Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Wednesday, June 26, 2002
Reading the Speech

Daniel Pipes has a harsh assessment of Bush's speech. (Text here.) Steven Den Beste draws radically different conclusions.

I believe that Den Beste has the better side of this debate. Pipes alleges that Bush is rewarding terrorism:

He should have told the Palestinians clearly and unequivocally that their 21-month campaign of violence against Israel is unacceptable and must conclude before any discussion of rewards can be started. Instead, the President outlined his vision for a "provisional" Palestinian state and demanded an end to what he called "Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories." Both of these constitute very major benefits to the Palestinians; as such, they represent rewards for suicide bombings, sniper attacks, and the other forms of terrorism.

But what is the reward Pipes refers to? A Palestinian state isn't a new American position; it has been Bush's explicit position since last year. It was the logical outcome of the Oslo process until Arafat walked away from the table. It was part of the Clinton proposal for a final resolution.

The call for an end to new settlements is even more established. American governments going back to at least Bush I have been opposed to settlements.

So there is no reward for terrorism here because there are no new positions, Bush has merely restated established American positions. Indeed the call for a "provisional" state is arguably a major step back from previous American positions that called for a more conventionally sovereign nation.

Pipes charges Bush with moral falsehood:

- Moral equivalence: Bush implies a basic commonality between the plight of Israelis who suffer terrorism and the Palestinians who inflict it. "It is untenable for Israeli citizens to live in terror. It is untenable for Palestinians to live in squalor and occupation." To see the error of this statement, change it to "It is untenable for American citizens to live in terror. It is untenable for Afghans to live in squalor and occupation."

Again, what is objectionable in this statement? Both statements are correct. Bush has simply stated the truism that the conflict harms both peoples and a settlement would be in the interests of each. The moral equivalence Pipes objects to can be interpreted into this statement if you wish - but it is never actually stated by Bush.

In this paragraph and elsewhere, I think Bush - actually the writers since Bush isn't that smart - is playing a cunning game, making rhetorical gestures in the direction of audiences in both Europe and the Arab world. He echoes their concerns; he steals a Clinton trick and feels their pain. But he doesn't make any actual concessions and he never gets pulled away form the main point: There can be no progress until the terror ends.

Pipes even criticizes Bush for criticizing the treatment of Palestinians:

- Victimology: Palestinians have "been treated as pawns" says the U.S. President. Not so: Since 1967, the Palestinians have had an increasingly autonomous and powerful voice in running their own affairs. Especially since the creation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, they have been in control of their own destiny. To portray them as victims suggests they would behave differently once they have a formal state. In fact, every sign points to a continuation of the present policies.

This objection can only be explained with the assumption that Pipes is grasping at straws. The Palestinians have been treated as pawns for decades by Arab states that nurture and proclaim their grievances while treating actual Palestinians like garbage. Anybody familiar with the history of the conflict is aware of this.

Bush has made very clear the steps that must be taken for a Palestinian state to be formed:

Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership, so that a Palestinian state can be born. I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror.

I call upon them to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty.

If the Palestinian people actively pursue these goals, America and the world will actively support their efforts.

If the Palestinian people meet these goals, they will be able to reach agreement with Israel and Egypt and Jordan on security and other arrangements for independence.

And when the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbours, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state, whose borders and certain aspects of its sovereignty will be provisional until resolved as part of a final settlement in the Middle East.

There has to be a new Palestinian leadership, not composed of terrorists, new political and legal institutions, an end to terrorism, and new security arrangements. Only when all this is in place will there be a Palestinian state.

The irony in this is that Bush in one sense is asking for no concessions at all. A new leadership, new political structures, a market economy, and the rule of law are all reforms that would benefit the Palestinian people. A substantial portion of the Palestinians themselves seem to be coming to this understanding. And it is certainly also true that without these things a Palestinian state would be an empty accomplishment bringing no real relief to its citizens, just as Palestinian government under the Oslo accords was.

And yet the current leadership, corruption, and violence are so entrenched in Palestinian society and politics at this point that it is hard to imagine these conditions being met. In fact, the unlikelihood that these conditions will be met in the near future is largely why a Palestinian state is undesirable at this time.

So I come back to Den Beste's position. Bush has offered the carrot. He would be delighted if the Palestinians actually accept it and move toward reform of their own society and a peaceful settlement with Israel. But his national security team knows that while this may be the rational path, Palestinians have been shying away from the rational path for 70 years and aren't likely to change now.