George S. Hishmeh
Gulf News (Opinion)
May 22, 2008 - 4:49pm

The US President George W. Bush has just returned from his five-day Middle East trip without any feathers in his hat, primarily because of his tunnel vision regarding the war-or-peace issues in that region.

More so, his lacklustre pronouncements in his waning days at the White House were by and large inarticulate, narrowly focused and out-of-line.

He hurt people in the region as much as he has disappointed, if not, embarrassed his fellow Americans, including the Democratic Party's presumptive presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama.

It is an unwritten law that any leader, American or otherwise, should not criticise his country's leadership while on an official trip overseas, as it is for the latter not to attack the government's policies while he or she is out of the country.

Bush's Mideast trip was billed as having a two-pronged objective: celebrate Israel's 60th anniversary and promote peace-making between Palestinians and Israelis, long stalled and very much in urgent need of an American shove.

On the sidelines, he had hoped to convince Saudi Arabia to increase its oil exports in order to bring down the price of gas in America, now a few pennies below four dollars a gallon.

At the Knesset, Bush went overboard in praising Israel, much as the country merits praise for some of its achievements but hardly a word about its condemnable political record.

There was not a single line about the 40-year-occupation of the Palestinian territories, continued expansion of Israeli colonies, the 11,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, the siege of the Gaza Strip and the denial of American-Palestinians from visiting their birthplaces.


He also took the unprecedented step of lambasting those who advocated American negotiations with such states as Iran and Syria, as did the Democratic front-runner, Obama. Without naming Obama, or Hezbollah and Hamas.

Bush told the Knesset members in his celebratory address which was repeatedly applauded: "Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before ... We have an obligation to call this what it is - the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."

The American president had only one line about Palestine in his attempt to describe his "bold vision" for the region "60 years from now".

He said it would include "the Palestinian people (who) will have the homeland they have long dreamed of and deserved - a democratic state that is governed by law, and respects human rights, and rejects terror".

It sounded as if the Palestinians have to wait six more decades to see their dream come true, at a time when they were tearfully recalling their dispossession and the ethnic cleansing that followed Israel's establishment.

This one-liner virtually amounted to a stab in the heart of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. "In principle, the Bush speech at the Knesset angered us, and we were not happy with it," he responded.

"This is our position ... I frankly, clearly, and transparently asked him that the American position should be balanced."

In his unkindest cut of them all, Bush claimed that "some people suggested if the United States would just break ties with Israel, all our problems in the Middle East would go away" - a cheap shot that has not been heard anywhere.

"This is a tired argument that buys into the propaganda of our enemies, and America rejects it utterly. Israel's population may be just over 7 million. But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong, because America stands with you."

It is unbelievable that Bush, after spending seven years in office, should remain unaware of the crux of the Palestinian-Israeli problem. "It's the occupation ...."

Even the beleaguered Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora called on Bush, after cancelling an appointment with him while en route this week to a Lebanese reconciliation conference in Qatar. "to pressure the Israelis to end their occupation".

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Aboul Geith told a World Economic Forum in Sharm Al Shaikh that the presence of Israeli and US tanks on Arab soil is leading to more instability in the region.

King Abdullah of Jordan urged Bush at their meeting in Egypt "to remove obstacles that hinder progress in the peace process, foremost of which are (Israeli) settlement activity in the West Bank, the economic blockade and other violations against the Palestinians".

Will all that change Bush's mind-set about the Middle East and Israel? Doubtful in the time left for him at the helm of the American establishment, much as I would like to be proven wrong. Even a magic wand may not be helpful.

Akiva Eldar of Haaretz pointed out that has been "the third time in the past half year that the US president shows the Palestinians and the entire Arab World that they are wasting their time by trying to end the occupation by peaceful means ... The occupation has been progressing, while the vision of two states has been receding".

Abbas might as well pack up and go home!


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017