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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Ignoring reality

Shavua tov, a good week to everyone.

As you might imagine, much of the weekend news comment was about President Bush's visit here. The bottom line is that many of us don't think he's being realistic. Not to mention that those who think that there's any chance for peace at all don't think the unpopular Ehud K. Olmert is the man to pull this sort of thing off.
Consider the following: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in an interview published in Newsweek, was asked whether he would resign in wake of the recent investigation against him.

"I don't really see that this will bring any better outcome for the country at this point. Not that a person is indispensable or irreplaceable," Olmert said. "Right now, I think it will be a mistake [to leave], and I have a job to accomplish, a vision to realize. This is the great vision of peace which I think is possible this time more than ever."

Looking out at the region from Israel's window, one has to ask oneself, however, what is it precisely about "this time more than ever" that makes Olmert think the great vision of peace will now take hold? Is it the rockets from Gaza? The flex of Hizbullah's muscle in Lebanon? Or the rhetoric of the Palestinian Authority leaders on "Nakba" day?

Or, consider the following statement US President George W. Bush made to Al Arabiya Television the day before he flew to Israel to join in our 60th anniversary celebrations.

Explaining his rationale behind the current drive to conclude a shelf agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Bush reiterated that the core idea was essentially to dangle before the Palestinians the prospect of what a state of their own would look like, compared to the misery of life under Hamas.

Bush said he was confident - having met a lot of Palestinians and knowing them "fairly well" - that, faced with that stark choice, the Palestinians would opt for peace with Israel.

"They want their children to grow up in peace, and they want to be able to make a living," he said. "Look, the Palestinians are very entrepreneurial people. They know how to make a good living, and that's all they want. And moms want their kids to go to schools, without fear of violence and fear of poverty and fear of disease."

Granted that the last sentence is true [I wouldn't even grant that. CiJ], but how about the preceding one, about the Palestinians just wanting to make a good living? Would that it were so. That sentiment is problematic, because it underplays the power and motivating force of religion and ideology in people's lives, and reduces everything to a mere desire for material well- being, as if everyone would just be happy with a new Maytag washer and dryer. [And that's exactly what many people in the West cannot understand. This is an ethnic conflict. If I am right then you are wrong. And if I am right and you are wrong, my God says I have to kill you. That's the 'Palestinian' - Islamist way of thinking. CiJ].

But Bush knows that isn't so. He spoke in his Knesset speech Thursday of a "clash of visions, a great ideological struggle" in the world. But what he glosses over is the degree to which large segments of the Palestinian population have become enslaved in this struggle to "a narrow vision of cruelty and control by committing murder, inciting fear, and spreading lies."

Instead, he remains tied to a narrative that essentially holds that all the Palestinians really want is peace next to Israel, and that the tragedy over the years is that they have been hijacked by leaders with an extremist ideology. The Bush administration has never come to grips with the fact that in the 2005 elections, the Palestinians were not hijacked by the extremists, but rather willfully and freely gave the extremists the airplane.

Just listen to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, who accompanied Bush to Israel this week, as he gave reporters on Air Force One a telescopic survey of the last seven years of Mideast diplomacy.

Of the 2005 elections, Hadley said, "To everyone's surprise, Hamas wins those elections. [Why was that such a surprise? Every poll issued before that election said it would happen. The US knew it was going to happen. CiJ] It's important, as the President said many times, to understand what that election was about. If you look at the Hamas candidates, many of them were not Hamas members; many of them were school teachers, professors - and their platform was not, 'Vote for me and let's push Israel into the sea.' Their platform was, 'Vote for me and let's work on sewers and roads and educational systems and building the institutions of a Palestinian state.'"

The administration's certainty that what those who voted for Hamas wanted was better sewers and roads seems detached from reality, especially in light of polls showing that support for Hamas since that time has not dwindled substantially. Bush is making a leap of faith that, faced with the following choice - a more prosperous and secure life, but with Israel as a neighbor; or continued suffering for decades, but the prospect of a world without Israel - the Palestinians, indeed the Arab world as a whole, would opt for the former. Empirical evidence, those nasty little facts on the ground, don't necessarily bear that out.
From reading David Horovitz's account of his visit to the oval office, one cannot escape the conclusion that in many ways, the President of the United States lives in an alternative reality. But as you'll see at the end, that reality is the making of Israel's Prime Ministers.
Bush insisted in our interview that the United States is succeeding in Iraq. And that, he asserted, was only one of several reasons why Israel is much better off for the Bush years. Yet this and other assertions he made were sometimes difficult to reconcile with reality as we know it.

For instance, he was adamant that the elections that gave Hamas its Palestinian parliamentary majority were a good thing, in principle, and that he had been right to impose the vote on a very unhappy Mahmoud Abbas and a deeply wary Israel. "One of the reasons I supported the elections in Gaza," said Bush, was "because there had to be a moment for everybody to be able to express themselves, and the [Palestinian voters'] expression, by the way, was, 'We're sick and tired of corrupt government. We were tired of Arafat's false promises; we want to live in peace.'"

Certainly, much of the backing for Hamas was in protest against Fatah's Arafat-led corruption. But a "vote for peace"?

Bush went on to acknowledge that "what they got was a government of war," and that "the truth is Hamas is not a passive political party trying to embetter people's lives; they are trying to destroy Israel."

But then he again articulated a narrative somewhat at odds with the facts on the ground, declaring that "people now see the truth" about Hamas, and that, in the wake of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and amid the current Annapolis negotiations, "all of a sudden the Palestinians say, well, maybe there is a better future for us." [Huh? CiJ].

He sounded abjectly, unpresidentially helpless on Lebanon, which is threatening to collapse before our eyes into a full-fledged Iranian client-state. "The Lebanese democracy is vital for a peaceful Middle East, it's a part of the vision," he declared ringingly. But what exactly is he planning to do to salvage that democracy and thwart Hizbullah?

"I'd advise the world backing [Prime Minister] Saniora," said the president. "He's a good guy. He's tough and he's in a really tough situation. I admire him. And we're doing that by support of the Lebanese armed forces. We believe that he needs to have a modern force behind him that's capable of responding... See, I have found you can't make people have courage. It's a wellspring inside their soul. But you can support courageous people. And so that's our attitude."

If you were the embattled Lebanese prime minister, with Hizbullah at your throat, would that constitute the reassurance you need?

Most troubling, however, were the president's musings on Iran, which he described as "the biggest long-term threat to peace in the Middle East."

It was the Israeli leadership's declared belief, until last year, that Bush would deal with Iran - one way or another, as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was wont to say. But, no, Bush will not deal with Iran. He has not been able to galvanize concerted international economic pressure. And in case he was contemplating it, his own security chiefs' National Intelligence Estimate, by misrepresenting the status of the Iranian nuclear program, stripped him of any justification for military intervention.

So while the president paid lip service to the notion that "all options are on the table," he twice avoided an unequivocal answer when I asked him whether the Iranian nuclear program would be thwarted by the time he stepped down.

The best he could manage was to declare that "what definitely will be done" before the end of the presidency is to put in place "a structure on how to deal with this - to try to resolve this diplomatically; in other words, sanctions, pressures, financial sanctions; a history of pressure that will serve as a framework to make sure other countries are involved. As I told you, all options are on the table."

The mullahs must be quaking.


But as for the substance, he said nothing to back up his insistent optimism that the Palestinian leadership is ready and willing to take viable positions for an accommodation. He offered no basis for his conviction that a framework accord can be signed this year. If anything, he seemed to be focused on just one aspect of any accord - agreement on borders - in the apparent, improbable new hope that progress here will yield breakthroughs on everything from settlements, to Jerusalem, to the Israel-killing Palestinian demand for a refugee "right of return."

Israel has rightly regarded Bush as a friend who fundamentally empathizes with the legitimacy of our sovereignty and our struggle to maintain it. His heart is emphatically in the right place. Acting on conviction, he broke international ranks when severing the US relationship with the despicable, duplicitous Yasser Arafat, he confronted Saddam Hussein, and he internalized the gravity of the threat to the free world embodied by Islamic extremism and its key state sponsor Iran.

But ultimately, as he said himself, he will be judged not only by how clearly he saw the threats to human freedoms, but by how effectively he moved to protect those freedoms. And Israel's fate is inextricably entwined in the judgment.

We ourselves, of course, must always bear the most direct responsibility for our destiny. And we can certainly not complain about being prodded by the Bush administration to make concessions for the sake of a negotiated compromise with the Palestinians. For it is our prime ministers who have told the president that we vitally need that accommodation to survive, our prime ministers who persuaded this willing friend of the imperative.

As he put it during our interview, one of the "interesting" developments to have occurred during his presidency was "the emergence of thought in Israel that the only way to exist in the long term is for there to be a Palestinian state. And it's a powerful idea... I believe in powerful ideas, and I believe with US help that the negotiators can come up with the definition of a state."
That's the bottom line for us Israelis: Our own Prime Ministers have betrayed us. George Bush's perceptions of the Middle East were framed by a helicopter ride he took with Ariel Sharon when Bush was governor of Texas and Sharon was foreign minister. Since then, it's our own Prime Ministers who have betrayed us, by making the creation of 'Palestine' their most important foreign policy goal. George Bush is ignoring reality. Because our Prime Ministers - Sharon and Olmert - have told him to do so.


At 7:23 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

My thoughts exactly. The entire Oslo-Roadmap process has been a huge exercise in wishful thinking. And no more true believers in wishful thinking exist than Israel's leaders. They have convinced themselves if they offer enough, the Palestinians would be willing to end the conflict with Israel. There's nothing in the history of the past decade to bear that out and if faced between a choice of prosperity with an infidel Jewish State in their midst or a generation of misery and a world without Israel in it, the Palestinians have overwhelmingly opted for the former. And no amount of material or territorial bribes can make them budge them from hoping to see Israel's eventual extinction. The peace process will go nowhere because the truth is while the Jews may want peace, the other side doesn't share that dream.


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