President George W. Bush’s highly touted speech this week on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis was viewed critically by many analysts, and even White House officials backed off the hyperbole to stress that the administration was merely limiting its efforts to strengthening the government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
“The speech was met with a yawn,” said Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University. Moshe Maoz, a professor of Middle East history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that although it came “too late, you can never miss an opportunity to make peace.”
The thrust of Bush’s speech was that the international community must help Abbas build the infrastructure of a working government — such as developing a police force and a justice system — so that it becomes capable of standing on its own as a “peaceful, democratic Palestinian state.”Bush also sent a pointed message to Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group that has taken over the Gaza Strip, saying Abbas’ success in the West Bank would “make clear to all Palestinians that rejecting violence is the surest path to security and a better life.”
In addition to providing $190 million in American aid plus $80 million for Abbas’ security forces, Bush announced that sometime this fall Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would convene “an international meeting of nations that support a two-state solution, reject violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and commit to all previous agreements between the parties.”
There was much speculation that in addition to Israel and Abbas’ government, such moderate Arab states as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Morocco would attend. But senior administration officials declined comment.
Steinberg said Bush’s speech, which was televised in prime time in Israel, received front-page coverage for 24 hours and then disappeared. He said many Israelis understood it as a last ditch effort by Bush “to establish something for his presidency.
“There were no new ideas here,” he said, adding that Palestinian attitudes cannot be changed “through grand conferences but through textbooks and education and lots of discussions within Palestinian society about compromise … It’s not a matter of helping Fatah and ignoring Hamas.”
Senior administration officials said it is hoped that the success of Fatah would undermine Hamas. An analyst for the Israel Policy Forum, Israela Oron, said here this week that “it is an illusion to think you can put pressure on Hamas.”
“The Palestinian people want a solution in Gaza,” she said. “You can’t ignore them [Hamas], and from history we know that putting pressure results in violence. … Separation is a very dangerous illusion. They are the same people. We will not be able to cut a deal with [Abbas] without a majority of the Palestinian people” supporting it.
Oron, who ended her 27-year military career as a brigadier general — the highest rank a woman can achieve in the Israel Defense Forces — said in an interview before Bush’s speech that she favors an international effort to help the Palestinian people develop a state of their own and peace with Israel. And because neither Israel nor Abbas will talk with Hamas, she suggested enlisting the help of the United Nations relief agency now working in the Gaza Strip.
“Even if Hamas did not recognize the State of Israel but recognized agreements signed by the Palestinian Authority and Israel, agreed to a cease-fire and to stop smuggling in weapons from Egypt, we can start a positive dialogue,” she said. Maoz said he welcomed Bush’s initiative because if Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert “can come to a solid agreement — security for Israel and economic development and statehood for the Palestinians — it would be a major achievement for all sides.”
“Bush would go down in history as the one who tried and hopefully succeeded in helping the Palestinians, and in improving the image of the United States in the Middle East and the Arab and Muslim world,” he said.
Maoz added that he agreed with Bush that a “good solution in the West Bank in which it becomes a model of coexistence [with Israel] could undermine Hamas … My stress is on a combination of political settlement and economic development.”
Steinberg said he fears that after rearming Abbas’ police, Hamas will gain control of the weapons either in a civil war or as a result of another unity government.
At the other end of the political spectrum is Moshe Feiglin, an Israeli right-wing politician who is challenging Benjamin Netanyahu in the Aug. 14 primary for the leadership of the Likud Party. He said he opposes the idea of a Palestinian state because “Israel is the Holy Land, the biblical land that was promised and that belongs to the Jews.”
“We have kept it over 2,000 years and any solution that bases itself on a Palestinian state will lead to the same results we have seen since [the Oslo Accords in ] 1993 — more terror in Israel that spreads to the entire world, and more anti-Semitism because of Israel’s acceptance of Arab claims to the Holy Land,” he said.
“The problem is not with the Arabs but with the Jews who deny who they are and why they came to Israel,” Feiglin added. “If they concentrate on that, the Arab problem will slowly go away. It may take a generation or two, but when we understand who we are … and where our future is, our neighbor will know where their future is not.”
Asked if he would forcibly remove 3 million Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, Feiglin would only say he would “help them financially to find their future,” which he said is in any one of 22 Arab countries or “anyplace else in the world.”