As US and Israeli officials prepared for the meeting between George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon on April 14, the Arab world was full of rumours that the Bush administration had agreed to give Sharon "assurances" and "guarantees" in return for Israel’s purported agreement to withdraw from Ghazzah...
As US and Israeli officials prepared for the meeting between George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon on April 14, the Arab world was full of rumours that the Bush administration had agreed to give Sharon "assurances" and "guarantees" in return for Israel’s purported agreement to withdraw from Ghazzah. Just hours before the meeting between Bush and Sharon, Bush met Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak at his ranch in Texas, and gave the impression in their joint press conference that further political change in the region must be on the basis of the US-brokered ‘roadmap’ announced in 2002, which laid down the basis for negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.
The outcome of the Bush-Sharon talks, when they were announced at the Bush-Sharon press conference, were even worse than any Arab’s worst fears. At one stroke, Bush granted US approval to all Israel’s territorial demands around Palestine, on the basis that "realities on the ground and in the region have changed greatly" and need to be reflected. Bush described Sharon’s disengagement plan, by which Sharon plans to impose a new geopolitical order on Palestine in defiance of all previous international agreements and agreements made with the Palestinians, and called it "historic and courageous".
Sharon’s ‘disengagement’ plan envisages Israel annexing six major settlement blocks around Jerusalem, in order to secure its control of the Palestinian capital, which was divided into Israeli and Palestinian sections in 1948. This has been the area of the most intense Israeli ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Palestinians, as they have striven to make it a purely Jewish city. This they have pursued by a combination of military and police intimidation, and quasi-legal measures, such as the destruction of Palestinians’ houses supposedly built without proper permission and refusal to permit Palestinians who leave the city for any reason to return to their homes. Israel has also deliberately built illegal settlements around the city to cut it off from the rest of the West Bank and neighbouring Palestinan communities. This ‘ethnic cleansing’, which has long been recognised and condemned by the UN and other international agencies working in the region, is part of what Bush means by his recognition of changed realities on the ground.
Another part, although it was not explicitly stated, is the infamous "security fence" that Israel is building, which deviates from Israel’s 1967 borders for some 90 percent of its course, cutting deep into Palestinan territories and isolating Palestinian communities into fragmented cantons, enclaves and military zones. Once completed, the wall will literally cage the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Ghazzah into just 12 percent of historic Palestine.
In return for this land-theft, the Sharon plan envisages the dismantling of Israeli settlements in other parts of the West Bank and Ghazzah, which have in any case proved to be undefendable against Palestinian anger and resistance except at a massive cost to Israel. Despite this withdrawal from some settlements – and assuming that it actually goes ahead, which cannot be taken for granted, given Israel’s record of breaking its promises and unilaterally rewriting agreements in its own favour – the area left for a supposed Palestinian state would be reduced to three of four badly truncated Bantustans, which would be totally untenable as the basis of a genuinely independent state. Israel has, in any case, long since demonstrated that its idea of an independent Palestinian state is little more than local authority with very limited powers, which would not include control over its own borders, its external relations and trade, or major parts of its economic life.
Before the Bush announcement, Arab and Palestinian leaders had reacted angrily to reports that America would offer Israel assurances and guarantees over and above those included in the roadmap. Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qurei said that "We will not accept any assurances or guarantees that are incompatible with UN resolutions 242 or 338."
After the announcement, he remained defiant, saying that "the world ought to understand that neither America nor Europe can decide on behalf of the Palestinian people." Mubarak, severely embarrassed by the Bush announcement, was still in the US at the time, and said that he was shocked by the statement, which he attributed to the US president’s effort to win re-election in November, despite the mounting problems he is facing in Iraq and in his ‘war on terror’. Although this analysis was widely shared, Bush’s decision also reflects the continuing dominance of the pro-Israeli lobby in US politics. Objective observers of the Palestinian issue have long since recognised that the US is far from a neutral or honest broker, as have most Palestinians; hence their support for direct anti-Israeli resistance.
He points out that Hamas has long argued that no settlement can be reached under the US, saying that "Hamas will fight to regain all Palestinian rights: their rights to land and sacred cities, including Jerusalem, and the right of return."Khalid Misha’al, head of the political bureau of Hamas, said that the Bush-Sharon plan "proves that armed resistance is the only option for the Palestinians".