Bush Endorsement of Sharon Proposal Undermines Peace and International Law

President George W. Bush’s unconditional endorsement of right-wing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan constitutes a shocking reversal of longstanding U.S. Middle East policy and one of the most flagrant challenges to international law and the integrity of the United Nations system ever made by a U.S. president.

By giving unprecedented backing for Israeli plans to annex large swaths of occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank in order to incorporate illegal Jewish settlements, President Bush has effectively renounced UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, which call on Israel – in return for security guarantees from its Arab neighbors – to withdraw from Palestinian territories seized in the June 1967 war.

All previous U.S. administrations of both parties had seen these resolutions as the basis for Arab-Israeli peace.

These Israeli settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, which deem it illegal for any country to transfer civilian population onto territories seized by military force. UN Security Council resolutions 446, 455, 465 and 471 call on Israel to remove its colonists from the occupied territories.

President Bush, however, has unilaterally determined that Sharon’s Israel, unlike Saddam’s Iraq, need not abide by UN Security Council resolutions.

Not surprisingly, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was highly critical of the U.S. endorsement of Sharon’s plan, noting that “final status issues should be determined in negotiations between the parities based on relevant Security Council resolutions.”

Not only does President Bush’s announcement effectively destroy the once highly-touted “road map,” this marks the first time in the history of the peace process that a U.S. president has pre-empted negotiations by announcing support of such a unilateral initiative by one party. Both Israel and the United States have continued to refuse to even negotiate with Palestine Authority president Yasir Arafat, Palestinian prime minister Amhed Qureia, or any other recognized Palestinian leader.

President Bush also went on record rejecting the right of Palestinian refugees to return to what is now Israel. While it had been widely assumed that the Palestinians would be willing to compromise on this area once talks resumed, by effectively settling issues that were up for negotiations, it has pre-empted key concessions the Palestinians may have made been able to make in return for Israeli concessions. However, the Bush Administration has determined that it now has the right to unilaterally give away Palestinian rights and Palestinian land.

The shock experienced by the Palestinians is matched only by the dismay of moderate and liberal Israelis, who fear this will only encourage Palestinian extremists. By incorporating these illegal settlements – which the Clinton Administration recognized were an “obstacle to peace” – it divides the West Bank in such a way that makes a viable contiguous Palestinian state impossible.

Indeed, in response to the announcement, Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi said that Bush has “put an end to the illusions” of a peaceful solution.

Here in Jerusalem, the leading daily Yediot Ahronot this morning carried the headline “Sharon: The Great Achievement” above a photo of the smiling prime minister alongside President Bush. Indeed, the consensus here is that the U.S. endorsement was stronger and more enthusiastic than Israeli rightists had even dared hope for. Deputy prime minister Ehud Olmert called in “an amazing victory.”

It is also being widely interpreted as an effort to short-circuit last fall’s Geneva Initiative – supported by the Palestinian leadership and leading Israeli moderates – where Palestinians agreed that Israel could annex some blocs of settlements, but only along Israel’s internationally- recognized borders and only in exchange for an equivalent amount of territory currently part of Israel that would be granted to the new Palestinian state.

More fundamentally, Bush’s endorsement of an Israeli annexation of land it conquered in the 1967 war is a direct challenge to the United Nations Charter, which forbids any country from expanding its territory through military force. This therefore constitutes nothing less than a renunciation of the post-World War II international system, effectively recognizing the right of conquest.

The US in Iraq: If Bush is Blind, Kerry is at Best Near-Sighted

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry was one of a minority of Democratic members of Congress who voted to authorize President George W. Bush to invade Iraq. With the war becoming increasingly unpopular with the electorate, however, Senator Kerry has recently been sounding more critical. Still, his recent efforts to explain his evolving position raise some troubling questions.

For example when Tim Russert asked Senator Kerry on Meet the Press on April 17 if he believed the war in Iraq was a mistake, Senator Kerry could only say that “the way the president went to war is a mistake.” In other words, as president, Kerry would invade and occupy countries the right way.

He has properly accused the Bush Administration of having “misled America.” Yet Kerry, in an apparent effort to scare the American people into supporting a U.S. takeover of that oil-rich country, also falsely claimed that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons, a nuclear weapons program, and advanced delivery systems that they had either gotten rid of years earlier or never had in the first place.

In his April 13 op-ed in the Washington Post, as American troops laid siege to the city of Falluja in attacks that have killed up to 600 civilians, he described the situation in Iraq as that of “extremists attacking our forces.” He called for the U.S. military to make “full use of the assets we have,” including (if commanders request it) the deployment of more troops. In his Meet the Press interview, he did not rule out there still being 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq a year from now.

He called on NATO “to create a new out-of-area operation for Iraq under the lead of a U.S. commander.” He apparently believes that the U.S. military (which has been accused by reputable human rights organizations of widespread violations of the international humanitarian law in Iraq which has served to alienate most of the Iraqi population) should remain in charge, but other countries should be willing to sacrifice their soldiers and financial resources in this U.S.-created quagmire.

When asked as to whether NATO countries would be willing to contribute troops in a country undergoing an increasingly violent insurrection, he replied “if it requires more troops in order to create the stability that eliminates the chaos that can provide the groundwork for other countries, that’s what you have to do.” In short, in order to lessen the burden for U.S. forces, we need to send in more U.S. forces.

Where Senator Kerry has sounded more reasonable is in his call for giving the United Nations a more prominent role. He correctly recognizes that “You cannot have America run the occupation, make all the reconstruction decisions, make the decision of the kind of government that will emerge, and pretend to bring other nations to the table.”

When the Massachusetts senator voted to authorize the invasion in October 2002, he stated from the floor of the Senate that he expected President Bush to “work with the United Nations Security Council . . . if we have to disarm Saddam Hussein by force,” promising that if President Bush failed to do so, “I will be the first to speak out.”

However, when President Bush abandoned his efforts at getting UN Security Council approval for an invasion that March, Kerry was silent. When President Bush actually launched the invasion soon afterwards, Senator Kerry praised him, co-sponsoring a Senate resolution in which he declared that the invasion was “lawful and fully authorized by the Congress” and that he “commends and supports the efforts and leadership of the President . . . in the conflict with Iraq.”

Once again, Senator Kerry is promising that he will demand a leading role for the United Nations. Given that he broke his promise before, however, it may be naive to believe that he would follow through this time.