The Bush Plan - David McReynolds


Listening tonight, Tuesday June 25, to BBC TV, the announcer summed up Israel's reaction to the Bush plan as very positive, "They could have written it themselves" and then went on to say Israelis felt Bush had given Sharon the green light for his current military offensive.

It was clear immediately after Bush spoke that the hard liners had won out, isolating Colin Powell, almost the sole voice of reason in the Bush cabinet.

Bush took firm aim at Arafat, who is not the primary problem, rather than on Sharon and the Israeli Occupation. Of the two men, Sharon has far more blood on his hands and is more easily seen as an indictable war criminal. This doesn't make Arafat a saint. His administration is corrupt, and the first Intifada was as much about Arafat as about the Israelis. The difference between the two men, both of whom are popular elected leaders, is the kind of political cultures in which they operate.

For all its numerous faults (not least, the election of Sharon), Israel is a democracy. If Israel is guilty of human rights violations, of torture, etc. (and it is, having been cited a number of times by a range of reliable sources), it nonetheless has an extremely lively democracy, with a wide range of views articulated, and a rather strong peace movement.

The culture of the West Bank and Gaza has not produced a mirror image of the Israeli peace movement - though there are more voices of moderation than many Israelis will admit. Nor are matters resolved through parliamentary struggles. If Sharon falters, he will be replaced, not killed. (I concede that after the assassination of Rabin no one can be certain of this.) If Arafat falters, in a society filled with several competing armed factions, his leadership and his life could be at stake. Thus, while it is doubtful (Israeli "evidence" notwithstanding) that Arafat has been happy about the suicide bombings or directly involved in them, the problem is that he can't

stop them.

Many of the suicide bombers have come from Hamas, the Islamic fundamentalist group Israel helped create in hopes of weakening Arafat. (Lethal chickens indeed, coming home to roost in Israel with horrifying bloodshed.) In a situation where for decades the Israelis have not been willing to move on key issues (the theory that the Palestinians were offered a good deal at Oslo has long since been laid to rest by experts), violence was predictable and when the struggle took that form, Arafat lacked the authority to curb it.

Whatever authority he did have was effectively destroyed by the Israeli invasions of the West Bank, the massacre at Jenin, the systematic attacks by the IDF on the police stations, and the various other government agencies of the Palestinian Authority. One of Sharon's targets may indeed have been ombers, but it was also the infrastructure of the PA. To "lock down" Arafat in his Ramallah headquarters and at the same time demand he "do something to stop the terror" would be ironic or amusing if it were not so transparently dishonest.

Sharon has shown in the recent past such utter contempt for instructions from the White House, that Bush, bowing to that reality and to the political pressure from the Israeli lobby and the fundamentalists (an odd but potent mix), has now limited himself to issuing orders only to the Palestinians. They are as unlikely to heed those orders as Sharon - but the Palestinians have no effective lobby in the US.

The Bush plan will fail. It will backfire, first of all, because the notion of a unelected President lecturing the Palestinians on who their leader should be, is appalling, and much of the world finds it so. So do the Palestinians. Bush has locked himself into the position that he, like Sharon, won't deal with Arafat, but will deal with a "new elected leader."

What will he do if that new leader is a re-elected Arafat? (There must be a terrible temptation for the Israeli intelligence community to arrange an "accident" that will remove Arafat altogether from the political situation.) What will he do if Arafat is killed and a more radical leader is elected?

More important, what is wrong with Arafat in the first place? The Israelis don't like him - fine, the Palestinians don't like Sharon. But each man, for better or worse, has been chosen by their people. I'm reminded of Brecht's cynical comment on dictators - "we shall elect a new people." Peace in the Middle East may not be possible. All that was wrong in January of last year is very much worse in June of this year. The extremists on both sides have new followers. But you can't move away from violence and toward peace by removing only one of the two leaders - particularly the one who is less responsible for the mess.

The blood bath in Israel in recent days was, I regret to say, entirely predictable. The result of Jenin was not a period of peace for Israel, but the guarantee of more terror. Those suicide bombings, tragic as they are for all concerned, are acts of resistance and should be seen with something of the same understanding that is so readily extended to the violent actions of the IDF in the West Bank and Gaza. Occupation destroys people. It has destroyed something in Israel. And it has destroyed something in Palestinians. Societies that had a moral center would tolerate neither the Occupation nor the suicide bombings. Something has gone terribly wrong on

both sides.

To move toward any kind of eventual peace the United States would need to be truly impartial. But that would require a President who knew what he is doing, as clearly Bush does not, and willing to break with his own fundamentalist base and the Israeli lobby, something he is not about to do. As a result his speech reflects the confusion of the White House rather than a sensible policy on which to build.

For Israel matters are very difficult. The invasion of the West Bank and Gaza not only imposes further unspeakable hardships on the Palestinians (of which the average Israeli seems totally unaware) but generates major stress on Israel economically. Reserves must be called up. The economic situation in Israel is serious. To now take on the civil administration in the Palestinian areas - having destroyed the Palestinian Authority - will require new expenditures.

My guess is that Israeli public opinion, joyous as it has been immediately after hearing the Bush speech, will have second thoughts when it finds it cannot stop the terror (that won't stop until the Occupation ends, and given the violence the Israelis have unleashed, it is doubtful if it will come to a swift halt even then).

What Israel is doing is evil. The suicide bombings flow from Israeli policy, much more than any decision taken by Arafat. The hope of stanching the flow of blood must begin with an absolute clarity on a time table to withdraw from all settlements outside the 1967 borders, and some sharing of Jerusalem. On neither issue has Sharon, at any time, shown any interest in compromise. The Palestinians are paying a high price for their resistance to the Occupation - but so, as the recent months have shown, are the Israelis.

If there is hope, it isn't in Bush but in peaceful, nonviolent Palestinian resistance to Israel, in the moderates in both Israel and the Palestinian community - and in the more rational and humane elements in the American  Jewish community which can help make it clear to Israel that the White House can't make peace, that this will require changes in Israeli policy.

David McReynolds is a former Chair of War Resisters International, and on the National Committee of the Socialist Party USA, whose candidate for President he was in 2000.