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Resolving the Settlements Issue is Not Enough - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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US President George Bush arrives in Israel today to launch from there a tour of the Palestinian Authority and some Arab countries.

President Bush has two declared objectives.

The first is to push forward the negotiations between Israel and the PA which have been grounded on the rock of the continuation of settlement activities. The second is to attempt to push Arab-Israeli relations in the direction of more normalization. As to the undeclared objective of the visit, which is the real objective, it is to promote through the media an impression that the US Administration’s policy is successful, continuous and active, and that it has not failed as everybody says. Israel has put in place intensive security measures to protect the President. For example, movement of vehicles on the main highways will be stopped on the day of his arrival, despite the hardships this means and the paralysis of the movement of people.

These unprecedented security precautions have brought back to mind Israeli statements about a previous visit that Condoleezza Rice paid to Israel, when officials were later asked: was the visit successful or not? The reply was that the visit was very successful. Why?

Because Rice returned to Washington alive.

Such evaluation contains an allusion that that whoever pressures Israel will be killed, and whoever agrees to its plans returns alive to his country. Such Israeli crudeness has no justification in the case of President Bush, for he is not just a president who supports Israel. He is the biggest scheme of all that can grant it more military and political power against its Palestinian and Arab neighbors. If there is Israeli crudeness in commenting on US visits, there is American crudeness in dealing with the Palestinians. President Bush’s program includes a visit to Ramallah and a meeting with President Mahmud Abbas, but there is an official US refusal to a visit the mausoleum of Arafat and place a wreath there.

This is because President Bush considers Arafat a terrorist. He is the one who made the plans for his ouster and for pushing him out as a condition for moving ahead with efforts for a two-state solution and success for the road map. How can he then visit his mausoleum? Bush wants to tell the Palestinians that he is visiting them because Arafat is over, and because the Palestinians were good so they elected a new and democratic leadership instead of the terrorist leadership of Arafat. But Bush will notice during his visit the prominent manifestations remaining everywhere from celebrations marking the anniversary of the birth of Fatah, with pictures of Arafat forming a basic feature. When he holds his meeting with Abbas in his office, the photo of Arafat will be hanging in the center. We ardently hope that US protocol will not demand the lifting of the photo during the meeting and that the Palestinian President will not acquiesce if such a demand is made.

The dominant feature of the visit will be Bush’s requesting from Israel that it stop “expanding” the settlements. It is a matter that it most probably will approve. An agreement to cease “expanding” the settlements is a basic Palestinian demand for continuation of the negotiations. But this condition will be weak if it is not comprehensive, and will become weaker if the Palestinian negotiator does not object to the Israeli interpretation of it. First: the issue has become confined to “ceasing the expansion” but the settlements themselves and their continuation appear to have become a fait accompli. Second: the issue has become confined to removing the settlement “foci” that are unlicensed. But it appears that the settlements that are licensed–the basic and the bigger ones–have become outside the matter. Ehud Olmert, in his interview with the Jerusalem Post newspaper at the outset of the year, confesses that “the road map commits Israel to halt all construction “expansion” of settlements. But he considers that this applies to the West Bank and not to the settlements in the area of Jerusalem because in his book these are part of Israel and because they comprise 80% of the settlers. So if these two issues are set aside, the Palestinian “victory” in halting the “expansion” of the settlements with the support of President Bush will become a victory that farcical. Further, dangerous future concessions will be built on it. Also if the Palestinian negotiator confines his demands from President Bush to halting the “expansion” of the settlements as a condition for launching the negotiations, Olmert will be delighted with that.

He explicitly expresses his delight in the interview to which we alluded: He says: he does not imagine a permanent agreement with the Palestinians along the borders of1967. The settlement of Maalih Adumim for example is an indivisible part of Jerusalem and Israel. He also says: Israel will be able to keep some regions on the West Bank in any peace agreement, with the approval of the United States. He goes on: what is exceptional about President George Bush is that since the historic message he wrote to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, he has made it clear that he visualized that Israel would keep some parts of Judea and Samaria (that is, the West Bank), and that Bush said: the “1967 borders”, and this is considered a stunning achievement for Israel. He also says: the road map commits Israel to halt all construction in the settlements but Bush’s message allows extremely important flexibility on what is outlined in the roadmap. On this basis, the settlement of Maalih Adumim is an indivisible part of Jerusalem and of the state of Israel.

He also says: Israel will never accept the right of repatriation of the Palestinians to Israel. I am convinced that President Mahmud Abbas has in his heart made up the choice between holding on to the legend of the right to repatriation and the opportunity to establish a Palestinian state. He concluded: President Bush does not exercise pressure on Israel in any way. He does not do anything that I have not agreed to with him. He does not support anything that I oppose. In the light of this clear and explicit Israeli stand, which is based on Bush’s message to Sharon of 04/14/2004, any Palestinian negotiations with Bush would be meaningless if no reference is made to that message, and if Palestinian and Arab rejection of it is not communicated to him and he is not informed that it violates international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. The malady lies in that US stand, for it is a dangerous stand that repeats the Balfour Declaration of 1919 and complements it. It is a dangerous stand that carries with it the weight of the superpower, tempting Israel to depend on it and turn it into official policy. It is a dangerous stand that bases the negotiations on a call to the Palestinians to capitulate, and on a call to the Arabs to abandon their initiative. Let us remember that the Bush message to Sharon contains the following: US consent not to return to the 1967 borders: US consent to maintain the settlements; US consent to abolish repatriation rights for the refugees; US consent to continuation of Israel’s control in any settlement of the air, territorial waters, and overland passages (crossing points) on the West Bank and Gaza.

These are some of the points contained in Bush’s message to Sharon. It is more important, more dangerous and worse than the stipulation on “halting the expansion of the settlements”. The negotiations with Bush must be about it. Otherwise, ignoring it means surrendering to it. So is there anyone who dares to say to the US President: Stop. You have exceeded the limits.

Bilal Al-Hassan

Bilal Al-Hassan

Bilal Al-Hassan is a distinguished journalist and political analysts specializing in Arab–Israeli affairs. He is based in Paris.

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