Ramifications of the April 14 Sharon-Bush Agreements

Dear Members and Supporters,

President Bush's letter of understanding to Prime Minister Sharon of April 14 raises several serious questions, the answers to which will affect Israeli and U.S. policy for the next year at least.

This letter expressed U.S. support for the Prime Minister's proposal to carry out a unilateral withdrawal from all of the Gaza Strip. In the same letter, the President also assured Israel that it will not be expected to return to the 1967 borders and that the U.S. does not support a Palestinian right-of-return to Israel proper (within the 1967 borders). What is the significance of the President's pronouncements, which appear to break with previously-stated U.S. policy? And what is the connection, if any, between what transpired in Washington on April 14 and subsequent actions of the Israeli government?

In the April 14 letter the President formalized positions that have guided U.S. Middle East policy for many years, beginning with the Clinton "bridging proposals" of 2000 (a plan proposed by then-President Clinton to resolve the conflict's final status issues). Formalizing these positions is a significant step, but nothing has changed for any practical purposes.

The symbolic implications of the President's concessions, in the context of approval of unilateral Israeli action, are of far greater significance than their literal meaning. The Palestinians are justifiably concerned that they will continue to be dealt out of the determination of their own future and that the Gaza disengagement will not be just the first step, but also the last one.  For his part, Prime Minister Sharon, his political power challenged by his right wing, is using the President's show of support as an endorsement of the entirety of his expansionist agenda, which he began steadily putting into place while serving as Israel's Minister of Defense in the government of Menachem Begin. This plan would limit Palestinian "sovereignty" to just 40 percent of the West Bank, leaving the rest under permanent Israeli control. (For details, see http://btvshalom.org/btvshalom.org/perspectives/1102.shtml)

Less than a week after pledging his continued commitment to the Road Map, the Prime Minister crowed publicly that this April 14 meeting had struck a serious blow to Palestinian aspirations for a long time to come and his administration announced the investment of tens of millions of dollars in West Bank settlements. Sharon clearly aims to defer to an indefinite future the aspirations to statehood of the Palestinian people, all the while solidifying Israel's control over a major portion of what would naturally constitute a viable Palestinian state.

Moreover, only days after the Sharon-Bush exchange of letters, the Prime Minister escalated the Israeli response to terrorism, with the assassination of Abdel Aziz Rantisi and the announcement that Arafat was once more a legitimate target of assassination, all without eliciting any serious reaction from the U.S. The realization of Sharon's comprehensive vision relies on the continued exclusion of the Palestinians as negotiating partners. To this end, he has repeatedly taken military actions that inflame the Palestinians' desire for revenge, knowing that these events strengthen popular support for Hamas and undermine the leadership of moderate Palestinians. 

On the positive side, we may see that the Bush concessions include nothing more than what has already been agreed upon, in two different settings, by moderate Palestinian leadership—first, formally, at Taba in January 2001 (the last formal negotiations between Barak and Arafat) and most recently, informally, in the extra-governmental Geneva Accord (a model final status peace agreement negotiated by Israeli and Palestinian moderates in 2003). Also important is the fact that President Bush resisted pressure from the Israelis to include additional concessions that exceed the parameters of previous negotiations. Furthermore, Bush emphasized that this agreement does not supplant or undermine his commitment to the Road Map, whose end goal is the establishment of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state as part of a broader peace agreement.

The good news is that the Bush policy declarations do not preclude a negotiated two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and, in fact, they clearly rely on the parameters of the recently negotiated Geneva Accord as their guidelines. But the newly formalized concessions are far from benign, particularly in the short term.

The President's statement clearly demonstrates the need for the large number of American Jews who believe that peace will only come through a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to make their voices heard.

Let this spur us on to stay the course and work that much harder in support of a negotiated peace and a viable two-state solution. The only immutable "fact-on-the ground" in this conflict is that there are two peoples with competing claims to the same land who will ultimately have to come to an accommodation with one another to secure their own peace and prosperity.


Marcia Freedman
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

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