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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

May 14, 2003

Be Wary of Comforting Words

In an article published in Ha'Aretz, Sunday, 11 May 2003, Aluf Benn comforted those of us who dread the Roadmap, saying:

Just 11 days have passed since publication of the road map, the international plan for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and already it appears to have disappeared from the diplomatic discourse.
...
Israel doesn't expect the United States to press for real concessions as long as the Palestinian terror continues, and so far the new government in the Palestinian Authority is not taking action against it.
Two days later, on Tuesday, May 13, the same Aluf Benn reports this sober reversal, again in Ha'Aretz:
Americans start to work out mechanics of road map

American envoy David Satterfield, who remained in the region after the departure of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, began contacts yesterday to set up the supervisory mechanisms for the implementation of the road map.
...
He told Shalom and others that Powell came to the region to make clear that President George Bush intends to become personally involved in solving the conflict. Satterfield criticized Israel's position, which accepts the "Bush vision" but ignores the "road map." He said the road map is the plan to implement the vision presented by Bush on June 24 and there is no contradiction between the speech and the road map.
...
State Department staffer Richard Erdman is scheduled to arrive here next week to continue the establishment of the monitoring group.
For the moment, let us ignore the comment about the Roadmap not contradicting the "vision"; this point will be discussed in a forthcoming article. Concentrating on the reality in the second piece by Aluf Benn, it is clear that

(i) as far as the US government is concerned, the Roadmap is front and center, not "disappeared", as the first article states.
(ii) Bush is personally involved and will see the Roadmap through.
(iii) Foggy Bottom staff charged with implementing the Roadmap are already on the ground and forging full speed ahead.

Just as the comforting lines of Aluf Benn’s first article were discredited within two days, so were other comforting analyses which were based on journalists' interpretations of the statements Powell made at the two news conferences following the meetings with Sharon and Abu Mazen. The PA "disappointment" tantrum received a great deal of press, implying that Israel has given nothing (ignoring the fact that Israel relaxed travel restrictions, increased the number of work permits, and released 100 prisoners). But if one actually reads the transcript from the news conference, rather than journalistic bias, the picture that emerges is very different. Following are quotations from the official State Department transcript; bold font and comments in brackets, added.

Quotations from the "Joint Press Briefing by Secretary Powell and Prime Minister Sharon Following their Meeting", Prime Minister’s Residence, Jerusalem, May 11, 2003:

QUESTION: With your permission, I would like to ask you, I’ve noticed that the Administration is using all the time the term “a new Palestinian leadership.” Today there is a general strike in the territories as a protest for you not meeting with Arafat. Arafat is still considered among the Palestinians as the number one leader of the Palestinians - not Abu Mazen. Adding to that the fact that Yasser Arafat still controls most of the security systems in the Palestinian Authority, and he controls most of the money, and more than that, the Europeans are still recognizing Arafat as the number one leader and they are meeting with him, and we see visits of foreign ministers of Europe coming to the Muqata to meet with Yasser Arafat. So where exactly does the United States see the new leadership and how are you going to deal with this thing that I mentioned?

SECRETARY POWELL: We see new leadership in the fact that there is now a Prime Minister where there wasn’t one before.
This is as black an omen as they come. Faced with facts indicating that nothing has changed in the PA, Powell in effect says, we'll find signs of change because we want to find them. Over the next two years, as the PA violates clause after clause, the same answer will be given.


Quotation from "Joint Press Conference, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell And Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, Oasis Intercontinental Hotel, Jericho":

In his welcoming speech, Abu Mazen includes these demands:

We look forward to a complete halt to settlement activity, an end to the siege, the separation wall, assassinations, collective punishment, destruction of agricultural products and of infrastructure, limits on the movements of Palestinian citizens and institutions, and the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners. We also demand that Chairman Yasser Arafat be guaranteed freedom of movement, and that all measures harming him cease.
Taking a page from Hitler's conduct at Munich, September 1938, Abu Mazen has no problem excelling in Chutzpah and making -- in Powell's presence -- the most outrageous demands, including freedom of movement for Aratrash. And here's what came next:

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, how are you going to get out of this cycle of the Israelis saying they’re not going to give any substantial concessions until there’s an end to the violence, and the Palestinians calling above all for concessions first from the Israelis?

SECRETARY POWELL: Let’s not talk about concessions, let’s talk about steps that both sides can take to move forward. [In other words, change the terminology and all will be right. But in fact, Israel had already made concessions, including the freeing of prisoners!] The Israeli side indicated to me a number of steps that they are prepared to take and are starting to take now to show their commitment to the process of moving forward and within the context of the roadmap. And the prime minister has made it clear to me today that he understands the importance of ending terrorism and ending the activities of those organizations committed to terrorism. [That is the problem in a nutshell: Israel makes real concessions, the Arabs offer "understanding". This is exactly how the Arabs have been pulling the wool over the West's eyes since 1920.]

QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister, can you tell us specifically what you plan to do in dealing with the extremists? Do you plan to negotiate with them or do you plan to detain and disarm them? [Now, isn't that a straightforward question? Wait until you hear the answer.]

PRIME MINISTER ABBAS: ...On the subject of security, we have clarified more than once, and in the Legislative Council we stated the view that there is one Authority, and one law, and that Authority and law are the ones that must be dealt with, and not be outside that Authority or that law. And we said that there is political pluralism that democracy calls for and which permits any person or party or group to express its opinion democratically in the way we see. That is the policy of the government we have formed and that the Legislative Council has given its vote of confidence to. [Blah, blah, blah... Which the journalist caught immediately:]

QUESTION: That doesn’t answer my question.

PRIME MINISTER ABBAS: [In Arabic]: I believe I responded to what was asked. [If Powell can call concessions, "steps", then why can't Abu Mazen call a triple Blah, "an answer"? And this is how the Arabs get away with bloody murder - call a murderer, a "martyr; call evasion, an "answer"].


QUESTION: Mr. Powell, in the last weeks we’ve heard all kind of commitments from the American officials that the roadmap will not be opened to negotiations. Now you’re talking about discussing it with both sides, you’re talking about waiting to receive comments from the Israelis, you’re talking about talks between both sides, which actually means that it’s open for negotiations. Is it true or not? [Another straightforward question; and now, the clear answer:]

SECRETARY POWELL: On the first question, with President Bush and the American Government and I believe that the roadmap achieves a vision that he laid out in his speech of 24 June of last year. And so we’re committed to the roadmap. But it is a document that both sides have to review and look at, and if one side says they wish to discuss it and have comments about it, that doesn’t change it...But we haven’t changed the roadmap since it was finalized last December. And I think it’s important not to get so hung up on a particular word or a particular statement that we lose the opportunity to get started, to get going. [In other words, the Israelis may complain about this “Made for the PA” document all they wish, but we have not changed it, and we will not change it, and we'll ram it down the Israelis throat, and that's that.]

Stirpped of niceties, Powell's words are quite blunt and nobody should doubt that Israel has already been sold out by Powell. This is the stark reality and only by recognizing it for what it is, and by mobilizing against it shall we be able to help Israel. The comforting words, like those with which I began this piece, serve the purpose of lulling people into complacency, and that is exactly what the Quartet gang needs.

Be wary of comforting words!