On April 14, President George Bush endorsed an Israeli plan for unilateral disengagement from Gaza, but, in a reversal of long-standing U.S. policy, also endorsed key elements of the Israeli position on retaining major settlements in the West Bank and rejecting the right of refugees to return to Israel. President Bush also acquiesced in Israel’s plan to accelerate construction of the “security fence,” as a “temporary” barrier that “will not prejudice… final borders.”
In his response to the President’s announcement, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, President of the USCCB, said that U.S. support for the unilateral Israeli policy toward Gaza and the West Bank is “deeply troubling” (usccb.org/sdwp). He noted that the President's acquiescence in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unilateral approach risks undermining the Roadmap for Peace and prospects for a negotiated settlement of this conflict.
- Potential positive elements of U.S. announcement. Under other circumstances, closing the Gaza settlements and withdrawing Israeli troops would be regarded as a serious step toward peace. It is difficult to see, however, how endorsement of this withdrawal in the context of tacit support for key elements of one party’s position on such core issues as West Bank settlements and the right of return will not block the path to peace for years to come.
- Prospects for a viable Palestinian state are at risk. The President’s support for a “two-state” solution is extremely important. But, in reversing long-standing U.S. policy and officially accepting Israeli-created “facts-on-the-ground,” the United States has set a worrisome precedent that will make it extremely difficult to create a viable, independent Palestinian state -- especially if West Bank settlements are enlarged and the “security fence” proceeds as planned. The combined pressures of a deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories, expanding settlements, prolonged occupation, the “security fence”, and general insecurity could lead in time to de facto "transfer" of much of the Palestinian population. For those who remain, they will yield a life of continued desperation; and for many they will feed the fires of resistance.
- There must be a new, high-level effort to revive the Roadmap for Peace. President Bush’s restatement of his commitment to the Roadmap for Peace is welcome, but his unilateral “concession” of tacitly supporting key elements of the Israeli government’s position on West Bank settlements and the right of return risks undermining the ability of the United States to serve as an “honest broker” and to uphold fundamental international norms. Prime Minister Sharon’s past statement that his unilateral plan will delay negotiating an Israeli-Palestinian peace for a generation only reinforces this concern. The United States must now make a new effort to revive the peace process. A just peace cannot be imposed by one side; it can only come from mutual dialogue and negotiation by Israelis and Palestinians.
More information: Gerard Powers at 202-541-3160 (ph); 541-3339 (fax) firstname.lastname@example.org.; Kathy Brown, CRS, 1-800-235-2772 x 7232; email@example.com 4/04