For Palestinians, Doubts About Bush's Sincerity

President George Bush’s history of unfulfilled promises and his fanatical embrace of Israel’s expansionistic policies are why most Palestinians dismiss his latest peace proposals as “deceptive” and “insincere.”

Reacting to Bush’s Monday call for a “regional-international meeting” to plot a general outline for a hoped-for final-status settlement, Hamas said, “Only the gullible would give Bush the benefit of the doubt.”

“Hamas doesn’t trust Bush and gives no weight to his proposals. We’ve had experience of this man once, twice, three times, and all we’ve heard from him are lies and more lies,” said Hamas spokesman Yehia Moussa, the deputy-head of the movement’s bloc on the Legislative Council.

Moussa urged “the Arab and Muslim umma [community] “to support the Palestinians, not abandon their cause to the “mercies of Israel and America.” A second Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, vowed to thwart “the new conspiracy”.

“We will abort all American conspiracies just as we thwarted the Dayton plot to create a quisling government in Gaza that would be at Israel’s beck and call,” said Abu Zuhri, alluding to a U.S. plan rumored to have been overseen the American envoy to the region, General Keith Dayton, Which was to empower former Palestinian Authority strongman Mohamed Dahlan to overthrow Hamas with U.S. funds and weapons.

Islamic Jihad too denounced Bush’s proposal as “another deception.”

“Islamic Jihad views this initiative with suspicion. Bush simply can’t be trusted. His alliance with Israel is clear to all and sundry. Indeed, his entire administration is completely subservient to the … Jewish lobby.”

In contrast, the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas greeted Bush’s proposals with muted optimism. The Ramallah-based government of [Prime Minister] Salam Fayyad issued a formal statement welcoming “President Bush’s proposal, calling for an international forum to look into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

The Palestinian Authority statement viewed “the promised financial aid” from the Bush Administration positively, adding that “we hope this time promises will be translated into tangible facts on the ground.”

This lukewarm response from the [Palestinian] Abbas-Fayyad regime which depends almost completely on American backing suggests that even they doubt the sincerity of the U.S. President’s commitment to the creation of a viable and genuine Palestinian state.

Bush, who began his presidency with a crusade against “terror” and who has repeatedly attempted to lump together Palestinian resistance to Israeli colonialism with his hapless war on terror, has consistently refused to exert any pressure on Israel. He once criticized the “separation wall,” which he said was meandering like a snake through occupied Palestinian territory, and then failed to act to prevent Israel from stealing swathes of Palestinian land for construction of the barrier. Nor has he acted to prevent the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, although their existence makes it impossible to realize Palestinian statehood.

In 2003, Bush killed any modicum of trust he might have enjoyed with Palestinians and the Arab public when he gave Prime Minister Ariel Sharon written guarantees that following any peace agreement with the Palestinians, Israel could keep all major Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Bush alluded to that pledge in his speech on Monday when he said the proposed regional meeting would have to take into account “existing realities” in the West Bank.

Bush’s speech appears to have been a desperate and probably last-ditch attempt to salvage the moribund “roadmap” which, despite diplomatic statements to the contrary, is seen by all the major players as dead.

Hanan Ashrawi, the prominent Palestinian spokeswoman known for her optimism, believes Bush’s latest speech is first and foremost an attempt to improve Washington’s image in this part of the world.

“They want to give the impression that the U.S. is not only good at starting wars, but in peacemaking as well. We have been asking for an international peace conference, and they gave us a regional meeting. We asked for an international envoy to resolve the conflict, but they gave us an envoy [former British prime minister, Tony Blair] to rebuild Palestinian institutions … so let us see how things will be, let us wait and see,” Ashrawi told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Meanwhile, a growing number of Palestinian, Israeli and foreign observers are concluding that chances of building a viable Palestinian state on the West Bank are day-by-day slipping away. The creation of more than 200 Jewish settlements quite simply leaves too little room for one.

Yet in full view of the Bush Administration and the international community, settlement expansion continues unabated. Which is not to say that Israel is consciously pushing for a one-state solution – just that it wants as much Palestinian land as possible with as little Palestinian influence on its demographics.

Israel’s ultimate goal appears to be to force Palestinians to accept a Palestinian “state” on small and isolated enclaves of the West Bank. Indeed, in light of Israeli actions, one can conclude this is what Israeli officials have in mind whenever they speak of supporting the creation of a Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel.

This is not at all the kind of state the Palestinians have in mind. Such a state would occupy 100 percent of the occupied territories with East Jerusalem as its capital. Whatever the blandishments offered in the remaining months of the Bush presidency, Palestinians are unlikely to trade that vision for a territorially disconnected state lacking sovereignty and authority.

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