Middle East

Searching for an End to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

International Press Reacts Strongly to Bush's Speech on Middle East

Palestinian woman watches Bush's speech
Palestinian Nema Obeidi, a resident of Ramallah, watches as U.S. President George W. Bush calls for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's ouster, June 24, 2002 (Photo: AFP).

Tel Aviv Yediot Aharonot (centrist), June 25, 2002: The mouth was that of President Bush, but the hand that wrote the speech was that of [Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon. Sharon can take creative credit for the speech: He couldn't dream about a better speech….

Shimon Peres listened to the speech with sadness and with great anger. He sees it as a total error. From his point of view the speech is yet another strike, perhaps the most serious strike against the renewal of negotiations. The call by Bush to change [the Palestinian] leadership, meaning [Chairman Yasser] Arafat, will achieve the exact opposite: It will force the other Palestinian leaders to reunite around the beleaguered Arafat.

Jerusalem Al-Quds (pro-Palestinian Authority), June 26, 2002: There are positive points in the speech, from both a Palestinian and an Israeli perspective. There was an obvious and unhidden tilt in sympathy for Israel—but this is not a new matter in American policy, nor is there any chance this will change. Everyone realizes that the American administration strives for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on Israeli security interests..., as was made evident when [Bush] affirmed that "a stable, peaceful Palestinian state is necessary to achieve the security that Israel longs for" [quote translated from the Arabic—WPR].

As for the elements of the speech that benefit Palestinians, Bush discussed the end of the Occupation, freezing settlements, and ending Israeli military measures, including blockades against the Palestinian people..., proposing what he called a "provisional" state to be established based the borders decided on Sept. 28, 2000, concurrent with the Tenet Plan and the Mitchell Report. Ironically, the Palestinians had already agreed to these documents. The problem with this proposal is that Israeli forces currently occupy 90 percent of the proposed "provisional" state, and without giving consequence to this barefaced occupation, or making a clear request for the immediate withdrawal of the Israeli forces, there will be no results.

Santiago La Tercera (conservative), June 24, 2002: The peace plan constitutes a powerful stimulus for reinvigorating negotiations in the region… It is positive that [Arafat] endorsed presidential elections at the beginning of next year, but in any case he had no choice due to his weakened position as interlocutor….

Amman Al-Dustour (pro-government), June 25, 2002: In his long-awaited speech, Bush gave Sharon all the time he wanted to apply his destructive policy against peace in the region. He also took from the Palestinians all the hope for liberation from occupation and independence and from the Arabs what was left of their feeling that the United States could become an honest broker in any issue dealing with the Middle East.

Stockholm Dagens Nyheter (centrist), June 26, 2002: The rest of the world can now confirm what they have long suspected: President Bush's support for a Palestinian state is conditional on Arafat's departure. A new Palestinian leadership is needed to bring about peace, security, and—ultimately—an independent Palestine. This is a humiliating treatment of a democratically elected leader.

But freezing out Arafat risks becoming counterproductive. Many Palestinians who have already been humiliated will chose to stand behind a leader that they would prefer to see step aside, rather than accept an American dictate.

London Al-Quds al-Arabi (Palestinian nationalist), June 27, 2002: What could the Palestinian leader have possibly lost had he given a big resounding "no" to Bush and his biased speech? His freedom, when he is under siege and unable to leave his office in Ramallah? The independent state on whose throne he sits? The unparalleled prosperity enjoyed by its people? The billions of aid dollars with which the United States inundates his venerable Authority? ... For years we have been demanding that the Palestinian Authority and President Arafat call legislative and presidential elections and establish elected constitutional institutions and a reformed judiciary, but he did not exactly welcome those demands. He deemed every Palestinian who called for reform to be an enemy of the Palestinian national project, and unleashed his security forces against anyone who spoke about corruption. Yet despite all their reservations about the Palestinian Authority and their opposition to its behavior, it is the Palestinian people who are now defending it and its leadership, because they refuse to be bossed around by the Israelis and Americans.

Jerusalem The Jerusalem Post (conservative), June 25, 2002: Bush's speech on Monday was perhaps the greatest injection of realism into U.S. policy in 35 years. If anything has been proved by Oslo's collapse, it is that basing a peace process on an unreconstructed dictatorship was unrealistic, even utopian….

Bush, contrary to his critics, is among the best friends the Palestinians have ever had. If he is successful, future Palestinians will consider him their liberator. The genius of Bush's speech is that it finally spoke the truth about who is standing in the way of Palestinian liberty and independence. Those who continue to blame Israel for Palestinian suffering are not doing the Palestinians any favors, and they certainly are not realists.

Jerusalem Ma’ariv (centrist), June 25, 2002: One can be optimistic or, more to the point, naive, and believe that in the wake of Bush's speech the Palestinians will... decry terrorism and vomit it from their midst. Nevertheless, it is more likely that this overtly unbalanced speech will only further complicate the situation.... Bush's speech might have been a giant step for Sharon, but it was probably a very small step for the chances of peace.

Cairo Al-Ahram (government-owned), June 27, 2002: In his speech Bush made no reference to the pre-June 1967 borders, confining himself to the formula of "secure and recognised borders reached through negotiations." Nor did he refer to the principle of land for peace. It cannot be stressed strongly enough that the "secure" border formula is notorious for having embroiled the disputing parties in endless wrangling. More importantly, such wording implies an attempt to alter the principles outlined in Madrid and conflicts with the Arab initiative adopted in Beirut, calling for Israel's full withdrawal to the pre-June 1967 borders in exchange for normal relations.

Madrid ABC (conservative), June 26, 2002: Bush’s offer is realistic, since it is based on the international mandate of the United Nations and on the historical right of the Palestinians, who nine years ago acknowledged the existence of Israel.

But the plan is lame. It doesn't refer to an international conference that would make both parties agree to a definition of a future [Palestinian] state; it doesn't present a calendar for the establishment of this state…. Bush's offer is clear, but it doesn't offer a map or a practical way to start work.

Seoul Hankyoreh Shinmun (pro-government), June 26, 2002: Bush, who has been consistently pro-Israel, made a speech that blatantly interferes with the Palestine Authority's internal affairs by suggesting changes to its [the Palestinian Authority’s] leadership. And its manifest pro-Israel character renders its success doubtful. Changes in the Palestinian leadership are the Palestinian people's autonomous and sovereign right–and are not for Bush to dictate….

The only positive aspect of Bush’s speech—his meek repetition of the need for Israel to withdraw from the occupied West Bank—was negated by his interference in internal Palestinian affairs.

Beirut Al-Safir (independent) June 27, 2002: If the man wasn't the leader of the world's sole superpower, his speech would belong in the rubbish bin. But that is a luxury we cannot afford. We have to take the matter seriously and act on the basis that the president said what he did. That said, we must not imagine that this vision will lead to a solution. For that was not its intention.... Bush's speech is as much part of Sharon's offensive against the Palestinian people as that offensive is part of Bush's campaign against the Arabs generally.
—Joseph Samaha

Berlin Die Tageszeitung (left-wing), June 25, 2002: It is true that the U.S. president demanded that no additional settlements be built, but not a single one of the illegally constructed settlements on Arab land is to be removed. The Israeli troops are for now merely to pull back to the strategic bulwarks they held 18 months ago at the onset of the current Palestinian Intifada—insofar as security concerns permit. The real end of the Israeli occupation would then, within three years, be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians…. The new Pax Americana in the Near East can be summarized as follows: Arafat retires. The conflicts over the Israeli occupation on one hand, and the Palestinian state on the other, will be separated. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank of the Jordan and the Gaza Strip will continue. And on some tiny piece of land, room will be found for a provisional Palestinian state. The burdens of performance have been very unequally divided. This will scarcely lead to peace in the Near East.

Moscow Rossiyskaya Gazeta (government), June 26, 2002:In this situation it is hard to imagine how the Bush peace plan will be implemented. The Palestinians will not surrender Arafat and will continue the terrorist acts. The Israelis will also behave accordingly: They will continue the occupation of Palestinian cities and the erection of a defensive wall. Another impasse?

Cairo Al-Ghumhuriya (government-owned), June 27, 2002:The Palestinians did well when they said they accepted Bush's statement. In this way they showed to the world that they are serious about peace and long to live side by side with Israel in security... I think the Arabs, and the Palestinians, need to compare notes candidly so as to reach a unified stance on U.S. ideas which should be viewed as only a vision until it becomes something more concrete. They should take into account the fact that the content of the statement is up for discussion. So it makes no sense to apply to the notorious American principle, "take it or leave it." The issue needs in-depth scrutiny and modification so that all parties concerned can reach a final formula. Let us wait and see.

Lahore The Nation (conservative), Lahore, June 24, 2002: President Bush has finally unveiled his peace plan for the Middle East, which is so one-sided in its support for Israel that Sharon could not have done better if he had drafted the U.S. president's speech himself. As suggested by earlier leaks, the called plan reserves its harshest terms for the Palestinians while making no bones about accommodating Israel's whims all the way….

The Palestinian and Israeli reactions have been markedly different. While an Israeli minister is quoted as recommending "Patron of Zionism Award for Bush," the Palestinian leadership has expressed outrage over the precondition of President Arafat's ouster, which clearly violates the Palestinians’ right to choose their leaders and negates the very formula of democratic institution-building preached in the plan itself.

Milan Corriere Della Sera (centrist), June 25, 2002: If [Bush’s] agreement with Sharon on [the question of Arafat’s complicity in terrorism] is well justified, the sacking of Arafat could turn out to be counterproductive despite the incentives that accompany it: Instead of losing credibility, might not Arafat be able to take demagogic advantage of it, reminding the world that he was elected? And won’t the popularity of the aspiring kamikazes be fed rather than suppressed by a decision imposed by America in full accord with Israel?

Bush’s wager is a high-risk venture, all the more so because he must now convince his European allies and the United Nations about his liquidation of Arafat, not to mention [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, who only yesterday warned that to remove Arafat from the scene would be “dangerous and mistaken.”
—Franco Venturini

Toronto The National Post (conservative), June 25, 2002: Bush has been adamant since Sept. 11 about stopping terrorism, but he took a firm step in the opposite direction in his speech yesterday.

He should have told the Palestinians clearly and unequivocally that their 21-month campaign of violence against Israel is unacceptable and must conclude before any discussion of rewards can be started. Instead, the President outlined his vision for a "provisional" Palestinian state and demanded an end to what he called "Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories." Both of these constitute very major benefits to the Palestinians; as such, they represent rewards for suicide bombings, sniper attacks, and the other forms of terrorism.
—Daniel Pipes

Canberra The Canberra Times (centrist), June 26, 2002: Since when does Washington determine the political leadership of another people, or prescribe the political and economic systems they will live under? …

This is remarkably arrogant for an administration that has shown very little interest in the Middle East beyond a desire to bomb Iraq.

It's also odd to link the creation of a new state with the specific composition of its initial, transient leadership: Either Palestinians have a right to national self-determination or they don't. If the exclusion of ''leaders not compromised by terror'' was applied uniformly as a principle, Sharon, with a career in state terror dating back to the 1950s, would have to go. Again, these conditions are only to apply to one side. Arms shipments to Palestinian militants from Iran and Syria, for example, are to be blocked while the United States continues to sell high-tech weaponry to the Israelis.
—Scott Burchill

Budapest Magyar Nemzet (conservative), June 25, 2002: The Israeli leader, who has been at the White House six times, has been trying for months to convince the American president that the president of the Palestinian Authority cannot be counted on as a trustworthy negotiating partner. He has now succeeded. The president, without mentioning Arafat by name, said that "a new and different kind of leadership is required for peace and the creation of a Palestinian state."

He also made future American financial support dependent on the creation of democratic institutions, stressing that he would never support a "state based on terrorism," later remarking that "the Palestinian leadership is encouraging terrorism instead of confronting it, and this is unacceptable."

Rotterdam NRC Handelsblad (independent), June 25, 2002: Bush was absolutely clear last night. In his speech on war and peace between the Israel and the Palestinians, he took an unambiguous position against the current Palestinian leaders. As far as Bush is concerned, Arafat has been dismissed…

With this demand [that Arafat should be removed], Washington declared Arafat to be politically dead. But the aged Palestinian leader is a cat with nine lives. At the end of last year, he heard from Sharon that he was no longer relevant. In the months that followed, by taking clever advantage of publicity, he was able to grow in his status as a pan-Arab leader.

New Delhi The Times of India (conservative), June 26, 2002: Shorn of the pious concern for the Palestinians, Bush’s speech on West Asia is largely pure and simple blackmail… While there is no doubt that Arafat is in a shaky position, Bush, as the custodian of the world’s oldest democracy, will appreciate that the Palestinian leader is the elected representative of his people. Were Bush to issue similar demands to Tel Aviv to pull back its troops and halt Jewish settlements, his speech would be more credible. So far, no viable and acceptable alternative to Arafat has been found. In this situation, such calls for change make little sense. A far more calibrated and even-handed approach is expected from Bush if he is to fulfill his role as honest broker.

Paris Libération (left-wing), June 25, 2002: This Palestinian state [Bush has proposed] has all the qualities of a Promised Land, it is so far away, so vague, and so hypothetical—its borders, capital, and rights will be discussed after its creation "within three years," promises Bush. One can easily understand why Palestinians express doubts and reservations. For the “Bush Plan” is so much like the "Sharon Plan," in aiming to satisfy the Israel Prime Minister's principal demands, you could easily mistake one for the other….

Bush's "vision" is certainly open to accusations of partisanship. More particularly, one can seriously question its realism—the terrorists are not going to lay down their arms in response to a single biblical injunction to "choose life over death." Even so, his vision does have the merit of trying to break the unbearable cycle of terror nourished by the misery and oppression in which Israelis and Palestinians have been trapped for too long.
—Patrick Sabatier

Frankfurt Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (conservative), June 25, 2002: One cannot argue with Mr. Bush's making an end to terrorism a condition of negotiations. He wanted to make it clear that there can be no political "rewards" for the kind of bloody attacks on civilians that Palestinian extremists have been carrying out for months. Yet this is where the problem starts. What is terrorism? Might it also include some of the actions of the Israeli Army, which have claimed more than 2,000 Palestinian lives since the start of the second Intifada and ravaged the (civil) infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority? And what about Israel's policy of "extra-judicial killings?"…

While Mr. Bush did appeal to Israel to withdraw its troops from the territories and to stop the settlements, he did not address the core of the problem. Unambiguous U.N. resolutions exist covering those territories and settlements, which Israel has been ignoring for years. But what conditions were placed on Israel? … Mr. Arafat's shortcomings—inadequate democratic structure and terrorism—are enormous obstacles to a Mideast solution. But the catastrophic situation is no less a result of Israeli occupation.