With events in Israel moving at a rapid pace this week (a Jerusalem bus bombing that killed 19, followed by Israel’s decision to seize Palestinian land after each new terrorist attack and to accelerate the construction of a fence around the West Bank) questions arose over the wisdom of a new U.S. peace initiative even before it was announced.
"I don’t see how it can be made palatable or what contribution it is if both sides are that unhappy [with it]," said Richard Murphy, a former ambassador to Syria and now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
The proposal, in which President George W. Bush was reportedly set to announce his desire to see an interim Palestinian state as early as September, was rejected at the beginning of the week by both Palestinian and Israeli leaders. The Israelis insist there can be no thought of a Palestinian state while terrorist attacks continue, and the Palestinians fear that international attention on their plight would disappear once an interim state is declared.
Given that rejection, Murphy questioned why Bush would "waste his shot." Until now, Bush has let emissaries wade into the Middle East quagmire. The proposals of both CIA director George Tenet and former Sen. George Mitchell never got off the ground.
Dore Gold, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, pointed out that Bush had been expected to announce his initiative Wednesday but delayed it after Tuesday’s terrorist attack in Jerusalem to avoid his support of a Palestinian state being "interpreted as a reward to the Palestinians."
[On Wednesday night, three Israelis were killed and 25 wounded in a suicide bombing near a hitchhiking stop in the French Hill neighborhood of Jerusalem.]
Vice President Dick Cheney was also said to be against Bush’s support for a provisional Palestinian state, arguing that such a body would hinder Israel’s efforts to go after terrorists and their infrastructure.
Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, said he did not believe that "anything the U.S. says will make any difference in the short-term. Palestinian statehood is not relevant as long as terrorism continues and there is no one for Israel to talk to."
Gold questioned how the administration could speak about a resumption of the peace process with a Palestinian Authority that "gives the green light for more terrorism."
"How do you kick the ball down the line when there is nothing to work with?" he asked. "The Palestinian security services have no instructions from [Palestinian President Yasir] Arafat to intercept attacks on Israel."
The Washington Post Wednesday said Bush was expected to propose that the Palestinian state created as early as September have temporary borders and that negotiations to fix the borders last no more than three years. The paper said he is not expected to address the status of Jerusalem but would insist on major Palestinian reforms. Bush is also said to be considering sending Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region as early as next week to make arrangements for the convening of a peace conference this summer.
David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said he believed Bush would make clear that the road to a full Palestinian state would not be easy.
"It’s clear that if the Palestinians want to get what they want, they have to give Israel what it wants," he said, referring to Israel’s thirst to live in peace and harmony with the Arab world. "Its goals cannot be seen in isolation from Israel’s needs."
In fact, said some analysts, the Palestinian leadership may be unwilling to make the major reforms and security changes Bush is demanding, which in turn would cause the date for statehood to slip.
Judith Kipper of the Council on Foreign Relations said she is looking for Bush to "set out a vision for a better future for Israelis and Palestinians, which is something neither Sharon nor Arafat have ever done."
She said the Clinton peace proposals must be used as the framework for a peace settlement and noted the comments of Palestinian leaders who indicated they were ready to soften their position on Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.
"They are operating on the basis that" the Clinton ideas are still on the table, she said.
But Gold quickly dismissed that idea, saying that Israel cannot return to those proposals in light of 21 months of Palestinian violence.
Bush is expected to address his remarks to the Palestinian leadership rather than Arafat, whom he distrusts. Bush’s views about Arafat were perhaps reflected in comments this week by National Security Council adviser Condoleezza Rice, who said in an interview that Arafat is "corrupt and cavorts with terror."
A Kuwaiti newspaper reported earlier this month that Arafat pocketed $5.1 million in Arab aid funds designed to help the Palestinian people. The paper, Al-Watan, said it obtained documents supporting its contention that Arafat stole the money to cover his personal expenses, including the upkeep of his wife, Suha, and their daughter, who live in Paris and Switzerland.
Israel also came under attack this week from two first ladies and a media mogul. Ted Turner, the founder of CNN, maintained in an interview that both the Palestinians and Israelis "are engaged in terrorism." Laura Bush criticized the electronic fence Israel is erecting, saying it is not a "long-lasting sign of peace." And the wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Cherie, said Palestinians were killing Israelis in suicide bombings because "they have got no hope." Her spokeswoman later apologized, saying she did not mean to imply that suicide bombers had no choice or to condone such actions.
Israel’s decision to seize Palestinian territory after each terror attack represents a major policy shift, but Steinberg said it appears the land to be taken will be largely unoccupied.
"There is no decision to occupy populated territory for the long term precisely to avoid the responsibility" of having to provide social services for the people, he said. "At this point there has been no decision to stay in the cities."
Although the government has decided for the moment not to expel Arafat, it is said to be moving to expel some of his top aides. But Steinberg said the debate about whether to expel Arafat in the future is unresolved.
Benny Elon, a member of the Knesset from the right-wing National Unity-Israel Beiteinu faction that he chairs, said he would prefer to see Arafat, 73, killed. But since that is "not politically correct, arrest him and put him in jail in Jerusalem. … We have enough evidence to prove his direct connection to murders and assassinations."
The suicide bus bombing Tuesday in the southern Jerusalem community of Gilo caused the greatest number of casualties (19 dead and 70 injured) in Israel’s capital since the violence began in September 2000.
"We cannot adjust to this level of hatred," said Rabbi Yehuda Gilad, a Knesset member from the Meimad Party. "The only place in the world where people are starting to understand what we are going through is in New York."
Edward Schwebel, a resident of Gilo, said the police had been on high alert in the hours before the bomber struck. But the bomber managed to slip into Israel, presumably from the Arab village of Azriya east of Jerusalem.
He said that although buses were relatively empty after the attack, "this is not a rich country and the majority of people can’t afford to take private cars or taxis wherever they go. People will find the courage to again get on buses and sit in the front or the back. That’s what normally happens."
But Uzi Tsuk, chairman of ORT Israel, said many of the high school children who saw the bus explosion from the nearby ORT high school were left traumatized by the experience and will need psychological support.