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The speech: beautiful words bypassing ugly reality

25 June 2002

Democratic reforms, a practicing democracy based on liberty and tolerance, an effective legislature, an independent judiciary, separation of powers, a new constitution - so many rosy items did the President of the United States set out for the Palestinians, in his long-awaited speech on the Middle East.

Somehow, throughout his speech George W. Bush managed to avoid any mention of the present situation in the same parcel of land where all these wonderful things are to materialize. No mention of the fact that all West Bank cities had been invaded by Israeli military forces; that hundreds of thousands of inhabitants are imprisoned in their homes by a strict curfew, and that civilians appearing on city streets risk having tanks shoot shells on them (while the speech was delivered in Washington, Israeli soldiers completed the takeover of Hebron, killing three Palestinian policemen in the process); that even before that conquest, the towns and villages where Bush would have a flourishing market economy set up are cut off from each other by checkpoints and closures and sieges, with inhaibitants replacing their cars with donkeys able to negotiate narrow mountain paths.

How are Palestinians to implement any kind of reforms under such circumctances?

How are they to reform a Palestinian Authority which is being systematically choked out of existence?

How could elections be held "before the end of the year" without a pullout of Israeli forces, and some assurance of their non- interference?

And what would President Bush do if Palestinian voters, exercising their democractic right to choose, re-elect Yasser Arafat as their leader? Would that democratic choice be set aside in yet another military invasion?

And even if "new Palestinian leaders" would get elected, pass Bush's careful scrutiny, and try to "fight terrorism" as the president so vocally demands, would they be assured of the basic conditions for doing so? Would their efforts not be continually thwarted by Sharon, as are those of the existing Palestinian leadership?

In the Gaza Strip, the one parcel of land where the Palestinian Authority retains some measure of control and where it tried in the past few days to take some action against Hamas, Israeli forces yesterday committed the provocation of assassinating a major Hamas leader (together with five family members who happened to travel in a taxi with that leader, and who got killed by the same missile which killed him).

The root cause of terrorism and suicide bombing (or "homicide bombing" as the president insisted upon calling it) was hardly addressed at all: 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. President Bush's speech - making strident demands upon the weaker party to the conflict, and only vague polite requests upon the stronger side - contributes little to that cause.

No wonder that Sharon expressed immense satisfaction with the speech - but the two peoples, locked in this terrible struggle, pay the price for the arrogance, short-sightedness and lack of resolve of the dweller in the White House.

Adam Keller
Published by Gush Shalom

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