David Morrison / Labour & Trade Union Review – 2008-01-31 23:07:13
LONDON (20 January 2007) — “Bush calls for end to Israeli occupation” was the headline on a story in The Guardian on 11 January 2008, reporting on a speech by President Bush in the King David Hotel, Jerusalem. The headline reflected the following portion of the President’s speech:
“There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967. The agreement must establish Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people. These negotiations must ensure that Israel has secure, recognized, and defensible borders. And they must ensure that the state of Palestine is viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent.” 
However, a couple of paragraphs later the President qualified his call for “an end to the occupation” by saying:
“While territory is an issue for both parties to decide, I believe that any peace agreement between them will require mutually agreed adjustments to the armistice lines of 1949 to reflect current realities.”
In fact, it is not for both parties to decide. The US and Israel have already decided upon major adjustments — and the Palestinians had no say in the matter.
In April 2004, Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, persuaded Bush to reward him in advance for “disengagement” from Gaza (which eventually took place in August 2005). The reward was set out in a letter from Bush to Sharon dated 14 April 2004, which said:
“In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations 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 … . It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.” 
Because Israel was going to “disengage” from Gaza, and remove 9,000 Jewish colonists, the US agreed to allow Israel to hold on to large areas of the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in perpetuity because of “new realities on the ground”, in other words, because Israel has planted 400,000+ Jewish colonists in these areas.
Just suppose Mexico invaded and occupied a portion of Texas and planted 400,000+ colonists there, would the US agree that these “new realities on the ground” earned Mexico the right to annex the portion of Texas it had occupied? Probably not.
No Right of Return
In this letter, President Bush also agreed with Sharon that Palestinian refugees should not be allowed to return to Israel, saying:
“It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair, and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel.” 
So, it is now the official policy of the US that every Jew in this world has a right to return to Israel, but no Arab has a right to return to Israel, even if s/he was born there.
This agreement with the US helped Prime Minister Sharon domestically to defend his decision to “disengage” from Gaza and remove 9,000 Jewish settlers. When asked by a journalist on 15 February 2005:
“How does it help the state of Israel to pull out of Gaza and get nothing in return?”
“I don’t think we made that compromise without getting anything in return. On the contrary, in the agreement between President Bush and myself we had tremendous achievements that Israel never had since its establishment, like the issue of the Palestinian refugees who will only be able to return to a Palestinian state. I would say the issue of the population blocs that are heavily populated by Jews, will be part of the Jewish state in the future … I did not mention all the important things that are in the agreement between myself and President Bush, so I think it is a mistake to say that Israel didn’t get anything, Israel got many important things.” 
Getting the unequivocal, publicly expressed, support of the US for the annexation of large areas of the West Bank and East Jerusalem (and for no right of return for Palestinians to Israel) was indeed a tremendous achievement by Ariel Sharon. As US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, told journalists on 7 January 2008, this was something “an American President had not been willing to say before” .
No Surprises for Israel
It could be said that the Bush-Sharon letter merely formalised previously unstated US policy positions. Maybe so, but from now on, Israel can be confident that the US is not going to put pressure on it to end the occupation of the colonised areas of the West Bank and East Jerusalem or to allow Palestinian refugees to return to Israel.
A Jerusalem Post report on 12 January 2008 made it clear that Prime Minister Olmert wasn’t in the least bit concerned by Bush’s “occupation must end” speech. Here’s an extract:
“A senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office said that Bush’s statement on the contours of a future Palestinian state was ‘in accordance with the understandings reached between us and the American[s], and there were no surprises’.
“The official said the statement was a continuation of longstanding positions of the Bush administration. ‘We see the Bush remarks as a positive basis for moving forward with the Palestinians’, the official said. …
“Jerusalem was also pleased that Bush essentially reiterated what was written in his 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon – namely that final borders will entail mutually agreed adjustments, language that Israel interprets to mean a US recognition that Israel can hold onto the large settlement blocs in a future agreement.” 
So much for Bush’s statement that “there should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967”.
Israel’s Bottom Line
It can be guaranteed that the position set out in the Bush-Sharon letter will be Israel’s bottom line in any future negotiations with the Palestinians. Olmert confirmed that in remarks at Annapolis on 28 November 2007:
“The negotiations will be based on previous agreements between us, UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the Roadmap and the April 14th 2004 letter from President Bush to the Prime Minister of Israel.” 
Of course, if serious negotiations ever take place, Israel will have additional territorial demands. For example, it will insist that it control the Jordan Valley, since it will never allow a Palestinian state to have free access to another Arab state.
Other Security Council Resolutions
Olmert cites Security Council resolution 242 and 338 (which demands the implementation of 242) as a basis for negotiations. The Security Council has passed many other resolutions about Israel/Palestine in the 40 years since 242 was passed in November 1967, some of them highly relevant to the establishment of a Palestinian state, which is supposed to be the subject of his negotiations with President Abbas. Here are two examples:-
Resolution 252  (passed on 21 May 1968) demands that Israel reverse its annexation of East Jerusalem. It says:
2. [The Security Council] Considers that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, including expropriation of land and properties thereon, which tend to change the legal status of Jerusalem are invalid and cannot change that status;
3. [The Security Council] Urgently calls upon Israel to rescind all such measures already taken and to desist forthwith from taking any further action which tends to change the status of Jerusalem;
Resolution 446  (passed on 22 March 1979) demands, not for the first time, that Israel cease settlement building in the territories it occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, and remove those it has built. It says:
[The Security Council] Calls once more upon Israel, as the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, to rescind its previous measures and to desist from taking any action which would result in changing the legal status and geographical nature and materially affecting the demographic composition of the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, and, in particular, not to transfer parts of its own civilian population into the occupied Arab territories;
Obviously, Olmert ignores these resolutions because they require actions by Israel and Israel alone and don’t require negotiations with any other party, actions that Israel could have taken at any time but has refused for decades to take. But, if the principles laid down by the Security Council over the years are to be the basis for negotiations, why should only those laid down in 242 be applicable?
(It should be emphasised that in total Israel is violating about 30 Security Council resolutions that require action by it and it alone – see list compiled by Stephen Zunes ).
242: no action required
Olmert cited 242 because it doesn’t require any action by Israel.
242 was passed on 22 November 1967, a few months after Israel had acquired large swathes of territory (the West Bank and Gaza plus Sinai and the Golan Heights) by war, contrary to the Articles 2 of the UN Charter. One might have thought that the Security Council, as the guardian of the UN Charter, would have required Israel to withdraw unconditionally from the territory it had recently acquired by war, contrary to the UN Charter, as Iraq was required to do after it invaded Kuwait in August 1990.
But 242 didn’t require Israel to do anything. It merely stated an opinion that “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” should be conditional on the “termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force” 
For 40 years, 242 has provided an ideal vehicle for Israeli prevarication about withdrawal from the territories it occupied in 1967. And that is why it is trotted out again at this time, and why 252 and 446 that require Israel to act unconditionally, and immediately, are ignored.
Violating 30 or so Resolutions
I am at a loss to understand why the Palestinian leadership doesn’t draw the world’s attention continuously to the fact that Israel is violating 30 or so Security Council resolutions that require action by it and it alone. When Olmert says he intends to proceed on the basis of 242, why does the Palestinian leadership not demand that Israel begin by ceasing its violation of 252 and 446? If 242 is relevant to the creation of a Palestinian state, are the later resolutions 252 and 446 not also relevant?
These resolutions are particularly relevant now that Israel is taking the position set out in the Bush-Sharon letter as its bottom line. The justification for Israel keeping large areas of the West Bank and East Jerusalem is “the new realities on the ground”, in other words, that Israel planted 400,000+ Jewish settlers there in violation of 446.
When Bush held a press conference with Abbas in Ramallah on 10 January 2008, a Palestinian journalist put it to Bush that he had “launched war against Iraq after the Iraqi leadership refused to implement the United Nations resolutions” and asked “what is the problem to ask Israel just to accept and to respect the United Nations resolutions relating to the Palestinian problem” .
Bush didn’t understand what he was talking about and dismissed the suggestion by saying “look, the UN deal didn’t work in the past”. In a sense he is right, but it didn’t work because Israel has serially violated Security Council resolutions — and the US supported it in doing so.
But, think of the impact the journalist would have made if he had been more specific and asked Bush why he doesn’t make Israel unannex East Jerusalem as required by resolution 252 and make Israel remove its settlements as required by resolution 446? And was the US going to launch a war against Israel if it refused to implement them?
Why, at this late stage of his presidency, has Bush decided to press Israel into a process of negotiations with Palestinians, ostensibly about establishing a Palestinian state? He could have done so at any time since he came to power in January 2001, since when about 1,000 Israelis and 4,500 Palestinians have been killed.
The Taba Summit, which followed on from the Camp David talks the previous July, took place from 21-27 January 2001, so there was an ongoing process when Bush was inaugurated on 20 January 2001. This process was terminated by Ariel Sharon when he was elected a couple of weeks later. Like Sharon, Bush refused to have anything to do with the duly elected Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat.
On 24 June 2002, in what was hailed as a landmark speech, President Bush committed the US to a two-state solution in Palestine for the first time . However, there was a condition – Palestinians had to get “a new and different Palestinian leadership”, whether they wanted to or not. Unable to get rid of Yasser Arafat altogether, the US settled for a plan to sideline him.
It forced the Palestinians to change their Constitution: some of the president’s powers, for example, control of the various Palestinian security forces, were to be transferred to a Prime Minister acceptable to the US and Israel. The US-approved Mahmoud Abbas was that Prime Minister, appointed on 19 March 2003.
Having got an acceptable Prime Minister to negotiate with, the US published a “roadmap” to a Palestinian state on 30 April 2003 . Bush visited the Middle East in early June and met Sharon and Abbas at Aqaba, Jordan on 4 June 2003. But no negotiations took place.
A unilateral process of “disengagement” became Sharon’s big idea. He floated it in late 2003 and got the US seal of approval for it in April 2004, when, as we have seen, he was rewarded handsomely by Bush for promising to “disengage” from Gaza.
The death of President Arafat in November 2004 and the election of Abbas to replace him in January 2005 didn’t increase US enthusiasm for negotiations, despite the fact that Fatah controlled both the presidency and the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). After Hamas gained control of the PLC in January 2006, all US efforts were concentrated in undoing the result of the election. They succeeded in June 2007 and the legitimate Hamas-led National Unity Government, properly endorsed by the PLC in accordance with the Palestinian constitution, was replaced by an entity, led by US-approved Salam Fayyad, which has no democratic legitimacy whatsoever, since it hasn’t been endorsed by the PLC.
Placating Sunni Allies
US pressure on Israel to open negotiations with Palestinians began a year or so ago. It was driven by the need, because of its difficulties in Iraq, to placate its “moderate” Sunni allies in the region – Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States – and enlist them in its confrontation with its “extremist” enemies – first and foremost Iran but also Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.
Since the autumn of 2006, US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, has visited the Middle East about 10 times. She was in Riyadh on 15-16 January 2007 and met King Abdullah. At a press conference later with Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faysal, she said:
“I did say to His Royal Highness [King Abdullah] that the United States would deepen its involvement in the efforts to find a peace between Palestinians and Israelis so that the President’s vision of two states living side by side in peace and security could be realized, and described some of the efforts that we will be making over the next several weeks. I look forward to further discussion of that issue with the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council], Jordan and Egypt this evening.” 
So, there’s not much doubt that the US’s new found enthusiasm for negotiations about a Palestinian state is derived from a calculation of its own interests in the Middle East, and not from a sudden outbreak of concern for the lot of Palestinians.
Will There Be an Agreement?
But, does Bush really expect an agreement to be reached in 2008? It’s very unlikely. But the effort has to look serious, if it is to serve US interests. Hence, the optimism – and the appearance, to an unprecedented degree for this administration, of being sympathetic to Palestinians and hard on Israel.
That’s why Bush used the word “occupation” and said there should be an end to it. That’s why Rice has been comparing the lot of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation to that of black Americans in the southern states when she was a child (see Aluf Benn in Haaretz on 27 December 2007 ). That’s why Rice has stated unequivocally that all Israeli settlement activity must cease, as required by the roadmap, and made it clear that “the United States doesn’t make a distinction” between settlement activity in east Jerusalem and the West Bank .
Both parties agreed at Annapolis that they would carry out their obligations under the roadmap, and that the US would be the judge of whether this was being done. Under the roadmap, Israel is supposed to “freeze all settlement activity”. Standing beside Bush at a press conference on 9 January 2008, Olmert made it clear that Israel didn’t agree with Rice’s view that “all” meant “all”, saying:
“[Our Palestinian partners] know that there is a moratorium on new settlements and the new expropriation of land in the Territories. And they also know, and we have made it clear that Jerusalem, as far as we are concerned, is not in the same status. And they know that the population centers are not in the same status.” 
In other words, according to Olmert, settlement activity is allowed in East Jerusalem and within any of the existing settlement blocs on the West Bank. Will the US make Israel toe the line? Perhaps, since the purpose of the exercise us to placate its Sunni allies in the region.
Has there been any progress in the negotiations? Of course, there has been a major international conference at Annapolis in late November 2007, which was attended by some 50 states and organisations, including Tony Blair and the Vatican (see US State Department account ). T
he outcome? Olmert and Abbas agreed to enter into negotiations about establishing a Palestinian state, which they had agreed long before they went there. Annapolis must rank as one of the most pointless international conferences ever held.
In July 2007, Bush announced that an international conference would be held in the autumn. Over the next four months, Olmert and Abbas, and later negotiating teams led by Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, and former Palestinian Prime Minister, Ahmed Qureia, met continuously to work on a “declaration of principles” on final status issues: Jerusalem, borders, settlements, refugees, security, and water.
Olmert wanted to keep the declaration vague in order to avoid concessions that would cause him difficulty domestically and perhaps bring down his government, whereas Abbas wanted it to address final status issues seriously in order to show that negotiations could lead to the end of occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state. They failed to produce a “declaration of principles”.
Instead, a “joint understanding” was agreed by the two parties – with great difficulty at the very last moment – and read out to the conference by Bush. This said that they agreed to enter into negotiations about establishing a Palestinian state:
“We agree to engage in vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations, and shall make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008. For this purpose, a steering committee, led jointly by the head of the delegation of each party, will meet continuously, as agreed.” 
But, since in four months before Annapolis, continuous negotiations couldn’t agree a “declaration of principles” on final status issues, it would be unwise to expect much from post-Annapolis negotiations, no matter how vigorous.
The Annapolis “joint declaration” also stated that Olmert and Abbas will meet every two weeks, as they have been doing for many months, without producing anything – not the slightest movement by Israel towards a Palestinian state, or even minor concessions to make the Palestinian lot more bearable under occupation.
(True, some Fatah prisoners have been released – 250 in June 2007 and a further 350 in November 2007 before Annapolis – but Israel still holds about 9,000 Palestinian prisoners . But how many checkpoints have been removed in the West Bank? Very few, if any. Has Israel stopped its theft of Palestinian revenue, which began after Hamas won the PLC elections in January 2006, and paid back what it has stolen? Don’t know, but I suspect not, otherwise it would have been trumpeted as a success for the peace process.)
On 8 January 2008, the day before Bush arrived in the Middle East, Olmert finally agreed to allow discussion of final status issues. As a result, Avigdor Lieberman announced on 16 January 2008 that he would withdraw his Yisrael Beitenu party from the government . The departure of his 11 MKs still leaves Olmert’s coalition with 67 seats in the 120-member Knesset. However, his majority may not last: the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which has 12 seats, has threatened to pull out of the government, if the future of Jerusalem is discussed.
Olmert won’t be broken-hearted if domestic political difficulties force him to abandon the process. If that doesn’t happen, he has another unimpeachable excuse for doing so, which he laid down at his press conference with Bush on 9 January 2008, when he said:
“We made it clear to the Palestinians; they know it, and they understand that Gaza must be a part of the package … .” 
So, in reality, there isn’t much point in talking to Abbas since he has no authority in Gaza – and at any time Olmert can pull the plug by saying that. Meanwhile, he is humouring Bush by going along with the process – so that Bush can humour his “moderate” Sunni allies in the region.
Is the US strategy of enlisting its “moderate” Sunni allies in confronting its “extremist” enemies, especially Iran, working? It doesn’t seem to be. Before Bush arrived in Riyadh on 13 January 2008, the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faysal, cautioned that Saudi Arabia would not act as a launching pad for any attack on Iran, saying:
“We will listen with interest to any issue raised by President Bush. (But) Saudi Arabia is a neighbour of Iran in the Gulf, which is a small lake. We are keen that harmony and peace should prevail among states of the region.” (see Daily Telegraph, 13 January 2008, )
An article by Roula Khalaf in the Financial Times of 11 January 2008 described the US’s lack of progress in building a Sunni alliance against Iran in the following terms:
“Eight days in the Middle East is a long trip for a US president. But George W. Bush’s sudden burst of personal engagement cannot beat the active diplomatic pace of his principal opponent – Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. …
“For the past year, however, Iran has multiplied official visits to neighbouring states, promoting perceptions of waning American authority and defying American attempts to build a Sunni Arab front against it.
“Mr Ahmadinejad sent his foreign minister in March to the Arab League summit in Riyadh. In May he became the first Iranian head of state to visit the United Arab Emirates, which claims three islands taken over by Iran in the 1970s.
“In the autumn, he was in Bahrain, home to the US Fifth Fleet, before moving on to Saudi Arabia for the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries summit, and returning a few weeks later to perform the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage.
“By the end of the year, he was attending the summit of the Gulf Co-operation Council in Qatar – the first appearance by an Iranian leader before a gathering of the six Arab states.” 
(Ahmadinejad received a personal invitation from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to perform the hajj. He was the first president of the Islamic Republic of Iran to do so.)
Happily, the US’s Sunni allies don’t seem to be enthusiastic about lending their weight to its confrontation with Iran.
There were several surreal moments during Bush’s trip to the Middle East, none more so that his remark at a press conference with Olmert on 9 January 2008:
“Arab leaders have an obligation to recognize Israel’s important contribution to peace and stability in the Middle East”. 
At the same press conference, he declared Iran to be “a threat to world peace”, saying:
“Iran is a threat, and Iran will be a threat if the international community does not come together and prevent that nation from the development of the know-how to build a nuclear weapon. A country which once had a secret program can easily restart a secret program.” 
Remember, he said that while standing beside the Prime Minister of a state, which has had a secret nuclear weapons programme for half a century, a programme that has successfully developed nuclear weapons, and today possesses an estimated 200 nuclear warheads, some of which are targeted on Iran — whereas Iran certainly hasn’t any nuclear weapons and there’s no evidence that it has, or ever had, a nuclear weapons programme.
And, finally, in a speech in United Arab Emirates on 13 January 2008, trumpeting his “freedom agenda” (in a state where the 50% of the national council that is elected is elected by an appointed electoral college):
“For decades, the people of this region saw their desire for liberty and justice denied at home and dismissed abroad in the name of stability.” 
This from the man who overthrew the democratically elected Hamas-led government in Palestine — and who the next day went to Saudi Arabia and had a cordial meeting with King Abdullah.