Peace Groups Express Disappointment Over Bush Speech on Palestinian State
Published on Wednesday, June 26, 2002 by
Peace Groups Express Disappointment Over Bush Speech on Palestinian State
by Jim Lobe

Major Israeli and United States peace groups have expressed strong disappointment over President George W. Bush's major policy address Monday in which he demanded that Palestinians elect "new leaders" as a condition for U.S. support for the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

Most groups said Bush had identified U.S. policy too closely with demands made by the government of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and had failed to provide the Palestinians any concrete hope for ending Israel's 35-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

"The root cause of terrorism and suicide bombing was hardly addressed at all," said Adam Keller, spokesperson for the Israeli peace lobby Gush Shalom, referring to the situation of young Palestinians "under an increasingly tight occupation, who see themselves oppressed and dispossessed, deprived of all hope and expectation for the future, abandoned by the world and who reach the point where they decide to blow themselves up in order to kill random Israelis."

"No end to terrorism can be expected without offering some tangible hope to such people, to dry up the phenomenon of suicide bombing at the source," he added.

Bush, who spoke Monday afternoon in the White House rose garden, called for the eventual creation of a Palestinian state that would exist side by side Israel. He said if Palestinians cooperated by electing a new leadership and making democratic and economic reforms, an interim state could be declared within 18 months, leading to a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel three years from now. Such an accord would mark the state's permanence.

But most of his speech, broadcast in news bulletins across the world, consisted of demands on the Palestinians, as opposed to Israelis who, he said, should withdraw from Palestinian territories and end settlement activity "as we make progress towards security."

"I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror," Bush declared. "When the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions, and new security arrangements with their neighbors, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state."

Aside from calling for elections at the local level by the end of the year and national elections soon after, Bush's plan offered little in the way of specifics about how these could be held, particularly in light of Israel's new moves to effectively reoccupy major cities in the West Bank, moves that have intensified over the past week.

"There's no firm American time line, no visible interventionist role Washington plays in this," said Mark Rosenblum, a top official at Americans for Peace Now (APN). While APN endorses Bush's final vision of two states living side by side, Rosenblum said in a telephone interview from Israel, the speech was "very vague" on details about how to get there given "the current situation of murder and mayhem."

Rosenblum also criticized Bush's demand that Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat be replaced. "While we have found Arafat to have been a very problematic partner, this is a strange way to promote democracy, insisting that the Palestinians elect someone to the president's liking or they will not get what he says they have a right to get: a Palestinian state living peace and security."

James Zogby, president of the Arab-American Institute, which worked closely with APN in support of the Oslo peace process, reacted in a similar vein and expressed concern that Bush had given Sharon a green light to pursue military operations in the Palestinian territories.

"There is nothing here that could give the Palestinians hope; in fact, as we are already seeing, what the president did was allow the Sharon government to continue its repressive military occupation of Palestinian land," he said. "The president has set U.S. foreign policy and U.S.-Arab relations back with today's announcement."

"Once more, the president's plan ignores any responsibility on the part of Israel and asks the Palestinians to create a fully functional democratic state before they earn the right to a provisional state," he said, adding that Arab Americans were "gravely disappointed" with Bush's remarks.

Copyright 2002