It was certainly unexpected, and perhaps unprecedented. At the end of his official business in Ramallah last Thursday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, visiting U.S. president George W. Bush held a special, unplanned press conference at the fabled King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
His language was unusually blunt.
“The point of departure for permanent status negotiations to realize this vision [two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security] seems clear: There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967. The agreement must establish Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people. These negotiations must ensure that Israel has secure, recognized, and defensible borders. And they must ensure that the state of Palestine is viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent.”
The president minced no words, enunciating beliefs that pleased and displeased both sides. (See the text of Bush’s statement on the Perspectives page.)
He spoke with a harsh resolve that evinced his determination to help broker a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He is to be commended for his resolve, and, we believe, his sincerity, too, though we understand there are many more factors underlying American policy than concern alone for Israel’s future.
“The establishment of the state of Palestine is long overdue,” the president said. “The Palestinian people deserve it.”
Not too many people in Israel would disagree with the president’s propositions. But they would quickly add that the establishment of the state of Palestine has been thwarted by Palestinian leaders who, countless times over the past eight decades, have betrayed their own people by constantly striving to destroy the Jewish state rather than build a Palestinian one.
The president has urged immediate negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. He is even optimistic that “the peace agreement should happen, and can happen, by the end of this year.”
But the president’s optimism hardly seems justified.
Setting aside the difficult, religiously charged issue of Jerusalem, the president is ignoring the proverbial gigantic elephant in the room: Hamas.
Of course, he said what needed to be said regarding terrorism: “Security is fundamental. No agreement and no Palestinian state will be born of terror. I reaffirm America’s steadfast commitment to Israel’s security.”
But what does that mean in an actual, practical sense? Hamas is sworn to the elimination of a Jewish state. Abbas has not, likely cannot and apparently will not remove Hamas from the Palestinian picture. The vision of “two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security” is doomed to be nothing more than a delusional mirage on a bloody horizon as long as Hamas – and all that it represents – remains entrenched as part of the Palestinian society and cultural ethos.