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Bush's Speech - An Interim Insult

Arsalan Tariq Iftikhar

Eleanor Roosevelt once said “Justice cannot be for one side alone. It must be for both sides.” Surrounded by the roses of his garden, President Bush’s speech made it quite evident and predictably clear that in the context of the Holy Land, justice would not grace its elusive countenance on the beleaguered women and children of Palestine today. On a day where many Israeli groups went into raptures over the President’s “superb” and “visionary” address, the Palestinians and those who support their plight, felt further marginalized by an administration that seems to assign more value to an Israeli life than that of a Palestinian.

“Terrorism” is to President Bush as “Communism” was to Senator McCarthy. Since that fateful day in September, the word “terrorism” has become this bloody maxim which strikes a painful reminder of the North and South Towers crumbling into oblivion in New York. What fails to reconcile itself to me is why the word “terrorism” is only used for the Palestinians, but not for the Israelis. Prior to President Bush’s address, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak continuously used the word “terror” to refer to the Palestinians. The President followed suit a few minutes later by using the word “terror” ten times in his address. Of those ten instances, how many times was he referring to the Israelis? Not once.

According to Amnesty International, in the first 408 days of the current Intifada, 570 Palestinians were killed compared to 150 Israelis who died. Out of those figures, 150 Palestinian children were killed to Israel’s 30. Amnesty continues to report that “Israeli forces have killed Palestinians unlawfully by shooting them during demonstrations and at checkpoints although lives were not in danger. They have shelled residential areas and committed extrajudicial executions… All Palestinians in the Occupied Territories — more than three million people — have been collectively punished. Almost every Palestinian town and village has been cut off by Israeli army checkpoints or physical barriers. Curfews on Palestinian areas have trapped residents in their homes for days, weeks or even months. In the name of security, hundreds of Palestinian homes have been demolished.” Just going by Amnesty’s casualty count, if President Bush used the word “terror” for Palestinians ten times in his address, the number of associations between Israelis and “terror” should have numbered around fifty.

But documented figures from the preeminent international human rights organization aside, let us get back to the transcript. Although the Israeli government is responsible for five times as many murders as their Palestinian counterparts, the condolences only went to Israel. The President looked somber as he emotionally stated that he understood that Israelis have “lived too long with fear and funerals, having to avoid markets and public transportation, and forced to put armed guards in kindergarten classrooms.” Let me state in the most categorical terms that I can, because it seems that logic and reason have transcended much of our intelligentsia. Ariel Sharon is as much of a terrorist as Yasser Arafat, if not five times more.

That is saying quite a handful given the fact that I really cannot stand Arafat either. I believe that he has recently served as detriment to his people. If a suitable replacement for Arafat would rise up from the ashes to uphold the democratic ideal of the Palestinians, I would be their ardent supporter. Unfortunately, President Bush has now created a scenario which is a non-starter. He has called for the “provisional” state of Palestine, on the condition that the “terror” ceases. Many were hoping that he was referring to both the Israelis and the Palestinians, but unfortunately, our held breath was knocked out of us yet again. He made Palestine reliant on the heads of the Palestinian Authority and the militant Palestinian groups carrying out terrorist attacks. By setting so many parameters, he made it easy for this straw house to collapse. If the terrorists do not approve of the Bush plan, all they have to do is commit an act of “terror” to negate any potential formation of Palestine on the President’s terms.

Sharon has vowed not to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza until the “terror” ends. The Palestinian zealots are smiling at Sharon’s covert invitation that allows them to kill two birds with one stone. With another attack, they can prove the Palestinian Authority’s ineffectiveness to the Palestinians, while creating fear and havoc in Israeli life. I somberly conclude that this mockery of a proposal may play right into the hands of the extreme zealots, as opposed to tying those hands behind their backs.

I realize and concede that there were some good proclamations in President Bush’s speech. However, I know that there will be a maelstrom of opinion pieces commending the President for his “visionary” and “courageous” address. I do note that this is the first time an American president has ever called for an immediate creation of a Palestinian state, with the same constitutional guarantees and legislative powers as any other democracy in the world. Unfortunately, like the Israeli settlement policy, there is too much “swiss cheese” in the President’s proposal. With so many holes and so little substance, it seems in many ways that this process may fail even before it begins.

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu said in an interview last month that, “"In our struggle against apartheid, the great supporters were Jewish people… What is not so understandable, not justified, is what it did to another people to guarantee its existence. I've been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about. My heart aches. I say, Why are our memories so short?"

All we can do now is pray. I gravely fear that this proposal has too many inherent flaws to succeed. Although President Bush strongly empowered Israelis with his address and weakly attempted to rectify the wrongs committed to the Palestinians, the endgame will play into the hands of people like Ariel Sharon, Arafat and terrorists from both sides. One wrong move will once again reinvent the wheel; a wheel that has been stained with the blood of innocent Israelis and with five times as much Palestinian blood.

(Arsalan Tariq Iftikhar is a writer for the Independent Writers Syndicate. He attends Washington University School of Law in St. Louis.)