Wednesday, May 24th, 2006http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=06/05/24/1435247
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is in the United States for his first official visit since coming to office. On Tuesday, President Bush embraced Ehud Olmert’s proposal to annex the major settlement blocs in the West Bank. We get reaction from Afif Safieh, the PLO ambassador to the United States. [includes rush transcript]
President Bush yesterday embraced Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s proposal to unilaterally redraw Israel’s boundaries in the occupied West Bank. Olmert is in Washington for his first official visit since winning elections in March. Speaking after the talks, Bush described the Israeli plan as “bold.” But he urged Israel to resume direct negotiations with the Palestinians and said a unilateral solution was a last resort. Olmert’s proposal would remove around 60,000 Israelis from isolated settlements in the West Bank but would annex larger settlements which house some 200,000 Israelis, excluding East Jerusalem. Olmert said Israel reserves the right to impose final borders over Palestinian objections if peace talks remain stalled and reiterated he would not negotiate with a Palestinian government led by Hamas. The militant group won a sweeping victory in legislative elections in January. President Bush also condemned Hamas and said he believes a negotiated settlement could still be reached between Israel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Meanwhile Palestinian Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh repeated Hamas’ overture that it would call a long-term ceasefire if Israel withdrew from all the land it occupied in the 1967 war. But the statement falls short of western demands for Hamas to recognize Israel’s “right to exist.”
- Afif Safieh, PLO ambassador to the United States.
AFIF SAFIEH: Well, I believe Mr. Olmert wanted to create a chemistry between him as the newly elected prime minister in Israel with the President of the U.S.A., and he’s working on it during the last 48 hours. It’s unfortunate that the perception was that President Bush gave his blessings to the future plan of Mr. Olmert of unilateral disengagement, one, because Olmert isn’t capacitated to speak about it with authority, because it doesn’t create a consensus within his newly elected coalition. Number two, I think if America was again to align itself on that Israeli preference, it would complicate its relations with its partners in the quartet, meaning Europe and Russia, and number two, it will antagonize the Arab world. You’re not without knowing, ma’am.
We perceive the unilateral inclination of Mr. Olmert not as a step in the peace process, but as a diversion. Israeli policy, unfortunately, so far is to absorb and accaparate and acquire as much of Palestinian geography as possible with as little of Palestinian demography as possible. We are not perceived as the victim of Israeli expansion. We are not seen as a people with national rights. We are seen as a nuisance, a demographic threat. And the purpose of withdrawal, as the way they are conceived, is to get rid of our demography and acquire as much of our geography.
Mr. Olmert, you’re not without knowing, has sworn out 50% of the West Bank during his election campaign, and I, for one, take election campaigns seriously. He said he will accelerate the building of this wall, the apartheid wall, which swallows 15% of the territory and most of the aquifer of water, but he also said the valley, the Jordan Valley, and the beaches or the shore of the Dead Sea will never come to Palestinian or Arab sovereignty, and this Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea shore is around 30% of the teeny-weeny West Bank, where we plan in the future to resettle and bring in three-quarters of a million returning refugees to their homeland. So, 50% of the West Bank was swallowed during an election campaign. It will be really detrimental if the American foreign policy is perceived as aligned on the Israeli preference.
I believe the peace process has been damaged and nonexistent in the last years for two reasons. There is a Palestinian partner: Abu Mazen, the democratically elected president, is available for serious negotiations. What is detrimental is we don’t have an Israeli willing partner, and what is lacking is the third party evenhanded broker. And I have always been amazed and intrigued of the self-inflicted impotence of American diplomacy in the Middle East. America is a superpower around the world, yet on Israel-Palestine it suffers from what I call self-inflicted impotence.