So President Bush finally recognizes the urgent need to address the Palestine-Israel conflict. His “vision” of an independent Palestine state, first articulated in 2002, we are told, will be at the center of a major international peace conference to be held in the fall. In 2002, the President essentially said that Arafat was not a partner for peace. In 2007, the President says that Hamas is not a partner for peace. How much has taken place in the intervening years since 2002, and yet the President’s eyes remain shut!? Only the Palestinians must change; Israel is asked to only ‘ease’ the misery of the Palestinians.
However, if ‘better-late-than-never’ guides our hopes even for moments, then we are able to conclude that the President is finally moving somewhat toward restarting the peace process. Since 2000, the United States has made no credible effort to make parties adhere to the “Roadmap for Peace”. In fact, as the Palestinian society reached a point of total breakdown, the US turned a blind eye to Israel’s continued brutal treatment of the Palestinians, ignored its expansion of settlements on expropriated lands, and, above all, consequently delegitimized all moderate forces in Palestine and Israel.
But there is hope. Historically, many American lame duck presidents have a moment in which they can harmlessly bypass the Israeli lobby and endeavor to do the moral thing in the Middle East. President Clinton took advantage of this moment and worked so hard to bridge the differences between the Palestinians and the Israelis. I believe Bush stands a rare chance to do the same now and we support his ambitions.
But if breaking up the Palestinian people is his ultimate game plan – as Israel would like to see, the whole initiative will not only fail but it will immeasurably exacerbate the already volatile atmosphere. Bush’s recent speech, I would argue, was more about isolating Hamas than making peace. By extending economic aid to Fatah, the President is hoping to undermine Hamas’s political status through providing for Palestinian economic needs. This is a conspiracy to isolate Hamas by strengthening Abbas’s Fatah. In so doing, the United States is now engaged in an all out discriminatory and shortsighted policy which will beget serious ramifications upon our perceived role as a neutral mediator in the conflict. This policy will deter other moderate Arab states from appearing to give license to the US to stave off a large segment of the Palestinian people. Hamas political reserve and its political currency are steeped in the Palestinian national narrative and without whom no lasting peace can be achieved.
Unfortunately, with the seemingly irreconcilable differences between Fatah and Hamas, and Bush’s strategy of only supporting Fatah and excluding Hamas, this “feed-and-starve” policy will impede genuine peace because it does not address the true essential cause of the conflict, namely the 40-year-old Israeli occupation. Importantly, Hamas is widely favored by the Palestinian people and their recent clean landslide electoral victory was a testament to its popularity. Bush’s anti-Hamas strategy, even if it leads to some major agreements between Abbas and Israel, will not engender the much needed Palestinian popular support. It simply is an act of political suicide to think that Abbas can deliver the Palestinian people without the endorsement and equal participation of Hamas. Instead of two states west of the River Jordan (Palestine and Israel), Bush’s isolationist policy towards Hamas will produce a third and miserly hostile ‘state’ in Gaza- a prospect not beneficial to the Palestinians, the Israelis, the Egyptians or the United States.
We just found ways to reincorporate Hamas into the political landscape, and history is on our side only if Bush will learn from it. In 1948, when Israel was created, its most active terrorist groups such as Lehi and Stern were merged into the new Israeli government, with almost no opposition by world powers. It was controversial and difficult, particularly for the British, to simply overlook and forget about the horrific assassinations, bombings, and terror campaigns by these gangs. I believe our President in the remainder of his presidency and in light of his off-course adventures in Iraq, can and should be able to “move on” as well. He needs to recognize and address the legitimate and real grievances that fuels Hamas: forty years of Israeli military occupation, the dispossession of the Palestinian people, their yearning for freedom from won’t and from foreign control. The fact is that, as the occupying power, the onus for resolving the conflict rests primarily upon Israel, not the Palestinians. Just as occupation and repression can never justify terrorism, neither can terrorism justify occupation and repression.
Bush could begin to finally act on our behalf as American people, rather than see the conflict only through the prism of the anti-American Israeli lobby. It is our President who is at a moral and historical crossroad; he feels the burden of how history will look at his reign and he sincerely wants his legacy to eclipse Iraq’s quagmire. To do so, Bush must recognize that the real cause of instability and insecurity in the region is Israel’s military occupation – the end of which will give credible chance to a genuine peace and for his dream of a Palestine State to come true. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Justice cannot be for one side alone. It must be for both sides.” A Palestine state, sovereign and truly independent, is in the best national and strategic interests of the United States. Working towards this goal will irrefutably demonstrate America’s commitment to justice and fairness. Sadly, Israel’s lobby in Washington will always hide this fact from this and future Presidents of the United States.
Aref Assaf, PhD