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

June 02, 2003

What a difference 12 months make.

Last year President Bush put forward a principled (if imperfect) view of peace in the Middle East. Let's recall part of his famous June 24, 2002 speech:
I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror. I call upon them to build a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty. If the Palestinian people actively pursue these goals, America and the world will actively support their efforts. If the Palestinian people meet these goals, they will be able to reach agreement with Israel and Egypt and Jordan on security and other arrangements for independence.

And when the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbors, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state whose borders and certain aspects of its sovereignty will be provisional until resolved as part of a final settlement in the Middle East.

In the work ahead, we all have responsibilities. The Palestinian people are gifted and capable, and I am confident they can achieve a new birth for their nation. A Palestinian state will never be created by terror -- it will be built through reform. And reform must be more than cosmetic change, or veiled attempt to preserve the status quo. True reform will require entirely new political and economic institutions, based on democracy, market economics and action against terrorism.
Two days later, a reporter asked a question if the president would take up arms against Yasser Arafat. The President diplomatically sidestepped the question. Still the impression at that time was that Arafat was hopelessly compromised by terror and was no longer a credible negotiating partner for Israel. In case these instances were not enough there's David Frum's account:
Bush began to speak more frequently with Ariel Sharon — but he absolutely refused to see or even speak on the telephone with Arafat. Bush's disdain so maddened the Palestinian leader that Arafat actually tried to shove himself into the president's presence at the United Nations meeting in November and had to be physically blocked by the Secret Service. August's "state first, peace later" policy was definitively repudiated. By November, when Powell at last delivered his big Middle East speech, all the deadlines and time lines and talk of international protection for Arafat had been deleted.

Then Arafat made what may someday be reckoned as the most fateful miscalculation of his career. On January 5, 2002, Israeli naval forces intercepted a Gaza-bound merchant ship loaded with fifty tonnes of arms from Iran. Arafat hastily sent Bush a letter denying any involvement in the shipment. Probably Arafat did not even intend his denial to be interpreted literally; he may have written it as a social form, like the phrase I regret in a letter declining an invitation to a wedding or a dinner party. If so, Arafat sorely misunderstood his man. Bush does not lie to you. You had better not lie to him.
So why now do we read in the New York Times "Spotlight Leaves Arafat, but He's Still in the Show":
The international spotlight that Mr. Arafat so relishes has been dimmed by an Israeli boycott and a not-so-veiled warning that he might not be allowed back from any trip abroad. But Palestinian officials and analysts insist that he will still be the most influential Palestinian figure in renewed peace negotiations, even if he is working behind the scenes.

"No Palestinian would dare sit with the Israelis or the Americans without his approval," Mr. Aburdeineh said of Mr. Arafat. "Nobody here can even go see his wife without the green light from him."

While Mr. Arafat retains considerable influence, the dynamics of the Middle East conflict have been changing in the month since Mr. Abbas assumed office.
I thought with the victory of George W. Bush we had reached the end of the recurring rewards for the PA despite their blatant disregards for any American standards. The only positive spin I can put on the President's ignoring Arafat's continued influence - and there was a new terror boat that Israel just intercepted - is that he feels he must prop up Abbas. But that's a weak justification. If President Bush doesn't hold true to his principles he risks completely undermining his war on terror.

Crossposted on IsraPundit and David's Israel Blog.