President Bush must be aghast at the call for the rejection of Israel as the Jewish State made by the top Roman Catholic clergyman in Israel - His Beatitude Michel Sabbah Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. His statement mirrors similar views recently expressed by Mahmoud Abbas - Chairman of the PLO and President of the Palestinian Authority and Saeb Erekat - chief negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
The spread of this Jewish-rejectionist disease has now permeated the highest places of political and intellectual thought amongst the Palestinian Arabs.
Such statements sound the death knell for the continuation of the post -Annapolis negotiations unless they are withdrawn and repudiated as soon as possible. The deafening silence that has followed His Beatitude’s comments indicates this is unlikely to occur.
His Beatitude’s outburst could also herald an early release from obligations to pay $7.4 billion to the Palestinian Authority pledged by donor countries at their recent meeting in Paris -even before they have had the opportunity to get out their cheque books to make a down payment.
So far President Bush has remained surprisingly silent on His Beatitude’s comments. Israel too seems tongue tied at what to do about His Beatitude’s sudden rush of blood. His Beatitude has managed to totally undermine what was being sold as a successful outcome of the meetings in Annapolis and Paris - intensive negotiations on core issues between Israel and the PLO over the next twelve months ending in the creation of a new Arab State between Israel and Jordan as envisioned in President Bush‘s Road Map.
Israel needs to invoke and demand that President Bush now honour his written commitment to Israel on 23 May 2003 in the face of this unequivocal Palestinian rejection of Israel’s Jewishness.
When President Bush released his Road Map on 30 April 2003, Israel provided the President with 14 reservations it had before it could accept the plan as a basis for negotiation.
Reservation 6 made by Israel to President Bush stated:
“In connection to both the introductory statements and the final settlement,declared references must be made to Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and to the waiver of any right of return for Palestinian refugees to the State of Israel.”
On 23 May 2003, then Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice made the following statement from the White House:
“The roadmap was presented to the Government of Israel with a request from the President that it respond with contributions to this document to advance true peace. The United States Government received a response from the Government of Israel, explaining its significant concerns about the roadmap.
The United States shares the view of the Government of Israel that these are real concerns, and will address them fully and seriously in the implementation of the roadmap to fulfil the President’s vision of June 24, 2002.”
On 25 May 2003, the Israeli Cabinet met and by a majority resolved:
“Based on the 23 May 2003 statement of the United States Government, in which the United States committed to fully and seriously address Israel's comments to the Roadmap during the implementation phase, the Prime Minister announced on 23 May 2003 that Israel has agreed to accept the steps set out in the Roadmap.
The Government of Israel affirms the Prime Minister's announcement, and resolves that all of Israel's comments, as addressed in the Administration's statement, will be implemented in full during the implementation phase of the Roadmap.”
Nothing could be clearer or more unambiguous. Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State is a fundamental condition in any negotiations being undertaken by Israel with the PLO under the Road Map - and President Bush has accepted Israel‘s position on this issue.
President Bush must demand that Mahmoud Abbas affirm in writing that Israel will be recognised as the Jewish State in the post-Annapolis negotiations. This is the only way President Bush can “fully and seriously address” this “real concern” now that it has been thrust into the spotlight by the remarks of Abbas, Erekat and His Beatitude. Sweeping these comments under the carpet is not an option.
President Bush and his partners - the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -need to end the humiliation they have all undergone for the last four years in their efforts to get the Road Map up and running - let alone implemented in even the smallest detail.
Their failure has been due in no small measure to the PLO’s original sin - its failure to amend the provisions of the PLO Charter and remove all offending and racist clauses that do not recognise the right of Israel to exist as the Jewish State. The mind set calling for the destruction of the Jewish State has never been really faced and exorcised - even by such an eminent person as His Beatitude.
President Bush must urgently flush out the bona fides and sincerity of the PLO to negotiate with Israel in realising the President’s vision. There is no point in allowing the negotiations to continue if these intemperate and highly offensive remarks are not unconditionally repudiated.
Better for President Bush to call it a day now rather than proceeding aimlessly along a path that you know with absolute certainty can only end up in failure because the PLO will never make the unconditional commitment to recognise Israel as the Jewish State. The President can only end up a certain loser.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice aptly summed up the situation at her December 21 press conference:
“there are a lot easier ways to build a legacy than to try to solve the Palestinian-Israeli issue.”
President Bush will soon be visiting the Holyland. Perhaps that is the time for him to declare that Israel is the Jewish State and anyone negotiating with Israel on his Road Map must accept that fundamental fact.
They say the Lord moves in strange ways. Has He sent a faux man of God to help a devout Christian finally understand and realise the futility and hopelessness of his well intended but totally misconceived vision to bring peace to the Jews and Arabs?