(credit: Reuters/Gary Hershorn)
Today, history was made. An American president who has only met with the Palestinian head of state once previously and who dithered over the Middle East for the first 4 1/2 years of his presidency has finally made strong statements that could help move the peace process forward. Haaretz quotes these words which cannot make Ariel Sharon very happy:
"A viable two-state solution must ensure contiguity
of the West Bank, and a state of scattered territories will not work.
There must also be meaningful linkages between the West Bank and Gaza.
This is the position of the United States today, it will be the
position of the United States at the time of final status negotiations.
Israel must remove unauthorized outposts and stop
settlement expansion. The barrier being erected by Israel as a part of
its security effort must be a security, rather than political, barrier.
And its route should take into account, consistent with security needs,
its impact on Palestinians not engaged in terrorist activities."
The statement about the separation wall isn’t very strong. But it does at least recognize the Palestinian contention that the wall represents Israeli aspirations for territorial aggrandizement, rather than merely security concerns.
The New York Times characterized Bush’s statement thus:
He said that included no expansion of Jewish settlements in the West
Bank and the area around Jerusalem, a halt to construction of a barrier
that would intrude into Palestinian territory, the removal of Israeli
troops from the West Bank and an easing of checkpoints and roadblocks
that disrupt life in the West Bank.
In naming Jerusalem, Bush has come out against Israeli plans for the Jerusalem suburb, Maaleh Adumim (which extends beyond the Green Line). Palestinians have strongly protested the expansion of this community.
Israelis can spin this all they want but Bush’s stern meeting with Sharon at Crawford coupled with his statements here lead me to believe that he’s on the right track rather than off the track and in a ditch where he was a year ago regarding Mideast diplomacy.
M.J. Rosenberg of Israel Policy Forum has a similar "take" on the meeting and wonders whether Bush was reading Aaron Miller’s latest Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post.