Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Bush's Speech an Unhappy Ending to Hopes of U.S. Role toward Mideast Peace

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Bush's Speech an Unhappy Ending to Hopes of U.S. Role toward Mideast Peace

Article excerpt

Richard Curtiss is the executive editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

The day of reckoning--when President George W. Bush had to make up his mind about what to do to end the Middle East impasse--finally had come. There had been some strange false starts, such as when Bush incongruously referred to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a "man of peace." That was corrected. Now it was time for Bush's long-awaited speech laying out his vision for peace.

Within the tight-lipped Bush White House it was obvious that there were serious differences of opinion and misgivings. Clearly, Vice President Richard Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld did not agree with Secretary of State Colin Powell. Nevertheless, the administration finally seemed ready to go ahead with unveiling a peace plan.

Three times, unfortunately, suicide bombings caused a delay in delivering the speech. When three days had passed without any further negative headlines Bush hurriedly scheduled the speech for June 24.

It was fairly short--but what a stunning surprise awaited everyone who had hoped for the opening of a new era in the Middle East. At the conclusion of the speech, the Israelis and their American boosters were left in a state of shock. Everything the Israelis wanted was offered to them and everything the Palestinians wanted seemed to be put on hold.

What happened? In retrospect, some believed that during the days the speech was being postponed because of the bombings, Bush was mightily impressed with what he had just been presented as "evidence" that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat had paid $20,000 for a suicide bombing attack. This "evidence" of bad faith seemed to weigh very heavily on the American president.

Such charges, produced by Israel's Mossad secret service agency, have been the principle background noise during each of Ariel Sharon's six visits to the Bush White House. What was so upsetting about this particular report--which came from no American source, but only from Israel? Bush seems to have changed the entire tenor of the speech, laying virtually all blame in the Middle East on Arafat.

Looking back, there were positive indications that Bush eventually would have something hopeful to say about and to the Palestinians. It seems almost certain that these extrapolations were extemporaneously written into the speech, perhaps without the State Department's final approval.

On the following day, Powell tried to put a slightly smoother edge on Bush's words. But he made no serious attempt to undo all the damage.

So what is the world going to think? Will the original plan to give Yasser Arafat some hope for a Palestinian state proceed? Or are all bets off and will the Israel lobby remain unfettered? On the June 30 Sunday morning talk shows a clear majority of the commentators indicated that Arafat was being given unfair treatment.

There is no proof that Arafat has supported the suicide bombers.

Observers on both sides have been cautious. The Israel lobby may still be waiting for another shoe to drop, with a contradictory speech to follow. Or is Bush trying to make sure that nothing serious will happen until this fall's elections have been completed?

Then, what happens next year? Will Bush decide to do nothing again until the 2004 presidential election? Will he hope to do the right thing about the Middle East then? And if he does wait until then, will there even be a second Bush term?

For the moment, it appears that Bush will always find a reason to postpone weighing in on the crucial issues in the Middle East. …

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