Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bush's new faith-based strategy

Bush's new faith-based strategy

Comment is free in the Guardian, click for the link and check out the comments, which remarkably fail to deal with the main suggestion.

President Bush says he wants a new mideast peace conference, but he needs to tell Israel to return to its legal boundaries in exchange for a military guarantee.
Ian Williams

July 18, 2007 5:00 PM | Printable version

Has God sent a reminder to the amnesiac president of the United States? How else to account for George Bush's sudden and belated announcement of an international peace conference on the Middle East? It was back in 2003 that the US President reported an even earlier divine directive as told to the Palestinian leaders Abu Mazen and Nabil Shaath:

I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.' And I did, and then God would tell me, 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq ...'. And I did. And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, 'Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East'. And by God I'm gonna do it.

Presumably Jehovah, operating on an eternal time scale, thought that half a decade or so of indolence on the Israel/Palestine file would not make a difference.

So when Bush announced the conference I did not know whether to be relieved that it was taking his customarily single-track mind off any divine directives to bomb Iran, or to be horrified that someone of such demonstrable ignorance and prejudice about the region was about to embark on such a perilous venture.

The fatal flaw is the usual one: complete, one-sided support for Israel. While boasting of the $190m of US aid for the Abbas regime in return for ousting Hamas, the elected victors of the free and democratic elections that Bush boasts of in his speech, there is no hint of any conditionality on the billions of dollars of aid and assistance going to Israel, not to mention the implicit guarantee of unconditional American military and diplomatic assistance.

Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of anything more conducive to boosting Hamas's support than the president's announcement of $80m for the Palestinians to "reform their Security Services", which is shorthand for helping the Israelis arm the very Fatah factions that they had been locking up, bombing, and assassinating until Fatah lost the election. That's a monstrous amount of guns for a small amount of butter. This not a peace proposal: it is a plan to foment civil war in the occupied territories.

I can't really support any faith-based party, whether Bush's Republicans or European Christian Democrats - let alone one like Hamas that wants to close down breweries - but Bush proposes to exclude Hamas from the talks. It is passing strange that everyone considers sedulously the need to win over the Israeli electorate for concessions, but we rarely concede the same privilege to the Palestinian public.

What makes it worse is to see unscrupulous Fatah leaders joining in exactly the same kind of demonisation of Hamas that Israel and the Americans practiced on Yasser Arafat, Fatah and the PLO until recently. It is worth remembering that the "violent and lawless takeover" that Bush referred to in Gaza removed an unelected Fatah militia and freed Alan Johnston, for which some gratitude is surely due. Few journalists have dared to risk tarring with the "T" word to suggest that Hamas may not be quite as bad as depicted. Alistair Crooke is one who is well worth looking at.

Hamas won the election for two reasons, the corruption and ineptitude of Fatah, now the chosen partners of Israel and the US - and because of the total failure of the Road Map. Palestinians supported the peace process in overwhelming numbers, but by the turn of the century had every reason to ask: what process? Since Oslo, unimpeded by the paraplegic Quartet the settler population of the West Bank increased by 5.3% last year, and has doubled since Oslo, when the Palestinians were promised peace.

The Palestinian territories have become like war-time ghettoes, economically isolated, road blocked and walled into Bantustans, with the Israelis treating Gaza in particular like a free-fire zone.

And now Palestinians will parse Bush's speech for content. "A territorial settlement, with mutually agreed borders reflecting previous lines and current realities, and mutually agreed adjustments," looks like accepting the "facts on the ground" created by settlements, which he has previously supported. Bush says "unauthorized outposts should be removed and settlement expansion ended", ignoring the illegality of all settlements and overlooking the pertinent detail that the "unauthorized outposts" are provided with power and water, policing and defence by the government of Israel that had, even with its 14 riders to the Road Map agreed to stop such activities.

Abbas has wisely refused to get bogged down in the details with the Israelis who, since Oslo, have been nitpicking their way to obstruction. The final status issues are the important ones, and all the rest is commentary.

Perhaps God could tell Bush to accept the Saudi plan with his own added oomph. If Israel accepts the 1967 boundaries with whatever mutually useful trade-offs of territory the Palestinians are prepared to make, the president should guarantee those new borders and get Nato and maybe even the Russians to back that pledge. There is no real military threat to the only nuclear power in the region, but paranoia is a real phenomenon that needs to be dealt with. Such a guarantee should calm all but its most pathological sufferers.

No comments: