Three Years To Statehood Without Arafat
Vol: 9 Issue: 25 Tuesday, June 25, 2002
President Bush gave his anticipated speech outlining his vision for the Middle East peace process. The White House didn’t give the speech that many expected.
Instead of embracing the Saudi peace plan as expected, Bush drove what many hope was the final nail into the coffin of Yasser Arafat’s rule over the Palestinian Authority.
Bush called for new Palestinian leadership “not compromised by terror” — a clear reference to Arafat without calling him by name, and falling just short of declaring Arafat a terrorist.
When the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbors, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state, whose borders and certain aspects of its sovereignty will be provisional until resolved as part of a final settlement in the Middle East, Bush said.
Most Palestinian leaders — not to mention the European press — were outraged by the Bush speech, which was timed to be delivered just before midnight in the Middle East.
Arafat was caught off-balance, initially calling the speech, “a serious effort to push the peace process forward” before sending out an indignant Saeb Erekat to denounce any effort to remove Arafat through new elections.
Bush set a high standard for US recognition of Palestinian statehood — a standard that would break the back of the terrorist stranglehold on the Palestinian government. In fact, he set the standard so high he all but ruled it out.
“If Palestinians embrace democracy, confront corruption, and firmly reject terror, they can count on America’s support for creation of a provisional state of Palestine.”
If the Palestinians embrace democracy — they will be the first Arab state in history to do so in practice, rather than in name.
If they were to confront corruption, the entire Palestinian Authority would soon stand where only six months ago, so-called ‘Israeli collaborators’ had stood — in front of a Palestinian firing squad.
It sounds harsh, but no harsher than the penalty meted out by those same corrupt officials to ordinary Palestinian citizens whose crime of wanting peace and a better life cost them their lives.
And a firing squad is a far more merciful death than being beaten and stomped to death by a cheering crowd, dragged through the streets and then hanged in Manger Square.
If the Palestinians were to firmly reject terror, the only state in the Middle East with whom the Palestinians would enjoy mutual recognition would be Israel.
Once what Bush said had sunk in, Arafat’s initial reaction to the speech as “a serious effort to push the peace process forward” was replaced with a more typical response.
Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said the call for a new leadership was “not acceptable”.
Palestinian Cabinet Secretary Ahmed Abdel Rahman said Bush had “mixed up” the concepts of terrorism and resistance to Israeli occupation.
Rahman fell back on the tired old argument that Arafat was “directly elected leader in free and fair elections… and President Bush must respect the choice of the Palestinian people”.
Rahman ignored the fact Arafat’s [and the entire PA leadership’s] terms expired three years ago after Arafat suspended elections. And that the new leadership of which President Bush was referring would come about as a consequence of ‘direct free and fair elections’.
The speech represented a middle of the road approach to what is a split in the Bush cabinet regarding the right way to move forward.
On one side of the schism is Colin Powell and the State Department, who still favor all things Saudi — including the ‘new’ Saudi peace plan that calls for the implementation of UN Resolutions 242 and 339 and a return to 1967 borders.
[Resolution 242 was passed in 1967 following the 1967 Six Days War, 339 passed in 1973 following the Yom Kippur War. What’s new here?]
The other camp, supported by Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld share Israel’s philosophical opposition to rewarding Palestinian terrorism with statehood.
The Bush plan falls somewhere in the middle. It contains no provision for rewarding terror. But it does contain a provision for eventual Palestinian statehood along the lines of the 1967 borders.
Under the Bush plan, Israel is under no obligation to negotiate with the Palestinians unless those reforms are met.
President Bush’s speech is intended to be the kiss of death for the regime of Yasser Arafat.
In most respects, it was brilliant. But there remains one fatal flaw in the carefully planned diplomatic trap.
In the event the Palestinians do hold free and fair elections, what happens if Arafat wins?
Bush may not have considered that possibility, but you can bet that Jerusalem is already drawing up contingency plans to prevent that from happening.