On June 24, 2002, President Bush finally capitulated to months of pressure from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and declared Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat "irrelevant." Bush made the demand that Arafat be replaced a pre-condition for US participation in the "roadmap" process.
After more months of delay, on April 29, 2003, the Palestinian leadership went along and appointed Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as Prime Minister. But Abbas didn't have support from the US or control of what remained of the PA security forces. Israel went right on mounting raids in Gaza and the West Bank, killing and imprisoning "suspected militants" and destroying homes. Building in the settlements continued with no pressure from the Bush Regime to force Israel to abide by their agreements under the provisions of the Roadmap. PM Abbas, who had been appointed at the insistence of the US, had little or nothing to show as results from the Palestinian acceptance of te Roadmap and the cease fire by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Abbas's credibility and popularity declined and in early September 2003 he resigned.
Rather than exert real leadership in the effort to resolve the dangerous crisis between Israel and Palestine, the Bush administration, like all others since Jimmy Carter was President, has abdicated that responsibility. In a tail-wags-dog posture the Regime has supported Israel unconditionally as our ally, right or wrong. The Bush parrots Sharon's demand that the Palestinian leadership "crack down" on the Hamas and Islamic Jihad organizations. By the slogan "crack down," they mean "dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism," specifically, imprison and disarm the militants who are regarded by Palestinians as freedom fighters.
But, even a strong, popular, Palestinian leader would be unable to disarm the freedom fighters without provoking a civil war in Palestine. The only way disarmament and a cessation of the armed resistence to the occupation can be achieved is for the Bush Regime to demand that Israel begin removing settlements, checkpoints and occupying forces from Palestinian territory. That and that alone will bring peace. The main obstacle to progress toward peace is American support for Israel's plan to permanently annex large parts of the West Bank and Gaza, to steal the water and the best land, and to imprison the Palestinians into bantustans, just as was done in Apartheid South Africa. http://www.quixote-quest.org/resources/israel_palestine/Mandela_Barghouti_100702.html
The US media and the Bush Regime are in total lock-step agreement with Sharon. For example, the Portland Oregonian editorializes:
Let's stipulate three things right up front: Yasser Arafat is now the biggest obstacle to peace in the Middle East. The Palestinian leader is one layer above a terrorist. Finally, the Middle East would be a better place, not least for Palestinians, if Arafat left the stage tomorrow.
By Mike Allen and Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 19, 2003; Page A19
Three months after relaunching his Middle East peace efforts with back-to-back summits near the Red Sea, President Bush acknowledged yesterday that the process is "stalled," and he blamed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for undercutting his efforts.
Speaking at Camp David with Jordan's King Abdullah at his side, Bush departed from his usual formula of stressing the obligations of both Israel and the Palestinians and said Palestinians were responsible for the collapse of progress amid renewed violence. Bush accused Arafat of seeking to thwart the anti-terrorism efforts of former Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who resigned Sept. 6 after four months in office.
"His efforts were undermined, and that's why we're now stalled," Bush said. "Mr. Arafat has failed as a leader. . . . Prime Minister Abbas was undermined at all turns by the old order -- that meant Mr. Arafat."
While Abbas criticized Arafat when he resigned two weeks ago, he also faulted the Bush administration in his resignation statement, saying the United States "did not exert sufficient influence on Israel" to fulfill its commitments outlined in the U.S.-backed peace plan known as the "road map."
Prime Minister Sharon also uses Arafat as a scapegoat to considerable advantage. For an excellent commentary see the article by Rick Salutin, "Uses of an Arafat", September 20, 2003, Toronto, Globe and Mail, reprinted in Rabble News, http://www.rabble.ca/columnists_full.shtml?x=25599)
The case against scapegoating Arafat is important, not because Arafat is a satisfactory leader for the Palestinians, but because the Bush Regime and the Sharon government use Arafat's weakness to avoid taking responsibility for their own, far more important failures. Keeping Arafat weak and ineffective is part of their strategy.
Even though the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the US made up the "Quartet" which designed the Road Map, only the US can exert effective pressure on Israel to cooperate. The US is Israel's unconditional protector in the UN and in the world. None of the other parties to the Road Map has significant means to challenge the Israeli intransigence without risking a confrontation with the US. Without real US pressure, Israel has little incentive to compromise. If Hamas and Islamic Jihad are disarmed and violent resistance stops, the incentive drops to zero.
President Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, was bold in announcing his disagreement with scapegoating Arafat. In an interview with Bob Edwards of National Public Radio on September 19,2003, the 25th Anniversary of the Camp David Peace Agreement between Israel and Egypt, which Carter helped negotiate, he said [emphasis mine]:
EDWARDS: The focus this week is on a single individual. Is Yasser Arafat the main obstacle to peace as the US and Israeli governments describe him?
Mr. CARTER: No, I don't think so. In the last few years as you know, Arafat has been almost completely isolated in one small building and hasn't been really in charge of things on the ground. But I think it's just kind of an excuse to blame everything on Arafat who has practically no authority even among his own people.
EDWARDS: What would happen if Israel carried out its threat to expel him from the West Bank?
Mr. CARTER: Well, this is specifically prohibited in the `road map' that there would be any expelling of people from the West Bank in Gaza. I'm sure that when that sentence was put in the `road map' by President Bush and others that they weren't thinking about Arafat. So this would be another very blatant violation of the principles of the `road map.'
EDWARDS: What's your assessment of Ariel Sharon?
Mr. CARTER: When I was at Camp David negotiating with Prime Minister Begin, I heard two or three years later that Begin did make a private telephone call to Ariel Sharon who encouraged Begin to accept the difficult proposals that I put forward. Later when I went over to try to conclude the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, Ariel Sharon was one of the members of the Cabinet who did approve my proposals on the peace treaty, even when Prime Minister Begin was holding out for additional concessions. So, in those days, Sharon was in favor of peace. I think the main issue is whether or not Israel insists upon the colonizing of the West Bank in Gaza or whether they will withdraw from the West Bank in Gaza as is required by United Nations resolutions and as is required also under the so-called `road map' for peace.
EDWARDS: Is there something specific President Bush could be doing now to salvage the peace process or is it out of his hands?
Mr. CARTER: Well, that depends on how assiduously the president of the United States, no matter who it is, is willing to devote himself to that very difficult issue and put his prestige on the line and put his influence on the line. I found out from Camp David, as did all my associates there, that only I, personally, since I was the president, could exert the influence and make the concessions and promises from one side to another to bring the two sides into a complete agreement. But I think nowadays there are many other very troubling and important issues on the desk in the Oval Office, and I don't envision anytime soon President Bush putting the peace process at the top of his agenda.
[Blogger aside: Ahh, for a President who can use the word "assiduously".]
EDWARDS: Last week, candidate Howard Dean said that there should be more even-handed American policy in the Middle East. Senator Lieberman and others went after Dean saying he was threatening to undermine long-standing US relations with Israel. What do you make of that?
Mr. CARTER: Howard Dean was absolutely right. You know, the word even-handed may not have been a good choice but the United States has to take a balanced position between Israel and the Palestinian or other adversaries of Israel, that you can't just have the United States and Israel forming a coalition as though they were in opposition to the other side.
Should Arafat take the blame for the collapse of the "Road Map"? To the contrary, it is Israel which has repeatedly breached the ceasefire. Sharon has demonstrated clearly that he has no intention of enforcing the Road Map, as formulated by its proponents. Furthermore, the Bush Regime has utterly failed to exert pressure on Israel to fulfill even a semblance of its obligations, and thereby to empower the Palestinian leadership to restrain militant attacks. Instead, the US has stood by while Israel provokes retalliatory violence with continuing raids, killing many Palestinian. This strategy has been used by Israel repeatedly whenever peace efforts show promise. http://www.quixote-quest.org/resources/israel_palestine/HamasHunudMartyr_112501.html
On June 4th, 2003, President Bush declared,in Aqaba, with Sharon and Abbas the enactment of the Road Map. On June 5th Israeli troops assassinated two Palestinians near Tulkarm.
On June 10th Israel attempted the assassination of Aziz Rantisi, a Hamas political leader. The following account of the Israeli attack is typical of the callous disregard for the safety of Palestinian bystanders shown by the IDF.
June 10, 2003
Palestinian Center for Human Rights
Israeli rockets strike car carrying Hamas leader PCHR, Report, 10 June 2003 The Israeli attack left dead 2 Palestinian civilians and wounded more than 30 others, including a number of children. The failed assassination attempt targeted Dr. 'Abdul 'Aziz al-Rantisi, a prominent leader of the Hamas movement. This latest attack is further evidence of the continuous escalation of illegal actions perpetrated by Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians, including extra-judicial killings.
According to PCHR's investigation and eyewitness statements, at approximately 10:53 AM 2 Israeli combat helicopters launched 6 missiles at a civilian car a blue Mitsubishi that was traveling in 'Ezziddin al-Qassam Street in a densely populated area in Gaza City. Dr. 'Abdul 'Aziz al-Rantisi, 60, his son, Ahmed, 20, and two of his bodyguards were traveling in the car.
The first missile hit the front of the car. Although the passengers were wounded by the first strike, they managed to jump from the vehicle. Shortly after, the helicopters launched more missiles, completely destroying the car. The second strike killed a woman, who was passing by the area. The woman has been identified as Khadra Yousef Abu Hamada, 30 from Al Karama housing project, north of Gaza City. Dr. al-Rantisi survived the attack, but was wounded in his left leg. More than 30 civilians, including 8 children, were also wounded. Shortly after the attack the wounded were evacuated to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. According to medical sources, 7 of the wounded were in a serious condition, including one of al-Rantisi¹s bodyguards, Mustapha Abdul Rahim Saleh, 30, from Gaza City. An hour after the attack, Saleh succumbed to his wound. Also among the wounded was PCHR staff member, Bassam Abu Hashish, 40, from Gaza City, who was wounded by shrapnel throughout his body, as he passed by the area.
Between the 10th of June, 2003, and June 29 when the announcement was made of a cease fire by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, there were several violent incidents perpetrated by Israel including an attack on a family vehicle at a checkpoint on June 24. "The dead included Mahmoud Kabaha, a four-year-old boy, who was sitting in the back seat of a jeep with his family at a checkpoint when an Israeli soldier shot him dead-- in a spray of bullets that the army simply called an 'accidental burst of gunfire'." (Associated Press, 7/25/03)
Despite the unceasing violence from Israel, a "Hudna", a temporary, conditional truce was announced on June 29, 2003, by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In the following few weeks until August 9, the Israeli military killed 10 Palestinians, 5 of them children, wounded 348 Palestinians, 65 of them children, arrested 435 Palestinians, and damaged or completely destroyed 211 Palestinian homes.
The US media portrayed the weeks during the ceasefire as free from violence. This was not at all the truth as was noted by FAIR:http://www.fair.org/press-releases/relative-calm.html
August 22, 2003
The deadly bus bombing in Jerusalem on August 19 was foreshadowed by a pair of suicide attacks a week earlier which killed two Israeli civilians. While U.S. media tended to portray these attacks as a return to violence after a relatively peaceful period, there were numerous killings in the weeks leading up to the suicide bombings that underscore the lack of evenhanded attention given to loss of life in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
When the two Palestinian suicide bombers each killed an Israeli civilian along with themselves on August 12, U.S. news outlets immediately depicted the attacks as an apparent resurgence in Mideast violence. "Summer truce shattered in Israel," announced CBS (8/12/03), while NBC (8/12/03) reported that "the attacks broke more than a month of relative silence." The Los Angeles Times (8/13/03) wrote that the bombings "broke a six-week stretch during which the people of this war-weary land had enjoyed relative quiet."
During this six-week period of "relative quiet," however, some 17 Palestinians were killed and at least 59 injured by Israeli occupation soldiers and settlers, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society. Virtually none of the major U.S. news reports on the August 12 bombings alluded to the Palestinian death toll in this period, leaving out a key piece of the story: For Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the violence had never ceased; while the Israeli attacks had decreased, there had never been anything like an Israeli cease-fire.
Then came the August 19 Jerusalem bus bombing which left 18 Israelis dead and dozens injured. The attack drove the Israeli hardliners insane (if they were not already) and they decided to use the event as the turning point after which they will no longer negotiate to make peace. They have decided to use whatever force is necessary to gain a military victory. The assassinations have come fast and furious in the month since, culminating in the decision by the Israeli government to exile Arafat, whom they blame for every attack.
Here's a simple outline chronology of the events leading to the unilateral truce being called off by Hamas and Islamic Jihad from the Guardian:
Friday August 22, 2003
27 Israel and Palestinians agree disengagement deal in Gaza
29 Israeli troops begin Gaza pullback. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Arafat's Fatah faction, including al-Aqsa Martyrs, declare truce
2 Israel withdraws from Bethlehem. US announces $30m (£18.8m) aid for West Bank and Gaza
3 Israeli troops shoot dead a militant and block traffic on Gaza's main road, angering Palestinians
5 The Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, meets the Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin for the first time
6 Israeli cabinet decides to release several hundred Palestinian prisoners
9 US approves giving $20m in aid directly to the Palestinian Authority in a move aimed at strengthening Abbas
20 Abbas meets Ariel Sharon
25 Abbas meets George Bush in Washington for the first time
27 Israel agrees to free 210 militants
28 Israeli troops fire teargas and rubber bullets to break up protests against the construction of a huge separation/security barrier in the West Bank
29 Sharon meets Bush in Washington
31 Israel announces plans for 22 new homes at a settlement in Gaza, in defiance of the US
2 Al-Aqsa Martyrs threaten to resume attacks after Yasser Arafat has 20 of them detained in Ramallah. Lebanon car bomb kills a Hizbullah member, Ali Hussein Saleh; Hizbullah accuses Israel of involvement
5 Abbas calls off meeting with Sharon, accusing him of dragging his feet
6 Israel releases 336 Palestinian prisoners as a gesture
8 Two Hamas militants and an Israeli soldier killed in Israeli raid on West Bank refugee camp. Two more Palestinians die later in protests
12 Two suicide bombers strike in Israel; one other person killed in each attack
14 Israeli troops kill Mohammed Seder, head of Islamic Jihad's armed wing in Hebron
17 Israelis and Palestinians fail to agree terms for the handover of four West Bank cities to Palestinian security control
19 Suicide bomber on a Jerusalem bus kills at least 20
21 Israel kills Ismail Abu Shanab of Hamas; Islamic Jihad official declares ceasefire over
It is essential to note that in the face of numerous attacks by Israel, Hamas and Islamic Jihad did not at once formally renounce the cease fire. They took responsibility for the retalliation attack on Aug 8, 12, and 20. But it was not until Israel killed Abu Shanab on Aug. 21, 2003, that the militant organizations' attempts to maintain the ceasefire were abandonded.
Responsibility for the failure of the "Road Map" falls upon its originators, the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia, which failed to press Israel hard enough to dismantle "outposts" and stop expanding settlements, and to relieve the hardships caused by roadblocks, and, most of all to stop the assassinations of leading militants.
Except for three retalliations for Israeli killings, the unilateral ceasefire by Hamas and Islamic Jihad held from June 27 to August 21. During those nearly two months, Israel's failure to respond in kind makes it totally clear that the Sharon government does not want peace. They want the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem as a part of their dream of "Greater Israel", and they want the Palestinians imprisoned in bantustans just as the blacks were in apartheid South Africa. The difference being that in South Africa the entire world recoiled in revulsion; in the case of Israel, Americans turn their faces away and protect Israel from UN economic sanctions and other responses from thew world community.