Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Bush's Dramatic Shift in Mideast

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Bush's Dramatic Shift in Mideast

Article excerpt

If President Bush wants to give land away, there is always his 1,600-acre ranch at Crawford, Texas.

But he has no right to endorse the Israeli claim to the captured or settled property on the West Bank that belongs to the Palestinians.

Bush had Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in glowing smiles Wednesday when he praised Sharon's plan to retain permanent possession of parts of the West Bank that Israel seized in the 1967 war.

The president also backed Israel's declaration that Palestinian refugees have no right of return to their homes in the territory Israel has conquered.

The dramatic switch in U.S. policy on the West Bank comes against the background of near silence on the part of the Bush administration about the wall that Israel is building on Palestinian land, a construction project that will effectively add more territory-described as the size of the state of Rhode Island-to Israel.

Sharon wasn't shy about proclaiming his triumph after meeting with Bush.

The Washington Post quoted an unidentified White House official as spinning the U.S. cave-in in terms of alleged administration fears that Sharon would lay claim to the entire West Bank. This scenario would have us believe that the administration boldly insisted that the Israeli leader settle only for mere chunks.

Bush's backing of the West Bank land grab was an historic reversal of U.S. policy. And, again, Bush has put the United States in a go-it-alone posture.

Javier Solana, foreign policy chief for the European Union, was quoted in the Financial Times as saying Europe would not accept any change to Israel's borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war unless both Israel and the Palestinians agreed to it.

"Final status issues can only be resolved by mutual agreement between parties," Solana said.

Several Arab leaders said Bush had doomed the peace process in the Middle East because of his new policy.

Bush's endorsement of Israel's West Bank settlements isn't a mere "tilt" toward Sharon's policy-it is a total embrace that has stunned those who hoped the United States would have an "honest broker" role in Middle East affairs.

Bush has not made the slightest effort to appear even-handed. He failed to consult any Palestinians before announcing the new U. …

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