Friday, January 04, 2008
Bush: "Mr. Olmert, tear down these walls." http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/05/world/middleeast/05mideast.html?ex=1357189200&en=de6dc1d4090b524a&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss
Mr. Bush praised the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, for honesty, but said he expected Israel to keep its promises to dismantle outposts illegal under Israeli law that were built after March 2001. “The Israeli government has said that they’re going to get rid of unauthorized settlements, and that’s what we expect, that’s what we’ve been told,” Mr. Bush said. “We expect them to honor their commitments.”
Mr. Bush suggested that some Israeli settlements were bound to be kept by Israel in any peace agreement, which would define final borders. “But the unauthorized settlements, which is different from the authorized settlements, is an issue we’ve been very clear on,” he said.
When Ariel Sharon was prime minister, he promised Mr. Bush personally that all Israeli outposts built after he took office in March 2001 would be dismantled before the next elections. Mr. Olmert was his deputy and said he would keep the commitment, which is also part of Israel’s obligations under the first stage of the 2003 “road map” for peace.
But two years ago this Friday, shortly before those elections, Mr. Sharon suffered a severe stroke and Mr. Olmert was elected instead. And the outposts in question — more than 20 of them — have not been dismantled, but have grown.
In fact many more such outposts unauthorized by the Israeli government were built before March 2001. The Palestinians, and much of the world, regard all Israeli settlements in land occupied in the 1967 war to be illegal under international law, including East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed.
Unfortunately, Olmert has to pay tribute to the extremist settler political bloc, in much the same way that the Democratic candidates must soothe the progressive left with insincere talk of Iraq withdrawals. That's unfortunate however because the settler movement has done major harm to Israel's economy and security.
President Bush, however, is seeking a legacy that isn't defined solely by Iraq, and it's possible that he has decided that the Palestinian issue must be resolved on his watch. If so, he will indeed be remembered as having truly remade the middle east.
One advantage that Bush has over his predecessors? Close ties with the Saudis - whose peace proposal remains the best route to peace. But even that is not a complete solution. There's hard work ahead, and maybe only a President of the United States can spur all parties involved.