The Bush-Sharon Summit Guide for the Perplexed

Ynet Hebrew edition, April 13, 2005

While the Bush-Sharon Summit focused on mutual threats (e.g. Iran and Islamic terrorism), it has highlighted a few basic misunderstandings - in Israel - concerning the US political system, US-Israel relations and Disengagement.


For example, front page headlines in the Israeli dailies have concluded that - resulting from the Summit - a $600MN Disengagement financial assistance package will be provided to Israel by the US. The headlines ignore the $800MN promised to Barak by Clinton in 2000, in order to expedite the Disengagement from Southern Lebanon.  Israel disengaged, Hizballah's terrorism was significantly and regionally upgraded, Palestinian terrorism was inspired and escalated to an unprecedented level, but the $800MN is yet to be granted.  US Presidents do not have the authority to write checks; they can ask Congress - which possesses the Power of the Purse - to appropriate funds.  Congress is currently alarmed by a growing all time high budget deficit, and Israel's leading friends have recommended that Israel refrains from requesting special financial assistance. Cheney and Rumsfeld, two of Israel's hawkish allies, are concerned that a special assistance to Israel would nibble into the stretched defense budget.  Each financial request must go through Congress, which would entail a legislative process.  But, some Israeli officials have pre-maturely briefed (and possibly misinformed) the media, in order to sooth opposition to Disengagement... 


The Israeli public has been told since the April 2004 Bush-Sharon Summit that the US Administration has given up on the 1949/67 Cease Fire Line.  However, the blunt call - by President Bush - to freeze construction in ALL settlements, has clarified that Israel should not expect any settlement-bonus, from the US, for the disengagement from Gaza and Northern Samaria. In fact, disengagement - just like any retreat in face of pressure and terrorism - would generate more Palestinian terrorism and more pressure by the Department of State, the CIA, the Europeans and the UN, which expect further sweeping Israel concessions. President Bush's statements at the summit, just like those made by Secretaries Powell and Rice since April 2004, clarify that the US has not change its position on the Green Line: no recognition of Israeli sovereignty beyond the 1949 Ceasefire Line, and no recognition of Israeli sovereignty over any Jewish community in the post-Green Line area in Judea & Samaria, Jordan Valley, Golan Heights and Jerusalem (e.g. loan guarantees are reduced by the amount spent by Israel in post-Green Line neighborhoods in Jerusalem). Wishful-thinking (sinking?) concerning a disengagement-driven diplomatic bonus have been shattered in Crawford, Texas. 


Bush's proclamations suggest that disengagement from Gaza and Northern Samaria would be the first in a series, leading to the 1949 Lines (unless otherwise mutually-agreed by Israel and the Palestinians). They indicate that the post-April 2004 celebrations were based on wrong assumptions and on misrepresentations, by Israeli politicians, of the President's statements. The April statements by Bush were neither unprecedented, nor do they bind him or his successors. On June 19, 1967, President Johnson stated that an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 Lines "is not a prescription for peace, but for a renewal of hostilities." President Reagan said  on September 1, 1982: "In the pre-1967 borders Israel was barely 10 miles wide...I am not about to ask Israel to live that way again...It is clear that peace cannot be achieved by the formation of an independent Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza." These statements were not binding, since they were not ratified or legislated.  Bush's statements were approved, by Congress, as a Non-Binding Resolution, which is (as suggested by its title) non-binding.


Israeli observers urge Prime Minister Sharon to freeze construction in all settlements, in order to avoid a costly US pressure. They do not comprehend the US - and especially the Texas - state of mind, which admires winners and not losers, which respects gumption, the overcoming of odds and defiance of pressure.  On a rainy day, the Texan President would rather have an ally, in the Mideast, "which can roll in the street with the Dobermans, rather than stay on the porch with the Poodles." And, indeed, during 1948-1992, from Ben Gurion to Shamir, Israel's Prime Ministers usually - and frequently - defied US pressure.  As a result they were subjected to short-term inconveniences, which were promptly replaced by a long-term strategic esteem. For instance, in 1948/9 Ben Gurion faced a US pressure to postpone declaration of independence and accept a UN Trusteeship.  The US imposed a military embargo, contemplated economic sanctions, accused Ben Gurion of leading the Jewish People toward another Holocaust, demanded an end to the "Occupation of the Negev", the internationalization of Jerusalem and the absorption and compensation of Palestinian refugees.  Israeli Prophets of Demographic Doom pressured Ben Gurion to refrain from independence, lest the Jewish population be overwhelmed - by 1968 - by Arab majority.  Ben Gurion defied the pressure, established the Jewish State, increased construction in the Negev, relocated government agencies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which was declared the capital of Israel. Consequently, the US upgraded its attitude toward the Jewish State, whose image was transformed - by Ben Gurion's defiance - from a powerless democracy into a promising strategic entity.   Will Prime Minister Sharon resurrect the legacy of Ben Gurion and his successors which characterized Israel's leadership up to 1992, or will he sustain the Oslo-State-Of-Mind which has afflicted Israel since 1992?