b i t t e r l e m o n s. o r g
    May 30, 2005 Edition 18                       Palestinian-Israeli crossfire
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  The US role
  . Is Bush serious?        by Yossi Alpher
This is not a sufficient expression of involvement and commitment.
. Only the US can push the parties forward        by Ghassan Khatib
Only a clear American position to encourage Israel in a positive direction can improve chances of peace.
  . Disengagement is the wrong move        an interview with Moshe Arens
If there is no terror, Abbas will get the credit, and Bush will begin urging both parties to sit down.
. Action, Mr. President, please        by Ali Jarbawi
The American administration knows what it takes to diffuse the crisis and how to reach a political settlement to the conflict.

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Is Bush serious?
by Yossi Alpher

President Bush's remarks in the Rose Garden on May 26 constituted yet another exercise by the US leader in hinting at a genuine leadership role... then backing off. As he has done repeatedly in recent months and years, the president bravely stuck his toe in the cold waters of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and decided it's not the time to dive in and get wet.

The "escalation" in commitment reflected in the president's remarks was so carefully calibrated, so deftly spun, that we are left asking and examining, cautiously, what was new in the president's performance. He added Jerusalem to the list of regions where Israel was admonished not to contravene roadmap obligations. And he mentioned not only Palestinian territorial contiguity in the West Bank, but the need for "meaningful linkages between the West Bank and Gaza". He left us to ponder the precise meaning of "meaningful linkages", with some Israeli observers speculating (for the millionth time in the course of the past 12 years) about a "sunken road" or a "road on stilts" to bridge the 43 km. separating the two parts of Palestine.

He's sending Secretary of State Rice back to the region before the beginning of disengagement. But apparently not to mediate or facilitate. Just to visit.

He's giving Abbas a direct gift of $50 million to improve Palestinian lives in Gaza. This softens the blow of some $200 million in "aid to the Palestinians" that Congress insists be doled out to Palestinian NGOs and to Israel, rather than to Abbas' democratically-elected reformist government.

Bush also referred to the need for Israelis and Palestinians to coordinate all "changes to the 1949 armistice lines" rather than to the pre-1967 lines, which is the usual term employed. This, interestingly, was not new; Bush used the same phrase in his April 14, 2004 letter to PM Sharon. While changes in the armistice lines carried out by Israel and Jordan between 1949 and 1967 were relatively minor, this was not the case with Israel and Syria, and Bush's repeated reference to the 1949 lines, as opposed to those of 1967, appears to reflect an attempt to maintain consistency on more than one front.

Everything else in Bush's remarks about the need for both sides to fulfill their roadmap obligations and for Israel's security fence to be a "security, rather than political, barrier" is well known. He could have broken new ground when asked by a reporter about US readiness to recognize Hamas if it disarms, but carefully avoided doing so.

This is not a sufficient expression of involvement and commitment from the man who first made a two-state solution official American policy; who has dedicated his administration to rewarding democratization in the Arab Middle East; and who rhetorically champions Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

What we need to hear from the American president is that, if Abbas "delivers" on security, democracy and reform, and assuming disengagement leaves the Sharon government intact, Bush will demand a serious peace process or, failing that, another massive disengagement, this time from the West Bank mountain heartland. We need t hear that he will send Condoleezza Rice not for a weekend, but for whatever period of time is necessary to ensure compliance and progress. That he will not flinch when confronted with domestic political pressures to desist. That he knows that, in order to succeed, he must not be deterred by the prospect of the kind of failure that ushered out the Clinton presidency in late 2000-early 2001.

Everything about President Bush's repeated statements regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue appears to be calculated to hold out the possibility that this will happen, but without committing the president. Some would say his caution is understandable: the US is mired in an ugly and seemingly intractable conflict in Iraq; it has no solution thus far for Iran's nuclear ambitions; Abbas could fail; Hamas could gain a portion of power and refuse to disarm or negotiate; disengagement could go horribly wrong; and Sharon will almost certainly be intractable about moving ahead quickly to exploit the momentum of disengagement. Others would argue that a more persuasive commitment by Bush to progress in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere would facilitate positive movement on all these fronts.

Either way, the question remains: is Bush serious? Knowing Abbas' and Sharon's weaknesses and views on final status, there is not the slightest prospect of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front after disengagement unless Bush commits. Even then it will be an uphill battle.- Published 30/5/2005 © bitterlemons.org

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.

Only the US can push the parties forward
by Ghassan Khatib

The first US visit by Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian president has raised hopes among Palestinians and others of a possible renewal of American efforts to push Palestinian-Israeli peace and of a greater level of American political involvement in the conflict.

The results of the visit, furthermore, exceeded Palestinian expectations, not only because of stated American positions and the warm reception, but because of the positive image afforded Palestinians and their president in the American media and among the American political elite during and after the visit.

Palestinians and analysts in general heard a new language from American President George W. Bush. It was the first mention by this administration of the green line, and it was the first time it framed its position consistent with international legality saying that any changes to the borders of 1967 must be agreed upon by the two parties.

In addition, Bush for the first time suggested that the wall should run along the 1967 borders, and specifically mentioned the need to remove checkpoints, one of the most harmful aspects of the Israeli collective punishment measures.

Washington’s stance is the most decisive external factor in this conflict bar none. In Bush’s first term, this stance could be characterized as falling between hostile and negligent of Palestinian needs and interests. This is why this recent American position marks a dramatic and positive change.

That, of course, will be worthless if it is not complimented by a change in American practices. In particular the American government must do what it takes in order to pressure Israel to end settlement expansion, a fundamental precondition for any possible future peaceful settlement.

An even more immediate requirement, however, is to convince Israel to stop any activities and positions that have the effect of weakening the Palestinian Authority led by Abu Mazen. Three developments are required in this regard: first an end to Israeli economic punishments, especially restrictions on the movement of persons and goods, to enable an improvement of the economy; second, a resumption of peace negotiations on the basis of international legality to bring back hope for the Palestinian people of a possible peaceful end to occupation; and, finally, the above-mentioned cessation of settlement expansion.

The other immediate need for serious American intervention is related to Sharon’s unilateral Gaza withdrawal plan. The US must ensure that this step is done in a way that contributes to a resumption of the peace process, improves the economic situation and is followed by other withdrawals in accordance with the roadmap. If it is left to the Israeli government this withdrawal will simply become what it was designed as: a punishment to inflict further economic and social hardships.

Only the US can ensure that all these needs and requirements, short- and long-term, are carried out. Only American encouragement and support enabled Israel to maintain practices that were responsible for this deterioration, and, by the same token, only a clear American position to encourage Israel in a positive direction, based on adherence to the roadmap, can improve chances of peace. The roadmap is the only accepted plan by the parties as well as the international community that includes the elements that will allow both parties to achieve their respective needs and requirements--whether immediate ones like ending violence and stopping settlement expansions, or long-term ones, such as ending the occupation and laying the ground for lasting peace, security and stability.- Published 30/5/2005 © bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of planning and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.

Disengagement is the wrong move

an interview with Moshe Arens

bitterlemons: Looking at President Bush's commitments to PM Sharon and President Abbas (Abu Mazen), would you judge that American support for Sharon's disengagement plan is adequate?

Arens: That depends how you gauge "adequate". Is [the support] adequate for the domestic Israeli political scene? I'd say yes. The Israeli public feels President Bush is giving wholehearted support to Sharon's disengagement plan. Many people even feel erroneously that Sharon is carrying out disengagement due to pressure from Bush. That is the gauge of "adequate" that counts for both supporters and opponents of disengagement.

bitterlemons: Assuming Abbas is judged successful in his reforms by the administration, how do you anticipate Bush will act following disengagement?

Arens: "Successful" for Bush means first and foremost an end to acts of terrorism. I don't think he'll support Abbas if terror continues or there's an upsurge. But if there is no terror, Abbas will get the credit, and Bush will begin urging both parties to sit down.

bitterlemons: And beyond urging? Do you see pressure?

Arens: What can he do beyond urging? Bush doesn't have a stranglehold on Israel. There is nothing the US can do that Israel feels is contrary to its best interest. The atmosphere might get sour, and most Israeli governments, including the present one, do not want to give the Israeli public the impression that they are responsible for souring [the relationship]. That is the indirect leverage the US has over Israel, obliging the government to do something it doesn't support.

bitterlemons: Some observers point to the AIPAC/Franklin affair and Pentagon complaints about Israel's abuse of American weapons technology as signs of growing tensions, possibly related to US expectations regarding the post-disengagement era.

Arens: As far as I can tell as an observer there is no growing tension. The AIPAC affair is separate, not connected, and not the result of tensions in the relationship. I can understand that the US authorities don't look kindly on monkey business in AIPAC, if there was any. In my experience I don't recall any case of an Israeli government doing something it did not want to due to US pressure. You can look at the Reagan plan which Begin rejected, the loan guarantees that Bush refused to give Shamir and Shamir did not back down.

bitterlemons: The Israeli public went on to punish Shamir at the polls in 1992.

Arens: I agree that the public punished Shamir for being persona non-grata in Washington, but Shamir did not give in. By the same token, some people think Bush senior lost his election in 1992 due to this same tension [with Israel].

bitterlemons: From the standpoint of Israeli-American relations, how in your view should Sharon be acting?

Arens: It's simplistic, but essentially correct, to say that he, like any other Israeli prime minister, should be working in the best interests of the state of Israel. US-Israel relations are good for the state of Israel, but if we get some degree of fouling in the relationship then he should back off. But I don't see that happening.

bitterlemons: But you feel disengagement is a mistake.

Arens: I think disengagement is the wrong move. Disengagement was Sharon's idea, not Bush's, and he talked Bush into it. Once that was done Bush would be disappointed if disengagement didn't happen. But I did not discern on the horizon any pressures by Bush for Israeli concessions when Sharon opted for disengagement. The US government respected the way we were handling terrorism. I think we could have just continued successfully.

bitterlemons: Even in the post-Arafat era, with Abbas winning Bush's approval and backing?

Arens: We'd still be in this situation, with Bush insisting that the first thing to be done is to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. But now Bush has been convinced that this is difficult for Abu Mazen to do, that he needs more time, and is continuing to insist that [pressure on Abu Mazen] could not only bring him down but would upset the disengagement schedule.

bitterlemons: Finally, on a related topic, should the administration engage Arab Islamist movements like Hamas that participate in democratic elections, and if so under what conditions?

Arens: Bush's position is to demand and expect democratization of the Arab countries. This means elections, and if one of these parties wins, Bush might have something of a problem refusing to talk to them. But he knows they are terrorist organizations. I doubt his experts are forecasting they will cease to be terrorist organizations in the near future.- Published 30/5/2005 © bitterlemons.org

Moshe Arens is a former minister of defense, minister of foreign affairs, and Israeli ambassador to the United States.

Action, Mr. President, please
by Ali Jarbawi

The visit of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to the White House should be considered a huge public relations success. There were smiles, pats on the back and positive statements as regards the future, as well as a $50 million aid package long ago promised to the Palestinians but prevented until now from reaching the Palestinian Authority by the US Congress because of its absolute bias toward Israel.

Still, everything went smoothly. It seems as though the two sides have learned their lesson from when Abu Mazen was prime minister--one that he would not want to repeat. It seems the Palestinian president remembered well the failed Aqaba experience when he gave a speech that he hoped would portray him as bringing down the level of expectations and demands, but which, instead, many Palestinians considered a catastrophe.

This time, the Palestinian rhetoric was clear, specific and included all the demands that form the basis of any settlement from the official Palestinian viewpoint. Abu Mazen clearly realizes his position before his people in the face of sharp criticism from Fateh circles under the leadership of Farouq Qaddumi.

US president George W. Bush has also learned a lesson, making supportive statements for Abbas. The American administration seems to have realized that its negative attitude toward Abu Mazen during his stint as prime minister contributed to the weakening of his position and status, something they did not want to repeat. On the contrary, they wanted to present Abu Mazen as a leader with their full support, especially in view of the difficult internal situation Fateh is facing vis-a-vis Hamas.

Bush’s statements during the joint press conference with Abbas were reassuring in that they reaffirmed the constants in Bush’s position, outlined in his vision for a political settlement.

So, everyone came out pleased with the meeting, perhaps even the Israelis, who were able to prevent any losses to their own position.

However, is this euphoria well placed? Given that we need more than public relations, it most certainly isn’t. If things remain the same as now, the entire situation will inevitably explode and the region will be pushed back to a boiling point.

This is exactly what the US administration does not want. It is in their interest for the calm to continue and for the situation to be contained so they can be free to deal with Iraq and its many complications. The question then remains whether this administration has the vision and necessary tools to diffuse the explosive spark between the Palestinians and Israelis?

The American administration knows what it takes to diffuse the crisis and how to reach a political settlement to the conflict. In short, pressure needs to be applied on Israel if we are to reach a settlement that is in any way acceptable to the Palestinians and Arabs. However, this administration does not want or cannot pressure Israel because it is under pressure by the American-Israeli Political Action Committee, AIPAC, and the message being sent to the American administration by the Jewish lobby is loud and clear.

As a result, this administration is circumventing what is really necessary by creating an impression that Abbas’ basic problems are internal, that is, the danger he faces from Hamas. It is because of this “internal danger” that the US should help Abbas, both financially and morally. It is with this in mind that we should read the positive statements and gestures Bush extended to Abu Mazen during their press conference.

As long as the United States refuses to comprehend that the crux of the problem lies with the Israeli government not wanting to reach a political settlement with the Palestinian people, preferring rather to impose a settlement on its own terms, the situation in the region will continue to explode time and again. The occupation is the reason for the struggle and tension and not vice versa. American pressure should be directed at Israel and not the Palestinians. Even if Abbas reins in Hamas, as long as Israel continues to impose facts on Palestinian ground this creates a constant potential for explosion.

Although the Palestinian people appreciate the United States and its people, it has little confidence in its policies in the region or in consecutive administrations that grow increasingly biased toward Israel. For Bush’s statements to be treated with anything but scorn, they must be followed up by action.

It would be good if the American president remembered all the obligations his own government outlined for Israel to abide by. It would be better still if the administration guaranteed that Israel commit to these obligations. The Bush administration and Sharon’s government cannot continue to have their cake and eat it too.

Palestinians must feel a tangible change on the ground. The checkpoints and the humiliation they bring are still realities. The occupying Israeli army is still in Palestinian cities. Settlement construction is intensifying throughout the West Bank, and the building of the separation wall in the West Bank is continuing apace, with Jerusalem completely isolated from its Palestinian surroundings.

In the meantime, the Israeli government is trying to rid itself of the Gaza Strip in order to confront the Palestinian “demographic danger”. And for this Bush wants the Palestinians to turn a blind eye to all of the above and praise Sharon.

Mr. Bush: Years ago, we heard your vision for a solution to the conflict. You then came up with a roadmap that gained international acceptance. We appreciate your statements confirming your support of that roadmap, which have been repeated several times since. And we appreciate even more that you reaffirmed these statements before the Palestinian president in the White House. We understand your message, but it is Sharon who must understand it. What is required is to translate your words into actions. We are tired of repetition. Every day we live these things that are happening to us and to this country. So please, hurry up before it is too late…that is, if it isn’t already.- Published 30/5/2005 © bitterlemons.org

Ali Jarbawi is a professor of political science at Birzeit University.

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