Q&A in the Wake of President Bush's Speech
Should the President’s speech on 24th June 2002 alter our views and our proposals on the problems outlined above?
No. The President gave us support and time to implement what we should be doing ourselves. The speech just extended the time limit for us to put our house and our affairs in order. It is like the President throwing to us a plank to enable us to swim to a safe shore. However, the time afforded to us is limited and I guess that it is not the eighteen months that is envisaged in his speech but rather the five month period leading up to the US elections in November. By that time the atmosphere in Washington may change and the President may be pushed to modify his staunch support for Israel. The speech is clearly thought out carefully. We must believe the President when he said later on that he was concerned about the survival of Israel. Of course he has other considerations. But not since Harry Truman did we hear a Western Leader speak about us with so much moral conviction and passion. We exasperated Truman then by over-pressurising him. Read his daughter’s account. Bush today has even more outside pressures. We must use the time he gave us and follow his road map in all details. We must help him to help us.
The media by picking up on the problem of Arafat in the speech blurred its other more positive aspects. The media in Europe, which is hell bent on its anti-American stance in every respect and on every possible occasion, caught the opportunity to try to criticise the President on this part of it rather than concentrate on its positive aspects.
It is interesting to note that no pro-western Arab leader has rejected the Bush vision. We have to remember that it was released after intensive consultation with the leaders of Egypt Saudi Arabia Jordan and even with Nabil Shath, the Palestinian Authority minister (PA) in charge of foreign affairs who stayed two weeks in Washington for that purpose. That is why even Yasser Arafat himself did not reject it. Only European media did so with alacrity.
Viewed from the Arab viewpoint Bush vision is a program for the establishment of their coveted State with American declared blessing and pledge for future help. We should not kid ourselves that it is tailored for a Sharon plan. The Arabs so adept lately in their PR portrayed it as such to score on PR hoping to squeeze more concessions in due course. From our viewpoint it asserts American support for our demand for security thus giving notice to the Arabs that violent tactics and homicide bombing will get them nowhere. It also put a stop to UN and Europe justifications for such tactics.
So in the midst of our general euphoria we seem to forget that now we cannot procrastinate any longer. The President set a time limit for us. This not a Sharon Plan. Bush advisors believe that they need a strong right winger to back their plan. That is an important ingredient in their support for Sharon. They declare that there will be a Palestine and we have to co-operate with this new State. We have now no alternative but to accept the World diktat on the borders in accordance with 242 and 338 albeit with some modifications. So we have to act very quickly to establish within this framework fait accompli markers on the ground for our future security. Hunting homicide bombers in the territories like finding needles in haystacks and demolishing buildings in countless incursions are only sapping our strength killing our boys, dividing our own people weakening our economy and alienating what is left of sympathy for our cause. Instead we should walk out of what we envisage to be future Palestine fortify and close our new conceived borders for the time being and let the Palestinians fight it out amongst themselves to choose how they want to live in a future coexistence with Israel. Believing that we can build for them a sophisticated security infrastructure friendly towards us is tragic naivety. Did we succeed in Iran, in Lebanon, in some African countries?
A very interesting sentence in the President’s speech seems to escape attention. When he spoke about a final settlement between the two countries, Israel and Palestine, he said something along the lines that such settlement should be helped or connected with Egypt and Jordan. Can we cash in on this when talking about economic links of Gaza to Egypt and the West Bank to Jordan? May be we should exploit this line of thinking.
How to proceed now?
We have to solve the three problems outlined many times before i.e.
1. To establish on the ground secure and defendable borders which clearly separate Israel from Palestine to include only defendable settlements. We proceed urgently with building the border walls including Jerusalem and including a wall rising on the Temple Mount separating the Mosque and the Kothel wall. Once we establish these borders the struggle to have them accepted by the other side will follow through negotiation. Then we have to attend simultaneously to solving the other two problems. We have no time to waste. Bush has defined the time- table. Palestine is coming into being irrespective of whom in Israel is for or against. Bush Plan is not Sharon Plan. Bush has given time for Sharon to pave the way for Israel to accommodate the creation of Palestine. We must engage ourselves in defending the inside of Israel and not waste our strength on targeting few individual terrorists and blow up buildings. The people of Israel are numb with their tragedies and mourning. They are understandingly reacting with their emotions often in different directions. It is the responsibility of the leaders to think with cool and rational heads for long term solutions.
2. The internal political division in Israel caused so much harms to our cause during the last 2 years that we should feel ourselves as much responsible for the spilt Jewish blood as the homicide bombers. What chance have we got when Sharon and Peres undermine each other? They are old. They belong to yesterday’s world. They have to unite and speak with one voice for the sake of our future survival. Bush and his advisors are exasperated. While America was blocking a UN enquiry into the Jennin operation Peres rushed to scupper that by declaring that he had no objection because we had nothing to hide. Indeed we have none. But before he spoke he had to understand the legal and political implications not only for Israel but also for American stand on the international surrounding the principles involved. And now while bush is trying so hard to convince the G8 leaders that Arafat cannot be a partner for peace Peres comes on BBC Newsnight stating that if and if and if then he can negotiate with Arafat. Why volunteer such opinion at this juncture even if it is sound? What a nightmare! Frankly Israel is desperate for political statesmen who can unite to address the world with one voice. Unfortunately Israel can only speak with one voice if its political structure is modified to produce a strong representative government, which speaks for a truly democratic and representative majority of the country. Now that the direct elections for the office of the Prime Minister is abolished the only other method is to adopt the proposed electoral reform which combines constituency and proportional representation. Such system has to be put in place before the next general elections in two years time. This question is as urgent and as vital as dealing with homicide bombers. Only such electoral reform can produce a strong government that can speak for the whole of Israel with one voice. (See the paper on Electoral Reform in Israel.)
3. The third problem facing Israel and indeed world Jewry is the need to retell and keep explaining the historical background which necessitated the creation of Israel. An organised and aggressive assault on World public opinion is needed (outlined in a previous synopsis) to remind the world of the Holocaust and the cleansing of the Jews from Arab countries to Israel. Otherwise we will not be able to negotiate a proper settlement with the Palestinians with regard to the future of Gaza, the security of our borders and specifically the question of the Palestinian Refugees. It is not the Arabs I fear. They are predictable. It is world public opinion led by anti-Semitic European media recently bolstered by misguided Jewish do-gooders and may be some even self-haters.
What is the link between Gaza and the Holocaust?
It is to do with the future security nay survival of Israel. Our comparative military strength today will not last forever. When we negotiate the future status of Gaza we must explain and emphasise our future fears to gain support for our plan. The evil axis of Gaza/Hebron will always threaten Israel dividing it in a pincer link or exposing its belly to bombers or missiles from both sides. There was a time even recently when we could have negotiated a settlement which could have in time diluted Gaza of its refugees leaving it a demilitarised municipality linked to Israel economically retaining Palestinian sovereignty. Our obsession with Judea and Samaria blinded us from hard realities. It is too late now. So what is the solution?
a) Under no circumstances should we agree to any bridge or tunnel or even a jointly policed corridor linking Gaza to the West Bank. Any link has to be a visa/passport-based arrangement for going in and out of the two territories. Israel should not be made to enter into any special long-term final status treaty in this respect. You never know when the conflict restarts irrespective of treaties and guarantees. Let us cast our mind to the pre not post Six-Day War situation of Israel.
b) Gaza and the West Bank can be two states or two countries or two entities linked together in a federation or confederation or any type of agreed union. They can of course also be two constituent parts of a single State. It is not up to Israel to decide or even be party to such decision. UN 242 and 338 ordered a reversion to the status quo anti which prevailed before the 1967 War. Gaza then belonged to Egypt and the West Bank to Jordan. Both have to be parties to the negotiations to restore the status quo anti. Israel will join in to negotiate adjustments to its borders for its security and the settlement of the Jerusalem question. Is that why Bush linked the names of Egypt and Jordan to the final negotiations for a Palestinian State? I wonder. If not, we should bring this up. Our objective should be to see evolving at least economic links of Gaza to Egypt and the West Bank to Jordan making the two parts of Palestine gravitating towards these two countries away from Israel. Any future demographic pressure will thus not fall on Israel provoking renewal of conflict. This idea may sound far-fetched to some but it is of such obvious importance to our future security and survival that we must not dismiss it out of hand. Some people in Israel may resist this line of action because of the need for Arab labour. The answer is to negotiate labour employment with the future State of Palestine on ad hoc basis and not as part of the structure of the final status agreement under the Bush plan or vision. There is a real big danger facing us right now. The US expects us to open our borders to the territories to ameliorate the economic conditions in preparation for the proposed elections for the PA in six months’ time. We have to resist vehemently otherwise we will prejudice and jeopardise our future negotiations. We should help in any other way but not in opening doors that we definitely will not be able to close in future emergencies.
c) We have to insist on the demilitarising of Gaza.
d) We must negotiate Israel’s some rights to the sea adjoining the shoreline of Gaza to enable Israel’s navy to monitor shipping activities.
Is not this like giving the Palestinians two states for the price of one?
They already have two states Jordan and Palestine. They may as well end with three. Our consolation is that these will be three weak entities that in time will develop diverse identities and vested interests. We have provided this stage for them because we did not foresee beyond our arrogance for years after the Six-Day War. Then we compounded our mistakes by signing peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan releasing them of their troubles with the Palestinians to their ever relief and delight. And all this happened because we were fighting between ourselves. We are still doing this today and it is time to wake up and rectify some past mistakes. In the present atmosphere of terror we can be seen justified in using our economic card. We just say in view of the constant infiltration of homicide bombers we have to close our borders until the peace process is completed and the borders clearly defined and agreed.
We are facing momentous decisions. The world and now the USA have decided to impose on us a Palestine based on almost all the territories. It is up to us to make the best of this bad job. Time is not working for us. Unless we respond quickly to establish facts on the ground we end up losing our future security and any hope of creating a situation of co-existence with our future neighbours. Both are essential for the survival of Israel.
Aharon Nathan, 28th June 2002