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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bush gives, Bush takes away

In today's JPost, David Horovitz has a disturbing account of part of his oval office interview with US President George W. Bush last week. In it, Horovitz discusses the letter that Bush issued to Ariel Sharon in April 2004 suggesting that the US would support Israel on keeping 'settlement blocs' in Judea and Samaria as part of any 'final settlement' with the 'Palestinians.' Now, the Bush administration is backing away from the vague commitment embodied in the letter, which Sharon regarded as a quid pro quo for expelling Gaza's Jews from their home, and as his administration's big diplomatic achievement, because, in Horovitz's words, 'Swiss cheese trumps a four-year old letter.'
"What I'll be doing is encouraging people to see if they can reach agreement on what the borders of a state will look like, for example," he said, "because once you can define the borders of a state, then you can deal with the settlement issue in much more concrete terms..."

Not only do settlements come after borders on the agenda, moreover. So does the "right of return." I asked the president whether he believed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was prepared to relinquish that demand for a mass Palestinian influx into Israel. And he phrased his response in the context of borders: When it comes to the right of return, he said, "The question is, how bad do people want to have a state defined?... Tough issues... It makes it an easier issue if there is a clearer, clearly defined state that's contiguous in territory, for someone on the Palestinian side to say, oh, okay."

In other words, if Israel and the Palestinians could agree on the borders of a Palestinian state, in Bush's assessment, that might give the Palestinian leadership the push to take a viable position on the issue of the refugees.

All of which seems to add up to a more gentle, presidential way of saying what Rice said much more bluntly last week: "They need to draw a map and get it done." And if Bush was rather vague on the ostensible commitments he'd made to Israel in a half-forgotten letter, he was strikingly specific about what the Palestinians had the right to expect on the border issue.

"We... try to make sure that the Palestinians understand that we believe in the contiguous state," he said. "It can't look like Swiss cheese. How can you have a hopeful place if you're not really in charge of a contiguous territory?... It won't be a viable state."
I suppose this should not come as much of a surprise to any of you. After all, the commitment was never explicit, and other members of Bush's foreign policy team have downplayed it before. Take, for instance, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley:
"That letter was issued now almost four years ago...," Hadley said at one point. "It had an impact in April of 2004, at the time it was issued - as a way of giving support to prime minister Sharon when he did a very bold thing, which was to decide to disengage from Gaza. And it was an effort to show where some bold step like that might at some point lead. But it was really issued at the time of the Gaza disengagement..."
In other words, "we never really meant it." Olmert somehow missed that message during Bush's last trip here three months ago:
Olmert, in an interview last week with the Post, said that while the road map called for a freeze to settlement activity, including natural growth, "if everything began and ended with that, then that's what we have to do according to our commitment. But as you know well, America, which sponsored the road map, President Bush, on the 14th of April, 2004, sent a letter that said one can't ignore the demographic reality unfolding in the territories and that this will certainly need to be given expression in the agreements between us and the Palestinians. And this, I would say, renders flexible to a degree the significance of what is written in the road map."
Now that Bush has been convinced that 'Swiss cheese' is the paramount issue when it comes to borders, it is frightening to think how he might suggest resolving the real elephant in the room: How to connect Gaza to Judea and Samaria. Of course, the Hamas takeover in Gaza may play right into the Americans' hands on that question by making it moot.

So much for Ariel Sharon's big diplomatic achievement.


At 12:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel so great, being one of the "I told you so"'s when the letter came out back in 2004. A real ego boost, yessiree!


At 12:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Example of 2004's complacent mediocrity:

Isi Leibler: ...support it.

At 1:58 PM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...

Shy Guy,

I'm also from the "I told you so" crowd. I'm shocked that Leibler supported it. He's usually sharper than that.

At 3:01 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

How do you create a contiguous Palestinian state without making Israel indefensible? That's the elephant in the room which eludes any real agreement. A look at the map will show why it isn't possible to square Palestinian contiguity with the requirement of security for Israel.

At 3:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Leibler used to also be best pals with Beilin and was one of those people who actually met Arafat personally and shook his hand.

His columns are either hit-or-miss or parve after the fact pieces.

At 1:09 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Sure a Gaza incursion could play into American/Saudi/Arab League hands, and not just by helping with the contiguity problem, but in justifying foreign troops.


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