Middle East

Israeli Press Reaction to Bush’s New Middle East Policy

A New Member in Likud

George Bush
President George Bush delivers an address on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the White House, June 24, 2002 (Photo: AFP).

The mouth was that of [U.S.] President [George] 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.

From the political point of view, it seems that Sharon can unbuckle his belt and relax: Bush's notes don't require a single thing from Sharon. [According to Bush’s plan,] the leadership of the Palestinian Authority will first be changed… then a temporary Palestinian state will be founded, that will negotiate secure and reasonable borders with the state of Israel, "unless the Messiah arrives first."

[Israeli Foreign Minister] 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 blow, perhaps the most serious yet, against the possibility of renewed negotiations.

Bush’s call to change the [Palestinian] leadership—meaning Arafat—will achieve the exact opposite: It will force the other Palestinian leaders to reunite around the beleaguered Arafat. Peres knows what his Palestinian interlocutors will say: What is all this talk about democracy, transparency, and free trade? Why are they demanding from Arafat what they don't demand from [Syrian President Bashar Al-]Assad, from [Jordanian King] Abdullah, from the Saudi Royal House, or from [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak?

Bush's speech includes the idea from the working papers of Peres and [Palestinian negotiator] Abu Allah for the creation of a temporary Palestinian while the final borders are determined… but the speech does away with the firm timetable that the working papers gave to the final status negotiations. Without a timetable, at best we are talking about a soufflé: Perhaps it will rise, perhaps it won't. In the poor climate of the Middle East, it probably won't.

In other words, if the past two years killed the Oslo Agreement, the Bush speech buries it in the pages of history. The White House is not interested in assisting or getting involved in negotiations: The White House is interested in an alibi that will justify keeping the president from putting his healthy head into our sick bed. Pity that curly haired-head [that is, Bush’s head] isn’t built for Middle Eastern despair.

The speech did have a few positive points that will be good for the entire region. Among them: a call to all of the Arab states to stop funding Palestinian and Lebanese terrorist organizations. The call is directed to Saudi Arabia and Syria. There is also return to the principle set by Bush immediately after Sept. 11: There are countries that fight against terrorism and there are countries that support terrorism. America will not allow those countries to play between terror and terror.

Sharon promised to bring "peace and security" to Israel. Unfortunately, he has failed on both scores. But he has fulfilled another promise that he didn't give: He added Bush as a temporary member of the Likud Party. Now Sharon has no other alternative but to open a Likud branch on Pennsylvania Avenue.