Fat Man and Little Boy (credit:
Stephen Crowley/New York Times)
After reading about George Bush’s cave-in to Ariel Sharon in their Washington meeting this week, I was horrified to think that over fifty years of U.S. and UN policy and resolutions were being thrown out the window. While all parties to the conflict have tacitly recognized that the points Bush agreed to (end of Right of Return and Israeli retention of some West Bank settlements) would be included in an eventual peace agreement, none of the parties has, until now, had the temerity to announce BEFORE negotiations what the other side must give up. In other words, practically everyone knew that Palestinians would give up the Law of Return and that Israel would exchange West Banks settlements for other Israeli-held lands. But never before have these positions been conceded BEFORE negoations even begin. This is a terrible development and precedent. It is as if the judge (in this case, Bush) in a major criminal case met beforehand with the prosecutor (Sharon) and agreed on behalf of the defendant that he would serve ten years in prison for his crime. If this scenario sounds bizarre in a legal context, it is even more so in the arena of intenational relations.
Or imagine, if you will, that after fighting the War of 1812, Britain and Canada jointly agreed (and without US consultation) that New York would be annexed to Canada. No doubt, American patriots would’ve been on the warpath to prevent such a national humiliation. Should we doubt that Palestinians will do the same?
Though no doubt some historian will point out my error, I can’t remember a previous instance in which one party to international conflict ignored the opponent, refused to negotiate and imposed its view of things by force of might. The Palestinian response to this charade will undoubtedly come in blood and tears on the streets of Israel’s cities. After the assassination of Sheik Yassin, it is a wonder that the response has not come already. But the only sure thing is that vengeance will be wrought. That will be the Palestinian answer to Bush and Sharon’s White House Punch & Judy show.
Before I continue with this line of thought, I must say that Israeli withdrawal from Gaza is an undoubtedly good thing. It advances the possitiility of peace by removing one more obstacle in the way of future agreement. No matter what his motives, Sharon deserves credit for formulating this plan and pursuing its implementation against an array of right-wing pressure groups and members of his own Cabinet.
It seems to me that James Bennet in Sharon Coup: U.S. Go-Ahead got it slightly wrong. This may apprear to be a coup for the Israelis. But there is less there than meets the eye. Sharon undoubtedly got most of what he wanted and the Palestinians are more aggrieved than ever. So in that sense, the Bush concession is a “coup” of sorts. Sharon and most Israelis certainly see it that way:
Israel’s largest daily newspaper headlined its main news story “Sharon Got It All.” Speaking of the Palestinians, Mr. Sharon told the newspaper, “They were dealt a lethal blow.”
But I maintain that such delusionary thinking will only bring added suffering for both Israelis and Palestinians. In a war, you can never in the end bring peace without including your enemy in the process. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no exception. Bush and Sharon can jabber all they want and agree to whatever they want. But it all “doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this world” without direct Palestinian participation and agreement. As Bennet posits:
For Israel, the risk is that the Palestinians will now reject as imposed on them any peace plan along the lines Mr. Bush laid out, in his White House statement and a letter he gave Mr. Sharon. For the United States, the risk is that, with Arabs and Muslims already suspicious of American motives, the Bush administration will be seen as teaming with Israel to void Palestinian rights.
It must be noted that there is no “risk” of Palestinian rejection or deepening Arab mistrust of America; both of these are a certainty.
The member States of the European Union who opposed the Bush declaration and tried to talk him out of issuing it should be commended. Again as with Iraq, Bush refused to listen to the wise counsel of Europe. Again as in Iraq, he will learn his lesson.
I think that it’s no accident that this statement comes from two leaders who face political turmoil at home. If Sharon is indicted by Israeli authorities, he will probably no longer be Prime Minister. And if Iraq and the economy continue heading south, George Bush may no longer be President. So the Bush-Sharon agreement appears a Hail Mary pass attempting to pump a little air into their flagging political fortunes. As with many another Hail Mary pass, this one will fall incomplete.