Bush’s June 24 Speech: A Reflection of U.S. Impotence

by Abbas Hamideh

The following article was posted June 27 to Al-Awda-Events, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition’s International Events Action Committee listserve, an unmoderated forum for individuals active in the Palestine right to return campaign, regardless of organizational affiliation if any, to plan for and coordinate global and local grassroots initiatives for action related to the Palestine refugee right to return campaigns. Unless indicated otherwise, all statements on Al-Awda-Events represent the views of their authors and not necessarily those of Al-Awda or its wider membership. Al-Awda’s coordinating committee may be reached anytime at Al-Awda-C-C@yahoogroups.com

President Bush’s much-awaited June 24 speech regarding his vision for a resolution to the question of Palestine was a disappointment, to say the least. The vast majority of his speech focused, as usual, on what the Palestinians must do to satisfy the United States and Israel. The Palestinians must initiate democratic institutional and financial reform. The Palestinians must elect new leadership. The Palestinians must end their violence. The Palestinians must ensure Israel’s security, and so on and so forth. What reward awaits them at the other side of these newly imposed hoops they must leap through? Independence? Hardly. Nothing but a disjointed concept about a “provisional Palestinian state” that will exist within the framework of continued Israeli subjugation.

Mr. Bush still refuses to delineate the borders of this so-called state, instead relegating the issue to “negotiations” based on UN resolutions 242 and 338 between Israel and some carefully selected Palestinian interlocutor. As if the Palestinians, a nation of refugees, who have had their country dismembered, their cities, towns and villages destroyed, and 80 percent of their population forced into exile, with no army, navy, air force, economic, or political power to speak of, can enter into negotiations with Israel on a level playing field. And what about their democratic right to elect their own leader? Did the United States insist that Israelis not elect a man who is inarguably the Middle East’s oldest terrorist — Ariel Sharon, a man who is currently under indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity in a Belgian court?

Democratic reforms for the Palestinians to enjoy in the future are a good thing, a much-needed development. No one can argue with that, especially not the Palestinians who have openly opposed the unlimited power of Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. But Bush’s teary-eyed calls for Palestinian democracy ring a hollow note when one remembers that it was the Oslo “peace” process in the first place, blessed by the U.S., that created the Palestinian security apparatus that was trained, funded, and supervised by the CIA to brutally crush any legitimate opposition to Yasser Arafat. He was our man in Gaza while he was smashing “Islamic fundamentalist” civil institutions and rounding up rabble-rousing community leaders by the hundreds for kangaroo court trials, imprisonment, and torture. He was a “partner for peace” when he remained silent about Israel’s continued expropriation of Palestinian land and its frantically accelerated illegal settlement construction during 7 years of Oslo. It is hard for anyone to believe that we are actually interested in democracy while our government continues funding Israel’s repressive military occupation and its apartheid system that keeps Palestinians trapped in isolated ghettos to the tune of at least $5 billion annually. It is obvious that all this babble about democracy is nothing but another subterfuge to avoid recognition of the real problem: Israel’s refusal to fully withdraw from the Occupied Territories and to renounce its expansionism.

Lacking in Mr. Bush’s speech was any moral clarity regarding Palestinian human and political rights within the context of international legitimacy, Geneva Conventions, and United Nations resolutions. He said nothing about the flagrant illegality of Israeli settlements, except to say that Israel should stop building them. Big deal. The U.S. has been saying that for years and the Israelis have continued building them as they please.

There was also no criticism of Israel whatsoever. Not one single word condemning Israel for its refusal since 1949 to allow hundreds of thousands of expelled Palestinian refugees their sacrosanct right, enshrined in international humanitarian law, to return to their homeland, or its expropriation of 50% of the West Bank and 40% of Gaza, or its brutal occupation, whose documented daily violence against Palestinians civilians predates Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Palestinian Authority by a generation. Nothing about Israel’s demolition of 16,000 homes since 1967, its curfews, closures, and harassment that have become institutions of Palestinian life in the Occupied Territories for 35 years, to say nothing of the destruction of an entire society in what today is Israel. He also couched Israel’s massive violence and wanton destruction of the Palestinian’s civilian infrastructure as “self-defense” in gross contradiction with the findings of every human rights organization that has recently — and over the years — examined its brutality.

Mr. Bush did pay some lip service to Palestinian suffering, but was careful to relieve Israel of any culpability for the Palestinian catastrophe.

American impotence in confronting Israeli recalcitrance has made Bush more “irrelevant” than he has tried to make Arafat. His sorry speech typifies his unwillingness or inability, or both, to act as an honest broker.