SPINELESSNESS AS FOREIGN POLICY
Mr. Bush’s speech on a Palestinian state must surely rank as one of the most pathetic utterances ever given by an American president under the exalted rubric of policy.
As foreign policy, I am perplexed to think of its having an equal in American history.
As a statement of principle, it ranks with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dredd Scott decision concerning slavery. It contains no principle, other than respect for the rights of those with power to hold others virtually as property.
Purely as a speech, it suggests Mr. Nixon’s remarks about his dog Checkers and Pat’s cloth coat, emotional ramblings to obscure hard (and, as it later proved, true) accusations of hidden political slush-funds. In Mr. Bush’s case, the hard truth is that his stewardship over America’s responsibilities in the Middle East has been disastrous.
It’s been about a third of a century since the 1967 war and its aftermath of Israel’s seizing land and assuming the self-appointed right to determine the future living conditions of the land’s residents. Now, some say that because Arabs started that war, Israel is under no obligation to return the property it always coveted anyway.
But the best scholars do not agree that the Arabs alone started that war. There is evidence of Israel’s having deliberately manipulated the situation towards achieving that end, knowing full well that it could not only easily withstand the expected assault but handsomely profit from victory.
Mr. Sharon is just one of a long series of Israeli leaders who have wanted to annex the West Bank minus its “undesirable” Palestinian population. This hasn’t been a secret, it’s just not featured in Israel’s speeches, professions, and press releases addressed at the outside world and especially those directed at American audiences.
Yes, indeed, conquerors are often under no obligation to return what they’ve conquered. But is this the relationship, that of conqueror vis-à-vis the conquered, that Israel wishes to have with its neighbors in perpetuity? One does associate the traditions of modern Judaism with larger, more decent, and more humane views than that.
I will not enter the debate over United Nations Resolution 242. Its meaning is abundantly clear. Israel is supposed to leave the territories. Only Israeli hard-liners and their unblinking American defenders seem to interpret it as meaning something else. In effect, Israel behaves as though it had been granted an indefinite League of Nations’ mandate over these lands, ruling them as a de facto empire. And in continuing to ignore existing resolutions of the United Nations, Israel threatens that important institution with the same kind of contempt that caused the death of its predecessor.
It is helpful to bear in mind that the Bush administration includes in its constituency the kind of Americans who refused to pay United Nations dues, who insisted as a compromise (with America’s population representing about 4% of the world’s) on institutional reforms pleasing to themselves, who pay for billboards advocating America’s withdrawal from the United Nations, and some who consider it a proud boast never to have set foot outside the United States.
Nor will I enter the debate over what Mr. Barak offered the Palestinians at Camp David. Again, it is perfectly clear to most what the offer amounted to, something that may more accurately be described as a kind of Yucca Mountain safe depository for undesirable human beings, complete with armed resident watchers in fortress redoubts, rather than anything resembling a state.
In almost every aspect of American foreign policy, Mr. Bush, a man who during his campaign for office actually bragged about never reading the international section of the newspaper, has set back the clock many years.
The Palestinians now are pretty much expected to start over, from the beginning, as though the past third of a century had not happened. And they have pretty well been told by America’s first court-appointed president what leader they should not elect.
Someone has nicely summed up Bush’s conditions in saying the Palestinians must become Sweden before being given any consideration by his administration. Further, even after becoming Sweden, what they can expect is what Mr. Sharon is prepared to grant, which, judging by any standards conditioned on reality, will be precisely nothing.