisis would give a Palestinian living in a refugee camp–perhaps in a town where Israeli forces shelled a market, killing women and children, and destroyed parts of a hospital–any solace, any hope?
Bush’s remarks were not–as they had been billed–an attempt to present a peace plan. The headline on the White House transcript said it all: “President Bush Calls for New Palestinian Leadership.” In very explicit terms, Bush declared that the fundamental problem in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rests with the people in charge of the Palestinian Authority, notably Yasser Arafat. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the conditions of the Palestinians–none of that is the main deal. Sure, these are matters that ought to be addressed. But before anything else can happen, Bush said, the Palestinians have to elect different leaders, create “entirely new political and economic institutions,” build a market economy, end all corruption, and stop every act of terrorism. Then–maybe then–the United States will support a “provisional” Palestinian state of uncertain borders and uncertain sovereignty. And Bush is looking at backing such a “state” several years from now.
This is a tremendous leap backward from the position of pro-Israel hardliners–here and in Israel–who had been arguing that there should be no Israeli-Palestinian peace talks until all terrorism against Israel ceased. Bush dramatically expanded the list of conditions. Any Palestinian who bothered to pay attention to Bush’s speech–which was not broadcast on Palestinian television–might well say, “Previously, they only wanted us to stop the terrorists before talking about establishing a Palestinian state. Now, they want us to totally rebuild our society, develop a new political elite from scratch, establish government bureaucracies that actually work, develop a Western-style economy, and–while we’re busy with all this–prevent the worst extremists from striking at Israel. Once we’ve done that, they’ll deal with our primary grievances.”
What a deal. If they jump through all these hoops, the Palestinians, as Bush noted, “can count on American support for the creation of a provisional state of Palestine.” Bush might have as well come out and endorsed House majority leader Dick Armey’s suggestion to pack up all the Palestinians and move them elsewhere. (Where? Armey didn’t say.)