A puzzling horizon

The United States is paving the way for a regional conference this coming November to create the “political horizon” for Palestinian statehood. In “Dore Gold speaks” I summarized Dore Gold’s critique of current American/Israeli diplomacy vis a vis the Palestinians. Gold’s remarks addressed in part the Saudi/Arab League “peace plan” calling, among other things, for Israel’s return to the 1949 Armistice lines. Implicit in Gold’s remarks was the proposition that the United States has somehow expressed its approval of the Saudi plan.
Gold’s remarks prompted me to ascertain whether we have done so. In fact, on her way to Jerusalem last week, Secretary Rice stopped over in Egypt and signed a joint statement expressing approval of the Saudi/Arab League plan. According to this report in Haaretz:

On the first day of her Middle East tour, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday signed a joint statement with Egypt, Jordan and six Persian Gulf states, endorsing the 2002 Arab peace initiative as one of the foundations for Middle East peace….The initiative offers Israel normalized relations with all Arab countries in return for full withdrawal from the territory Israel captured in 1967.

Here is the relevant paragraph of the joint statement itself:

Agreeing on the importance of a just, comprehensive peace to the prosperity, stability and security of the Middle East, the Foreign Ministers reiterated their commitment to the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and noted that the foundation for such an outcome includes UN Security Council resolutions 242, 338, 1397, and 1515, and the Arab Peace Initiative, to end the occupation since 1967 and establish a Palestinian state that is viable and contiguous and living in peace and security with all its neighbors.

Were Israel to return to the 1949 Armistice lines, it would be, for example, nine miles wide at its narrowest point and simply indefensible. Abba Eban famously referred to the 1949 Armistice lines as “the Auschwitz lines.”
When Ariel Sharon ordered the unilateral withdrawal of Israel from Gaza, President Bush provided Israel this assurance set forth in a letter dated April 14, 2004. That assurance explicity rejects the predicate of the Saudi/Arab League plan:

As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.

President Bush’s recent speech calling for a regional conference to advance the creation of a Palestinian state is not perfectly clear, especially compared to the April 2004 letter, but it seems inconsistent with the Saudi/Arab League plan:

These negotiations must resolve difficult questions and uphold clear principles. They must ensure that Israel is secure. They must guarantee that a Palestinian state is viable and contiguous. And they must lead to a territorial settlement, with mutually agreed borders reflecting previous lines and current realities, and mutually agreed adjustments. America is prepared to lead discussions to address these issues, but they must be resolved by Palestinians and Israelis, themselves. Resolving these issues would help show Palestinians a clear way forward. And ultimately, it could lead to a final peace in the Middle East — a permanent end to the conflict, and an agreement on all the issues, including refugees and Jerusalem.

Michael Oren’s Wall Street Journal column lauding President Bush’s recent speech calling for a regional conference reads the speech as rejecting the Saudi plan:

Mr. Bush called on those Arab governments that have yet to establish relations with Israel to recognize its right to exist and to authorize ministerial missions to the Jewish state.
Accordingly, Saudi Arabia, which has offered such recognition but only in return for a full withdrawal to the 1967 borders, will have to accept Israel prior to any territorial concessions.

In last week’s Wall Street Journal, Michael Rubin noted the administration’s retreat from clearly enunciated principles in this context:

On June 24, 2002, Mr. Bush declared, “The United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure.” Less than a year later the State Department reversed course, eliminating the cessation of terror as a precondition for engagement. Palestinian terrorism grew.
While the White House condemns Hamas terrorism, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement, to which Mr. Bush promised a half billion dollars in July, is equally culpable. A year ago Fatah’s military wing threatened to “strike at the economic and civilian interests of these countries [the U.S. and Israel], here and abroad,” and it claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on the Israeli town of Sderot in June.
Empty promises of accountability encourage terror by diminishing the costs of its embrace.

(President Bush’s June 2002 statement is here: “[T]he United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure.”) The Palestinian Authority is unable to rule even the West Bank cities within its jurisdiction. Today’s Haaretz quotes the PA prime minister:

Fayad told Israeli officials that the PA’s security forces are unable “to impose law and order in the West Bank at this time.” … During meetings with senior Israeli officials, the interim Palestinian prime minister and his interior minister, Abd al-Razek al-Yihiya, made it clear that the PA’s security cannot at this time assume control of West Bank cities.

When the administration’s policy cannot be squared either with governing principles that have been previously stated or with prevailing conditions, the administration’s policy can fairly be characterized as misguided. For a thoughtful take on President Bush’s most recent speech that tends both to support and to belie mine, see Robert Satloff’s “Reading between the lines of President Bush’s July 16 address.” Caroline Glick addresses similar issues regarding the policy of Israel’s government from an Israeli perspective in her column “Sharansky’s democracy lesson.”

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