Ilankai Tamil Sangam

23rd Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Bush's Best Hope

by Roger Cohen, The New York Times, November 26, 2007

President Bush is on the exit track. It’s time to rectify the fundamental error he made in allowing war-on-terror rhetoric to discredit the Palestinian national movement.

The upcoming conference in Annapolis, Maryland near Washington, DC is an interesting example of a state and non-state entity in conflict going into negotiations without a prior agreement and what looks like no common ground. It will be instructive to see how hard heads are knocked together and if anything productive comes of the knocking. Can a Western-educated ex-World Banker make a deal that the Palestinians will find acceptable? Ed. Comm.

The Palestinians are the cause of exiting and ex-presidents. There’s no electoral payback in supporting them. Jews and Israel-loving evangelicals dwarf any Arab lobby to the extent it’s not even funny.

President Bush is on the exit track. It’s time to rectify the fundamental error he made in allowing war-on-terror rhetoric to discredit the Palestinian national movement.

His best hope in Annapolis may be the Texas connection. If Bush gets behind Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister who attended the University of Texas, things may move. But he has to stick with him.

Fayyad, 55, is the can-do face of the Palestinian movement. Like his people, he’s long been in the wilderness. Unlike many of them, he hasn’t succumbed to the culture of the victim. “One year,” he said in an hour-long conversation, “is more than adequate to come to a peace treaty and end this conflict.”

In seven years in office, Bush has been uninterested in such an ending. He hallucinated about roads from Baghdad to Jerusalem. He talked about two states and lost interest. American Middle East policy has been distracted and unbalanced.

Now, overcoming his Clinton angst, Bush has summoned the parties to Annapolis, Md. It’s late in the day. The rising Middle Eastern power, Iran, has not been invited. Nor has Hamas. What’s present in abundance is desperation. Bush must use it.

The Palestinians are desperate because they are at a dead end. They’ve been the losers over six decades through ineptitude, corruption, Arab hypocrisy and their susceptibility to victims’ hollow consolations. As Fayyad noted, “Last year more than 50,000 Palestinians emigrated. How is that consistent with ending the occupation?”

Israeli desperation is quieter. The economy has blossomed, but not the Israeli soul. Four decades of occupation since the 1967 war have been a scourge. Jewish precariousness persists. The diaspora Jew did not go to Zion to build the Jew among nations.

Bush faces Palestinian weakness and compromised Israeli strength. He must offset weakness by standing with the Palestinians on core demands. He must insist on Israeli sacrifice — territorial and ideological — in the name of U.S.-guaranteed security. “Without peace,” Bush should tell the Israelis, “the Arab birth rate and the jihadist tide will eventually wash over you.”

Fayyad told me he’s coming into the conference Tuesday “disappointed that more progress has not been made.” On core issues — Jerusalem, borders, settlements — impasse has prevailed. Annapolis can solve nothing; it can only jump-start an intense process.

That process needs three elements, Fayyad told me. First, explicit framing within the context of U.N. Security Council resolutions, including 242, that makes clear Israel’s obligation to, in Fayyad’s words, “end the occupation that began in 1967.”

Second, Annapolis must produce an Israeli commitment to freeze West Bank settlements and remove illegal settler outposts, paralleled by Palestinian commitments to “institution-building and fighting terrorism.”

Third, “we must get a reference to a timeline, a conclusion of final status peace within the Bush presidency.”

Fayyad is right. A return to the 1967 lines, plus or minus agreed swaps, is the only basis for a two-state accord. An Israeli settlement freeze is the first step to a Palestinian buy-in. A timetable is the anchor all the talking needs.

I asked Fayyad how he’d reassure Israel about security. He became animated. “Political pluralism is fine, but I can’t tolerate security pluralism. There’s no such thing as militias running around taking decisions! That has led to catastrophe. Law and order is basic. I said in a speech the other day that Nablus is more important than Annapolis! It is. The people of Nablus need security, just like Israelis.”

And Hamas? “The Palestinian state will be in the West Bank and Gaza, so the current situation is a big problem for implementation. But we’re not there yet. We are talking about a binding agreement with the state of Israel. Our domestic situation will be sorted out by then.”

Fayyad continued: “I want to end the occupation yesterday! I feel no less strongly than these Hamas people talking about resistance. But we have to mean what we say. In 1993, we renounced violence and recognized Israel. We must stick with that.”

Bush must tell Israel it’s strong enough to bet on Fayyad’s vision of coexistence. He must cash in arms-supply chips with the Iran-fearing Saudis to get their support. Make Arab moderation mean something.

Israel is powerful, but Palestinian humiliation is an Israeli and Jewish nightmare. I feel it; many American Jews feel it. This is not what David Ben-Gurion had in mind when he sought to forge a proud people from one “hung up in midair.”

Bush delivering Palestine is a far-fetched notion. Still, it’s time for the Texas connection to get the ball moving down the field.