Bush's credibility deficit
He can talk about peace as much as he likes, but Palestinians don't believe the US president, reports Khaled Amayreh from Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem
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Ever since the Nakba and the creation of the state of Israel, the Palestinian has been treading a torturous path. He makes his way between barbed wires, with no choice but to move ahead unabated, because he has no faith in US President Bush's two-state solution
President George Bush's history of unfulfilled promises and fanatical embrace of Israel's expansionistic policies mean that most Palestinians dismiss his latest peace proposals as "mendacious" and "insincere".
"Only gullible people would give Bush the benefit of the doubt," said Hamas, reacting to Bush's Monday call for a "regional-international meeting" to plot general outlines for a possible final-status settlement.
"Hamas doesn't trust Bush and gives no weight to his proposals. We have had experience of this man once, twice, three times, and all we have heard from him are lies and more lies," said Hamas spokesman Yehia Moussa, the deputy-head of the movement's bloc on the Legislative Council.
Moussa urged "the Arab and Muslim umma " to support the Palestinians and not leave their cause "at the mercy of Israel and America." A second Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, vowed to thwart "the new conspiracy".
"We shall abort all US conspiracies just as we thwarted the Dayton plot to create a quisling government in Gaza that would be at Israel's beck and call," said Abu Zuhri, alluding to a US plan, rumoured to have been overseen by Washington's envoy to the region, General Keith Dayton, to empower former PA strongman Mohamed Dahlan to overthrow Hamas with American funds and weapons.
Islamic Jihad also denounced Bush's proposals as "another deception".
"Islamic Jihad views this initiative with suspicion. Bush simply can't be trusted. His alliance with Israel is clear to all and sundry. Indeed, his entire administration is completely subservient to the... Jewish lobby."
In contrast, the Palestinian Authority (PA), headed by Mahmoud Abbas, greeted Bush's proposals with muted optimism. The Ramallah- based government of Salam Fayyad issued a formal statement welcoming "President Bush's proposal calling for an international forum to look into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict".
The PA statement viewed "the promised financial aid" from the Bush administration positively, adding that "we hope this time promises will be translated into tangible facts on the ground."
This lukewarm response from the Abbas- Fayyad regime, which depends almost completely on American backing, suggests that even they doubt the sincerity of the US president's commitment to the creation of a viable and genuine Palestinian state.
Bush, who began his presidency with a crusade against "terror", and who has repeatedly attempted to lump Palestinian resistance against Israeli colonialism in with his hapless war on terror, has consistently refused to exert any pressure on Israel. He once criticised the "separation wall", which he said was meandering like a snake through occupied Palestinian territories, but failed to act to prevent Israel from stealing swathes of Palestinian land for the construction of the barrier. Nor has he acted to prevent Israel's expansion of settlements in the West Bank, though their existence makes the prospects for realising Palestinian statehood impossible.
Bush killed any modicum of trust he might have enjoyed with Palestinians and the Arab public when in 2003 he gave former Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon written guarantees that Israel could keep all major Jewish settlements in the West Bank following any peace agreement with the Palestinians. Bush alluded to that pledge in his speech on Monday when he said the proposed regional meeting would have to take into account "existing realities" in the West Bank.
Bush's speech appears to have been a desperate, and probably last-ditch, attempt to salvage the moribund roadmap which, despite diplomatic statements to the contrary, is seen by all major players to be dead.
Hanan Ashrawi, the prominent Palestinian spokeswoman known for her optimism, believes Bush's latest speech is first and foremost an attempt to improve Washington's image in this part of the world.
"They want to give the impression that the US is not only good at starting wars, but in peacemaking as well. We have been asking for an international peace conference, and they gave us a regional meeting. We asked for an international envoy to resolve the conflict, but they gave us an envoy [former British prime minister, Tony Blair] to rebuild Palestinian institutions... so let us see how things will be, let us wait and see," Ashrawi told Al-Ahram Weekly.
A growing number of Palestinian, Israeli and foreign observers are coming to the conclusion that the chances of building a viable Palestinian state on the West Bank are daily slipping away. The creation of more than 200 Jewish settlements quite simply leaves too little room.
Yet settlement expansion continues unabated, in full view of the Bush administration and the international community. Which is not to say that Israel is consciously pushing for a one-state solution, just that it wants as much Palestinian land as possible, with as little Palestinian demography.
Israel's ultimate goal appears to be to force the Palestinians to accept a Palestinian "state" on small and isolated enclaves of the West Bank. Indeed, in light of Israeli actions, this is what Israel has in mind whenever its officials speak of supporting the creation of a Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel. It is not at all the kind of state the Palestinians have in mind. That would occupy 100 per cent of the occupied territories, with East Jerusalem as its capital. They are unlikely to trade that vision for a territorially disconnected state lacking sovereignty and authority, whatever the blandishments offered in the remaining months of the Bush presidency. (see p.9)