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.