doubt the motives both of the terrorists, and those who support
them are mixed, and Islam's sad identity crisis in its encounter
with the West has some weight. But denial that the Israeli-Palestinian
stalemate generates enormous ill will towards the United States
in the Arab world, or that the Israeli occupation, backed by American
arms, gives the bin Ladens of the region effective recruiting points
and propaganda themes, seems more and more difficult.
this linkage has apparently been acknowledged at the highest levels.
New York Times frontpage revealed a bombshell: the administration
let it be known that prior to September 11, it had planned to endorse
formally the idea of a Palestinian state. Secretary of State Powell
was going to outline an American conception of a final Israeli-Palestinian
settlement in a speech before the General Assembly, President Bush
planned to meet with Yasser Arafat. Questioned last week, President
in essence affirmed this, saying "The idea of a Palestinian
state has always been part of a vision."
leak and Bush's comment are part of the effort to build alliances
in the Arab world prior to taking out bin Laden; they
also serve as a counter to the "go-to-war against-the-whole
Arab-world" rhetoric emanating from the neoconservative magazines
and editorial pages. But once the words are out, they can't
easily be retracted.
the merits of course, the Palestinian state idea is unimpeachable,
required for any resolution of the conflict that purports to conform
with justice. That has been clear from the outset, though many barriers
had to be overcome. The Palestinians needed to accept as fact Israel's
permanent existence in the region and its right to secure and recognized
borders; that acquiescence to half a loaf was not really obtained
until after the Gulf War. The Israelis had to give up the idea of
a "Greater Israel" established on the captured lands of
he West Bank and Gaza. The maximalists on the Israeli side have
more than matched the Palestinians in stubbornness, both in Israel
itself, where both political parties have expanded the illegal settlements,
and among the Jewish state's hard line American supporters. The
latter, neoconservative hawks for the most part, play prominent
roles both inside the Bush administration and in right wing journalism.
those reasons, no one should underestimate the risk in the political
leap President Bush took in saying "Yes there should be a Palestinian
state" or the intensity of the battle that now lies before
him. Bush will soon find himself fighting a two front war, first
to rally American and world opinion to support strikes against the
Taliban, and secondly against a domestic lobby which will fight
tooth and nail against American diplomatic pressure on Israel to
American Israel Public Affairs Committee by acclamation Capitol
Hill's most potent lobby was
quick to denounce the White House, issuing a statement claiming
"Those who are urging the President to meet with PLO Chairman
Arafat. . . are undermining America's war against terrorism."
(The "those who are urging" phrasing diplomatically tries
to avoid direct criticism of Bush, but more direct attacks will
certainly come.) The Forward, the well-informed Jewish weekly,
described the reaction of Jewish leaders to the Times report
as "furious." Robert Satloff, of the Washington Institute
for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank, lambasted
the Bush suggestion, saying the successful American Mid East
diplomacy has always stressed that "process" was more
important than "preferred outcomes."
Satloff put forward as an example for the current President to follow
George Herbert Walker Bush (Bush I) who, he claims, put together
a coalition with Arabs to reverse Saddam Hussein's takeover of Kuwait
without making any promises about the Palestinian question. "That
was the right approach then, and is still the right approach"
example is noteworthy because of what Satloff doesn't mention: George
Bush senior's presidency was gravely wounded in its post-Desert
Storm face-off with the Israeli lobby over the Palestinian issue.
the dust settled in the summer of 1991 after the victory over Iraq,
Bush I began to press for diplomatic progress on the Israel-Palestinian
front. But Israel wanted American loan guarantees to settle a large
new influx of Soviet Jews on the West Bank, and Congress was inclined
to give it, no strings attached. The White House did not want new
Israeli settlements built on the Palestinian territory believing,
as had every American administration before and since, that Israeli
settlements were a barrier to a durable peace. The settlements deprived
the future Palestinian state of contiguous territory while expanding
the Israeli domestic constituency with a passionate vested interest
(their homes) against any "land for peace" arrangement.
Seeking a compromise with Congress, the White House pushed for a
four-month moratorium on the loan guarantees, but the Israeli lobby
asked for the funds to be released right away.
a press conference that would become notorious, President Bush complained
about the size and intensity of the lobby's activities. "I
heard today there were something like a thousand lobbyists on the
Hill working the other side of the question. We've got one lonely
guy [himself] down here doing it." The remark draw a clear
line between the President and AIPAC, generating a firestorm of
anger within organized American Jewry. High ranking figures in major
Jewish organizations accused the president of a "disgusting
display of, if not anti-Semitism, at least something close to it."
Thousands of letters to the editor poured into American newspapers,
attacking Bush in similar terms.
the day of his press conference, (September 12, 1991) Bush, the
organizer of the Desert Storm victory, held a 70 percent approval
rating in the opinion polls. Within two months, his political stock
had nose-dived. His close friend Richard Thornburgh, a former attorney
general, soon lost a comfortable lead in an off year race for an
open Pennsylvania Senate seat, after money suddenly began pouring
in to his Democratic opponents' campaign. Thornburgh's defeat that
November was taken as a harbinger President Bush's own re-election
account of Bush I's fall (drawn largely from J.J. Goldberg's Jewish
Power: Inside the Jewish Establishment) does not attribute
Bush's political collapse entirely to fallout from taking on "the
lobby". The economy was weak, and did not begin to emerge from
recession until late 1992. But it does illustrate the potential
dangers even for a Republican not greatly dependent on Jewish
financial or voter support of a political showdown with Israel's
backers over the Israel-Palestinian peace process.
is virtually inconceivable that Bush fils has failed to speak
extensively with his father about those fateful days of a mere decade
ago, well before uttering his own simple words about Palestinian
statehood. Assuming that the President hasn't stepped into this
hornets nest without reflection, he has demonstrated, impressively,
that he at least is ready to "take risks for peace."
printable version of this article
As a committed
cold warrior during the 1980s, Scott McConnell wrote extensively
for Commentary and other neoconservative publications. Throughout
much of the 1990s he worked as a columnist, chief editorial writer,
and finally editorial page editor at the New York Post. Most
recently, he served as senior policy advisor to Pat Buchanans 2000
campaign , and writes regularly for NY Press/Taki's Top Drawer.
columns on Antiwar.com
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