Friday, November 19, 2004

President Bush at the MidEast Crossroads, Nov. 19, 2004

President Bush at the MidEast Crossroads
Creators Syndicate Friday Nov. 19, 2004
By Ray Hanania

It took President Bush a terrorist attack awakening and four years to recognize the importance of resolving the Palestine-Israel conflict.

Better late than never.

Although the conflict has been supercharged with violence for more than a century, his decision to turn his back on the conflict following his election in 2000, rather than carry-on the failed legacy of his predecessor President Clinton, contributed to worsen the conflict.

Without an American president providing reason and guidance, newly elected Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did what he vowed to do all his life, undermining the peace process, provoking violence and engaging in a clear strategy to annex all of the occupied lands rather than exchange them for peace.

Although everyone blames Palestinian President Yasser Arafat for the escalation in violence that took place after the collapse of the Clinton-initiated peace process, the real responsibility rests solidly on Sharon’s shoulders.

Rather than pursue new peace initiatives, Sharon rolled-back all of the peace advances, declared his intent to not only keep Jerusalem as an exclusively Jewish rather than open city, but he also reflected his settler ways in declaring that he would expand rather than remove longstanding illegal Israeli settlements.

The reality is that Sharon was merely expanding on an Israeli policy of the so-called moderates and the extremists. The moderates, led by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Rabin did not eliminate any illegal settlements during the entire peace process. Instead, they expanded existing settlements and reinforced their illegal claim to land circling the East side of Jerusalem on confiscated Arab-owned land.

Rather than push for the dismantling of settlements to promote peace, Rabin, who was assassinated by a Sharon political loyalist in 1995, and Barak sought to solidify their hold on settlements, always believing that despite promises they could retain the land they grabbed after 1967.

Sharon was probably the most honest of the land thieves. He never pretended to support dismantling settlements and believes in not only annexing more land, but insuring that whatever land is returned to Palestinian control in any peace agreement will be insufficient to serve as a basis for a viable independent Palestinian State.

During his first term, driven by anti-Arab advisers like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (who at one time helped support Iraq’s Saddam Hussein) and Vice President Dick Cheney (who has a blind trust benefit in the multi-billion no-bid contracts awarded to his interests in Halliburton), Bush turned his back on peace and allowed Sharon to advance his veiled aggression.

While claiming to be a man of peace, Sharon is clearly the most vicious warmongering leader Israel has ever elected.

President Bush, who claims to want to resolve the conflict, must come to grips with the real Sharon. He no longer must pander to influential pro-Israel American lobbying interests, especially since most pro-Israel votes went to his challenger, John Kerry, in this past election.

If Bush wishes to be remembered for anything besides launching the New Vietnam war in Iraq, he has a real opportunity to make headway in the Palestine-Israel conflict, which is the heart of most violence in the Middle East.

Resolving the Palestine-Israel conflict in a way that guarantees Israel’s right to exist and that combats violence and terrorism from the small but influential rejectionists who oppose peace, and that also grants justice and fairness to the Palestinians is a monumental task that affords an historic achievement of unprecedented proportions.

All it requires is being fair and just. It requires reinvigorating the vision of the failed Rabin-Arafat peace process which called for respect, justice and fairness for both sides.

It means that a secure Jewish Israel must be partnered with a viable Palestinian State that has enough land and honor through the sharing of the Holy City of Jerusalem, which has been closed to most Christian and Muslim Arabs since its occupation in 1967.

It means looking past the clever pro-Israel propaganda that drives America’s ignorance of the Palestine-Israel conflict and see it for what it really is, a conflict between two people who both have legitimate claims to the same land and enforcing a compromise that can work.

Bush cannot wait for the Israelis to replace Sharon with a leader with a genuine passion for Israel’s security that is based on a just peace that embraces his post-election vow to resolve the conflict fairly.

Let’s see if Bush, who is now an experienced foreign affairs leader, can lead. I hope he does.

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