Bush’s Mideast speech: mostly wishful thinking

Just a few comments on President Bush’s speech about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today. This is a long post, but there’s a lot there — and it doesn’t look good.

He said:

Israel has taken difficult actions, including withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. Palestinians have held free elections, and chosen a president committed to peace. Arab states have put forward a plan that recognizes Israel’s place in the Middle East.

Obviously, he does not mention that the Palestinians elected a Hamas government in those free elections! More importantly, note the reference to the Arab League (Saudi) ‘peace’ initiative. There is really no positive way to construe this initiative, and it’s disappointing to see the US endorsing it.

In Gaza, Hamas radicals betrayed the Palestinian people with a lawless and violent takeover. By its actions, Hamas has demonstrated beyond all doubt that it is [more] devoted to extremism and murder than to serving the Palestinian people…

There’s another option, and that’s a hopeful option. It is the vision of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad; it’s the vision of their government; it’s the vision of a peaceful state called Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people. To realize this vision, these leaders are striving to build the institutions of a modern democracy.

This comparison is strained. Yes, Hamas overthrew Fatah in Gaza. Both sides committed atrocities in the fighting; Hamas won because Fatah was poorly led and unmotivated. But the vision of both factions is similar in some important ways: both believe in violent ‘resistance’ against the Jewish state. Their founding documents say it and their actions prove it.

In terms of “serving the Palestinian people”, Hamas is arguably better than Fatah, which has provided an umbrella for criminals of all kinds who prey on the population, and whose officials are uniformly and massively corrupt. Both sides care more about killing Jews than helping Arabs.

[Abbas and Fayyed] are working to strengthen the Palestinian security services, so they can confront the terrorists and protect the innocent.

Israel has agreed to stop hunting 178 fugitives — Fatah members who are wanted for terrorist acts against Israelis — in return for an agreement that they will lay down their arms. They are, however, turning around and being absorbed into the ‘security’ services, so they can be re-armed, supposedly to fight with Hamas. Can anyone take this seriously? Keep in mind that Palestinian ‘security’ forces have never “confronted terrorists”.

This year, we will provide the Palestinians with more than $190 million in American assistance — including funds for humanitarian relief in Gaza. To build on this support, I recently authorized the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to join in a program that will help generate $228 million in lending to Palestinian businesses. Today, I announce our intention to make a direct contribution of $80 million to help Palestinians reform their security services — a vital effort they’re undertaking with the guidance of American General Keith Dayton.

Dayton is the one who suggested that Israel remove checkpoints and allow transit for Palestinian convoys between Gaza and the West Bank. And Dayton facilitated arming Fatah in Gaza, who promptly lost those weapons to Hamas.

The “bolstering Abbas” strategy does not take into account the tremendous unpopularity of Abbas and Fatah among the Palestinians, who see them as simply corrupt theives. It does not take into account the fact that Fatah’s adherents are motivated by access to money and arms, and are certainly not ideologically committed to peace with Israel; they are basically criminal gangs and clans who find the association profitable. This is not a foundation for a democratic state.

And we will continue to deliver a firm message to Hamas: You must stop Gaza from being a safe haven for attacks against Israel. You must accept the legitimate Palestinian government, permit humanitarian aid in Gaza, and dismantle militias. And you must reject violence, and recognize Israel’s right to exist, and commit to all previous agreements between the parties.

This simply cannot happen while Hamas is Hamas. Is the President suggesting that they are capable of becoming a partner? I hope this is not the beginning of the presentation of a “new Hamas”. And what’s the significance of “safe haven”? Hamas doesn’t provide a “safe haven” for terrorists, Hamas is terrorists.

All the steps I’ve outlined are designed to lay the foundation for a successful Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza — a nation with functioning political institutions and capable security forces, and leaders who reject terror and violence.

Note that he expects the Palestinian state to include Gaza and the West Bank. So either Hamas will dissolve and be absorbed into the Abbas/Fayyed regime, or it will become a “new Hamas” that will be docile and constructive. Neither of these is possible.

Also note the third mention of ‘security forces’ or ‘security services’. The Palestinian Authority has more security forces than any other political entity in the known universe and is less secure. What we are actually talking about are heavily armed militias (whose members often moonlight as terrorists) that we hope will fight on our side against other militias.

These negotiations must resolve difficult questions and uphold clear principles. They must ensure that Israel is secure. They must guarantee that a Palestinian state is viable and contiguous.

How can a Palestinian state comprised of Gaza and the West Bank be contiguous?

They must work to stop attacks on Israel, and to free the Israeli soldier held hostage by extremists.

Why ‘work’ to do these things? Why not just do them? The President already made demands on Hamas, why not include the release of Gilad Schalit as a demand? And while he’s at it, why not demand the release of the soldiers held by Hezbollah?

Prime Minister Olmert must continue to release Palestinian tax revenues to the government of Prime Minster Fayyad. Prime Minister Olmert has also made clear that Israel’s future lies in developing areas like the Negev and Galilee — not in continuing occupation of the West Bank. This is a reality that Prime Minister Sharon recognized, as well. So unauthorized outposts should be removed and settlement expansion ended.

While the Palestinians are ‘working’ to stop terrorism, Israel must withdraw. Of course it’s very unclear what is meant by “unauthorized outposts”; I presume all sides will do their own interpretation. But the suggestion about Israel’s future seems to point to a more general withdrawal.

Israelis should find other practical ways to reduce their footprint without reducing their security — so they can help President Abbas improve economic and humanitarian conditions. They should be confident that the United States will never abandon its commitment to the security of Israel as a Jewish state and homeland for the Jewish people.

Here it seems that Mr. Bush is suggesting that Israel does not need strategic depth, but rather should depend on guarantees from the US to protect herself. I can’t disagree more strongly!

So I will call together an international meeting this fall of representatives from nations that support a two-state solution, reject violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and commit to all previous agreements between the parties. The key participants in this meeting will be the Israelis, the Palestinians, and their neighbors in the region.

The interesting question is “which neighbors will these be?” In particular, I suspect that Mr. Bush would very much like to include the Saudis. US Assistant Secretary of State David Welch said today that the planned meeting was connected to the Saudi peace initiative. It’s hard to see how this can work, given the Saudis’ insistence that recognition of Israel is the last thing to happen under their plan.

Re-launching the Arab League initiative was a welcome first step. Now Arab nations should build on this initiative — by ending the fiction that Israel does not exist, stopping the incitement of hatred in their official media, and sending cabinet-level visitors to Israel. With all these steps, today’s Arab leaders can show themselves to be the equals of peacemakers like Anwar Sadat and King Hussein of Jordan.

That is probably the last thing that they want to be! But again note that Bush has inverted the Arab league initiative, which does not include any kind of recognition until after Israel has withdrawn from all of the territories and the refugee problem has been ‘solved’ to their satisfaction, and which limits prior negotiation to “implementation” of Israel’s surrender.

The conflict in Gaza and the West Bank today is a struggle between extremists and moderates.

No. It is a struggle between a murderous Islamist faction dedicated to the destruction of Israel, and a murderous secular faction dedicated to the destruction of Israel.

And these are not the only places where the forces of radicalism and violence threaten freedom and peace. The struggle between extremists and moderates is also playing out in Lebanon — where Hezbollah and Syria and Iran are trying to destabilize the popularly elected government.

And incidentally to destroy Israel. Which leads me to ask how President Bush thinks that it will be possible to bring about peace in the region without taking into account the influence of Syria and Iran? And what can or should be done about Hezbollah, probably the most dangerous non-state power in the region?

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