#33: President Bush Redefines Mideast Policy
(April 19, 2004)
President George W. Bush’s letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and statements following meetings between the two leaders, fundamentally shifted U.S. Middle East policy in a way that significantly enhanced the prospects for the creation of a Palestinian state beside a secure and defensible Israel.
President Bush reversed more than a half-century of unsuccessful policies formulated by State Department Arabists predicated on the false premise that if the United States pressured Israel to capitulate to Arab demands, then the Arab world would recognize Israel and U.S.-Arab relations would dramatically improve. Though history has demonstrated that the principal obstacle to peace is the refusal of the Arab world in general, and the Palestinian leadership in particular, to accept Israel’s right to exist, and that U.S.-Arab relations have actually grown stronger as the U.S.-Israel alliance has evolved, the Arabists have clung to their erroneous views. The President has now made clear U.S. policy will not be held hostage to Arab demands, and that he will not accept the specious argument that supporting Israel, and standing up for the democratic values our nations share, will damage relations with Arab states.
By supporting Ariel Sharon’s plan to disengage from the Gaza Strip and begin to pull out from parts of the West Bank, President Bush has given Israel the backing it needs to take these very risky steps for peace.
In particular, President Bush abandoned the inaccurate claims that settlements are illegal and the obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. He endorsed Sharon’s intention to dismantle most settlements, but retain large Jewish communities. He recognized that “in light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”
The President actually is the first U.S. leader since 1967 to align American policy with UN Resolution 242. He rejected the Arab/European/State Department notion that Israel must withdraw to the 1967 lines and committed the United States to insuring that Israel will have “secure and defensible borders” as called for in Resolution 242.
One of the most important policy statements was to put his administration clearly on record against the Palestinian claim that refugees have a “right” to move to Israel, stating that the solution to the refugee issue will “need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel.”
Critics have suggested that by taking these positions President Bush has forfeited America’s role as an “honest broker” and undermined the peace process. On the contrary, all the parties in the region still understand the United States is the only international player that can influence the parties, and remains the sole mediator.
By recognizing realities that others have chosen to ignore, namely, that no Israeli government would ever dismantle cities in the West Bank where tens of thousands of citizens live, that no Israeli leader would ever recognize a “right” for Palestinian refugees to move to Israel, and that no democratically elected Prime Minister would ever withdraw to the 1967 borders, President Bush has forced the Palestinians to abandon longstanding fantasies about what they can expect from negotiations. The Palestinians will also have to give up the hope that the United States or the international community will force Israel to capitulate to their demands.
Since his June 24, 2002, speech, President Bush has accurately described the principal obstacles to progress in peace negotiations as the failure of the Palestinian Authority to end terror and dismantle terrorist organizations, adopt democratic reforms, cease anti-Israel incitement, and find new leadership.
President Bush correctly observed that the Sharon Plan is consistent with the road map and that it represents a “historic and courageous” decision necessitated by the failure of the Palestinians to fulfill their road map commitments.
The President reasserted America’s “steadfast commitment to Israel’s security and to preserving and strengthening Israel’s self-defense capability, including its right to defend itself against terror.”
President Bush also reiterated the U.S. commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state and acknowledged that Sharon’s proposal “allows for contiguous territories so that a Palestinian state can emerge.”
The President’s statements represent perhaps the strongest expression of U.S. support for Israel ever made, and a vital endorsement of Israeli policy at a critical historical juncture. To this point, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has not given a detailed response to the Sharon Plan, but did say that he “completely” supports President Bush’s position that Israel can keep part of the land captured in the 1967 War and that Palestinian refugees cannot go back to Israel.
It is important that the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the United States continue to work in close concert, as they have since both came to power, and not allow those committed to the failed policies of the past, whether they originate from Europe, the UN, Russia, or the U.S. State Department, to derail a plan that can end the stalemate, increase security for Israel, and bring the Palestinian and Israeli people a step closer to a peaceful future.
The “Sharon Plan”