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Khalaf Al Habtoor
Once again we can only gasp with amazement at the American administration's policy towards the conflict in Palestine, as articulated in President Bush's recent speech.

While Israeli tanks roared up to and surrounded Yasser Arafat's headquarters and a sixth Palestinian town fell under occupation, Bush proved once again that neither he, nor his senior policy advisers, have any true understanding of the reality on the ground in Palestine.

In his speech, Bush made it clear that if Palestinians wished to have any chance at all of establishing a State for themselves, they must overthrow their elected leader, Yasser Arafat, and create a western style democracy that exists nowhere else in the Arab world. Only if they fulfilled these two conditions and renounced violence, would America even begin to consider giving its support to a Palestinian State.

In direct contrast, the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, was not asked to concede anything. He faces no immediate pressure from the United States to put an end to the re-occupation of West Bank towns, stop the Israeli army and Jewish settlers from killing civilians, cease political assassinations and the torture of prisoners. Nor is he asked to put a freeze on illegal Jewish settlements. Sharon has overseen 34 new outposts during his 15 months in Office.

Anyone who has any understanding of the Palestinian conflict will know that far from wanting peace, Sharon, a die-hard Zionist, wants to destroy the Palestinian Authority, kill or discredit Yasser Arafat and expel all Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. Bush's speech clearly shows just how successful the pro-Israeli lobby in Washington has been in aligning Israel with America's war on terrorism. They have succeeded in manipulating the Bush administration to buy into Israel's contention that it is only "defending itself against terror".

Bush's speech will allow Sharon to continue with his "iron fist" policy of re-occupation, punishment of civilians through murder, destruction of property and the appropriation of Palestinian land and resources. He hopes that his policy will eventually see the Palestinians grow weary of the struggle and accept any settlement foisted upon then by the Israelis.

Bush made it clear in his speech, that without the removal of the current Palestinian leadership, meaning Arafat, Palestinians could not hope for a state of their own. However, while many in the West Bank and Gaza would like to see a more effective Palestinian administration, they are not willing to remove Yasser Arafat merely on Bush or Sharon's say-so. It is to be noted that in a recent poll, 47.5% of the occupants of the West Bank and Gaza, expect that Mr. Arafat would be elected if free elections were held. It is sheer arrogance on the part of the Israelis and the Americans to dictate to the Palestinians who they can and can't have as their leader.

Apart from the focus on Yasser Arafat's removal, Bush's vision in reality went no further than a vague promise of a provisional Palestinian state. He gave neither details of borders of the new state that he expects to emerge in the future; nor the location of its capital or the future of the millions of Palestinian refugees throughout the Middle East.

Bush's speech has also removed all constraints from Sharon and his hard-line government. While they do not have a licence to kill, or at least expel Yasser Arafat and remove the Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, Bush's speech indicates that that day may not be far off. It has, in addition, handed Sharon an excuse to delay withdrawal from Palestinian lands or reopen negotiation with the Palestinians almost indefinitely - two things that Sharon wants to avoid at all costs.

Bush made it clear that Sharon can demand not only the ending of Palestinian violence, but also a total overhaul of the judiciary system in the West Bank and Gaza, before peace talks can begin. As Sharon never wanted an independent Palestine in the first place, this works in his favour, as only he can define and decide when Palestinian violence has ended and whether the judiciary system is truly representative. This will allow him to postpone peace talks indefinitely, as there is no pressure on Israel whatsoever to sit down and negotiate peace.

How can Bush expect the Palestinians to build an independent legislature and judiciary, or develop a market economy, while the Israeli army occupies their land? With every aspect of daily life governed by an Israeli government that has destroyed much of the infrastructure of Palestine and crippled its economy, it will be impossible for the Palestinians, even if they wanted to, to build a functioning democratic state as outlined by Bush.

It can only be concluded that either Mr. Bush is incredibly naïve or this speech is the cover for an absence of any genuine intent by him to put in place any meaningful or coherent peace making policy that offends the Israelis and the Jewish lobby on Capitol Hill.

America is the only country that can bring a solution to the Palestinian conflict. But, as can be seen from Mr. Bush's speech, America still does not have the will or the resolve to face up to the fact that in reality, it is its ally, Israel, who is the aggressor, not the Palestinians. It is not well armed Israelis who need defending, but rather the Palestinians, who are the victims of State terrorism and occupation. Until America admits to this and is prepared to face down Israel and its supporters in the United States, there will never be peace in Palestine.

By failing to offer a constructive and workable approach to peace, Bush has guaranteed further bloodshed. His unquestioning support for Israel will allow Sharon to continue down the violent path that he has chosen to rid himself of the Palestinians. So nothing has been changed by Bush's 'vision.' This means that the situation will get much worse for the Palestinians, as Sharon continues to reoccupy the West Bank and Gaza, build security fences around Palestinian towns and villages to isolate them from each other, expand Jewish settlements and murders civilians. This will lead to further suicide bombings.

Only when America elects a President that truly has a vision of peace in Palestine and the determination to implement it in defiance of Israel's powerful American political lobby, will the vicious cycle of violence cease. Unfortunately, Bush is not that President.

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