Spinning a Disaster

Israeli government radio and TV offered an instant analysis that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had made a major accomplishment following his meeting with U.S. President George Bush.

David Bedein,

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credit David Michael Cohen
Israeli government radio and TV offered an instant analysis that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had made a major accomplishment following his meeting with U.S. President George Bush. In the four hours before the Bush memo to Sharon was issued for the press and public to read and peruse, Israeli government airwaves featured tens of commentators who lauded what they surmised was a formal Bush commitment to endorse some Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), and that President Bush had committed the U.S. to abandon support for the "right of return" for Palestinian Arab refugees (the opportunity to go back to live inside Israel's 1948 borders). This followed a build-up by Israeli government radio and TV commentators, who boasted that, indeed, the President of the United States would use the full weight of his office to help Israel in its time of need.

The PLO public relations people reacted according to script and denounced the results of the Sharon-Bush meeting as a sell-out by the Americans. PLO spokespeople appeared on CNN, BBC, Sky News and every other TV outlet possible to make their protestations heard. And the more the PLO attacked the Sharon-Bush meeting, the more the Israeli news commentators affirmed that, yes, Sharon must have made a valuable achievement with his friend, George W. Bush, because the PLO was so angry. It would seem that Sharon's new spin-masters were hard at work to make Sharon look like a hero.

All that was before anyone released the text of the Bush memo to Sharon. Anyone who reads the memo will understand that Sharon accomplished nothing new in the US-Israeli relationship. In fact, he may have hurt Israel tremendously.

Bush's letter does note that Israel may now wish to "further develop the Galilee and the Negev", yet without offering any assistance to help Israel resettle anyone there. Meanwhile, Bush's letter made it quite clear that the U.S. will accept none of the fourteen Israeli reservations to the Roadmap, such as a guaranteed end to terrorism, so vital to Israel's survival, a proviso the Israeli government had conditioned for its acceptance of the Roadmap. The letter explicitly stated that the "United States will do its utmost to prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan."

Surprisingly, Bush's letter also does not reject the "right of return" of Arab refugees to the sovereign state of Israel. Instead, the U.S. simply encourages Palestinian Arab refugees to settle in a future Palestinian state, "rather than Israel". Bush could have said "only" in a Palestinian state. He did not. All this occurs exactly at a time when the US has added $26 million to its allocation for UNRWA, which operates UN refugee camps in the region. Those camps run intense educational programs that promote the "right of return" to homes and villages from 1948, inside Israel, effectively calling for Israel to be dismantled.

What the Bush letter does say explicitly is that Israel would be able to make decisions "regarding control of airspace, territorial waters, and land passages" only after Israeli withdrawals take place.

And for whatever reason, the Bush letter surmises that the U.S., working with Jordan and Egypt, will build "Palestinian institutions to fight terrorism and dismantle terrorist organizations," despite ten years in which the PLO has done nothing of the kind. While the Bush letter charges the PLO with fighting terrorism, as President Bill Clinton did eleven years ago, the Palestinians have consistently refused to do so even up to now. In other words, the Bush administration is reenacting the 1993 Clinton-Rabin-Peres formula of arming the PLO to fight terror, even though all Palestinian fighting factions, even Hamas, are today united and coordinated under one command - under Yasser Arafat. It is as if the Bush letter does not take into account what has transpired over the past ten years and the trail of dead Israelis and Arabs that was wrought.

Were it not for the Israeli and PLO spin-masters, Jews and Arabs in Israel would read the text of the Bush letter to Sharon and know the truth.

Instead, in the hours after the Bush-Sharon press conference, the PLO is bitterly criticizing and attacking the Bush-Sharon meeting. And as Sharon returned to Israel to push his unilateral retreat, while under scathing attack of the misinformed PLO, he finds a way to convince his Likud party's membership to support his plan and policy. After all, Sharon's people are saying, if the PLO is attacking Sharon, he must be doing something right. The reality, however, has not changed.

Sharon seeks support to conduct the unilateral retreat and eradication of 21 prosperous Israeli farming communities in the Katif district of the Gaza Strip, an action the PLO and Hamas will later laud as a victory, as a step to taking all of Israel. Meanwhile, Sharon can now obfuscate his retreat policy by showing how the PLO attacks him as an aggressor, not another Neville Chamberlain leading the world to more strife.