Apr 09 2004

Bush administration’s message to Sharon

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,US-Middle East

Along with a number of other Arab leaders, the prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, is expected in Washington next week. Many analysts expect the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and Sharon’s plans to withdraw from Gaza to top the agenda of the meetings.

Sharon has said that after getting the US approval for his plan to leave Gaza, he will put it to a vote in his own government. And because of the possibility that Sharon might be indicted on corruption charges, this could be the last visit by Sharon to Washington.

Never has the importance and the centrality of the US in making Middle East peace been so obvious. Many might also say that never has there been an American president as forcefully and blindly in support of Israel, but this seems to be the fate of today’s unipolar world.

What President George Bush will say to Sharon and what the two leaders will agree to will certainly have an important and far-reaching effect on the Palestinians, the Israelis and the region as a whole.

The US government is on the record as being, repeatedly in opposition to settlement activity, to the expropriation of land and to building the separation wall inside occupied territories. Furthermore, the US is on the record as urging all the parties to the conflict not to carry out any actions that will negatively affect the long-term goal for the region. This goal has been best explained by Bush in his vision for a democratic Palestinian state that exists and lives in peace alongside a safe and secure Israel.

Seen in isolation, unilateral actions are not necessarily a problem in this regard. The real problem is the price that Sharon seems to want in return for the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. The Bush administration should not be pushed into the trap that Sharon seems to have prepared for him, namely that the US approve or agree not to oppose annexation of Palestinian lands to Israel or make any commitments on behalf of Palestinians.

The US should act as the superpower, with interests in regional peace and as a self-appointed representative of the Palestinians. In the past, whenever the Palestinians would complain to the Americans about Israeli actions, US officials would repeatedly counsel Palestinians on the need to talk directly to the Israelis. This must be repeated now by the Bush administration. Bush should defer any issue that is directly of interest to the Palestinians to the concerned parties, namely the legitimate representatives of the Palestinians.

The Americans must be careful about contradicting their long-held beliefs and their present pro-democracy strategy. The US can’t expect to teach the Arab world about democracy while it refuses to deal with, and encourages Israel to continue to ignore a freely elected leader. People in the Middle East are more interested in actions and examples than in empty rhetoric about representative governments.

Finally, in dealing with Sharon, the US president must make it crystal clear that the rights of the Palestinians are not negotiable. Whether we are talking about the right of Palestinians to determine their own future or the sanctity of the life of every single Palestinian, human rights are universal and must be respected, irrespective of the latest political plan or the latest trend in the Middle East conflict.

During the past year, the United States, along with the UN, the EU and Russia, agreed on a clearly defined roadmap. The Palestinians have enthusiastically embraced this plan, the Israelis accepted it with some reservations. Nothing that has happened since has shown that the Quartet, especially the US, has the will to enforce this roadmap. Instead, Washington appears to be reacting to the latest plan presented by Sharon rather than pushing its own plan.

If Bush real means what he says, he must say what he means. If the roadmap is the only game in town, then the world’s superpower must insist that this plan, and no other, be adhered to by all parties. If Sharon gets this message loud and clear, we can be on the road to real and serious movement towards peace and security for all the peoples of the region.

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