Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Bush Metamorphosis

Jerusalem -- Both during and long after his January 9th first visit to Israel since taking up residence in theWhite House, President Bush must be made to realize that the dimensions of Israel’s pre-1967 midsection that so shocked Governor Bush are precisely those to which Israel would be forced to revert under the “peace process” launched at Annapolis. Governor Bush had no trouble assessing the existential threat such a reversion would pose for the Jewish state. Describing the impact of that helicopter tour he took in the company of then Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, Ron Suskind in his book, The Price of Loyalty, quotes the Texas governor as saying “ It looks real bad down there. I think it’s time to pull out of that situation.” With the memory of what he saw still fresh, the newly minted President Bush, in his first meeting with his National Security Council on January 30, 2001 asserted (according to notes taken by Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill) that “we’re going to tilt back toward Israel.” O’Neill reports Secretary of State Colin Powell responding that it would be dangerous if Sharon and the IDF were given a free hand. To which Bush is quoted as having retorted: “Maybe that’s the best way to get things back in balance. Sometimes a show of force can really clarify things.”

More than a drawl

With a lot more of Texas still in him that just a drawl, Bush wasn’t above “clarifying things,” including telling the pro-Arab State Department where to get off. This was a George W. Bush still determined to make good on his campaign pledge to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, a president who elected to surround himself with pro-Israel neocons like Richard Perle, Doug Feith, Paul Wolfowitz and Scooter Libby, a defense secretary who routinely referred to Judea, Samaria and Gaza as the “so-called occupied territories” and a vice president who thought Arafat “should be killed.”

George Bush, circa January 2008, bears little resemblance to the original product. The brain trust that esteemed the added value a strong, defensible Israel brought to America’s valiant struggle against radical Islam is long gone, replaced by the likes of Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, whose skewed perspective on the Arab-Israeli conflict has cast a lengthening shadow over White House policy-making. Viewed as a sounding board for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Haas, who formerly headed State’s Division of Policy Planning, expressed his displeasure with what he deemed the too general and congenial nature of the president’s speech at Annapolis. “Bush’s speech,” he averred, “failed to give Mahmoud Abbas an argument he could take back to the Palestinian people and say ‘this is why negotiations offer the more promising route and this is why you should not put your hope in violence.’” “More promising?” Under what circumstances does Mr. Haas suggest the United States should regard terrorist violence in any degree against a democratic friend and ally as “promising?”

Total freeze

Haas’s three-step formula for kick-starting the post-Annapolis “process” includes the halting of all further Israeli settlement beyond the 1949 Armistice lines; the removal of all Israeli roadblocks in Judea and Samaria, and a reconstituted Palestinian Authority security force (presumably incorporating under its expanded umbrella the gunmen of Fatah, Tanzim and the Martyrs Brigades). His anti-Jewish settlement plank found special resonance with Saeb Erekat, the PA’s star negotiator and emissary to the Western media. “We demand a freeze on all settlement activity,” said man who told the world at Annapolis that the words “Jewish state” would never issue from his lips. And a “freeze,” he added, must include not only new settlement construction but construction in existing settlements. “Either it’s a 100 percent settlement freeze,” he barked, “or no settlement freeze. There is nothing in the middle.” To which Mr. Haas added: “The Arab world and the Palestinians will be willing to work with us and accept our role if we act credibly,” i.e, serve them Israel’s head at the next Ramadan festival.

President Bush’s response to all this has been pathetic. “I’ll make sure, as will the secretary of state, that when they get stuck, we’ll help them get unstuck,” was the most profound thing he had to say at the conclusion of the Annapolis conclave. Condoleezza Rice has not nearly been as reticent. The President, she has made clear, wasn’t coming to Israel for another helicopter ride, but to “signal support for the bilateral process between the parties and to continue, in a hands-on way, to encourage them to move forward.” Anybody vaguely familiar with the context and syntax of Middle Eastern “peace” negotiations over the last 40 years knows that “hands-on” and “move forward” are code words describing pressure on Israel for unilateral concessions. Secretary Rice abandoned the code words for blunter language a bit further on in noting that Bush’s January trip would include other stops in the region aimed at rallying broader Arab backing for the Annapolis initiative, “The Palestinians can’t make these tough choices without Arab support,” she asserted.

Har Homa lecture

Did Madam Rice mean to imply that the PA’s acceptance of Israel’s surrender of 95 percent of Judea and Samaria plus eastern Jerusalem amounted to a “tough choice,” moreover one that required broad “Arab support?” Or was the secretary tiptoeing, ever so delicately, around the possibility that the Olmert government, for all its fecklessness, might, in return for this outrageous act, demand of Mahmoud Abbas the public recognition of Israel as a Jewish state? Indeed, it may have been in an attempt to make that bitter pill more palatable that she lashed out at Israel’s refusal to veto the construction of additional sorely needed apartments in Har Homa, a neighborhood plainly within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries. Treating that simple fact as though it were a non sequitur, she went off on a tangent about the “obligation to be very careful about activities that undermine confidence. This is a time to build confidence between the parties,” she declared, “and something like the Har Homa activity undermines confidence.”

If the addition of an apartment block in a demarcated and developed neighborhood in Jerusalem “undermines confidence” in the “process,” what might be said of a soon to be unveiled poster marking the 43rd anniversary of Fatah, a wholly owned terrorist subsidiary of the PA. Already on view at several Fatah-affiliated web sites, it features a map of Israel draped in a Palestinian keffiah, with Arafat’s picture supporting an automatic rifle symbolizing the continued “armed struggle” against the “Zionist entity.”

Secretary Rice, at this writing, has yet to utter a word of condemnation of this belligerent affront by an organ of a Palestinian Authority ostensibly committed to an independent “Palestine” alongside, not in place of, Israel. It may be that she simply regards the “undermining of confidence” in the “process” an exclusive Israeli preserve. Perhaps the former governor of Texas would be good enough to shed some “hands-on” light on the subject before he leaves here.

*Bill Mehlman represents Americans For A Safe Israel in Israel and is co-editor of the Jerusalem-based internet magazine ZionNet (

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