President Bill Clinton gave a speech in September, 1993, in which he said that the PLO and Israel would sign an agreement on the White House lawn that would leave the most important issues the future of Jerusalem and the fate of 3.6 million Arab refugees and their descendents from the 1948 war to be “resolved” seven years later.
My oldest son, Noam, then eleven years old, watched Clinton’s speech and shrugged his shoulders, saying “it looks like everybody is preparing a war for when I will be eighteen”.
How correct Noam was. His Israel army combat service commenced in the Fall of the year of 2000, at the time when the war broke out between Israel and the PLO over the “unresolved” issues of Jerusalem and the Arab refugees from 1948.
What the PLO and Israel could not resolve at the negotiating table moved to the field of battle.
President George W. Bush’s June 2002 speech repeated Clinton’s mistake of September 1993.
Despite Bush’s vision of a democratic and accountable Palestinian Arab entity that could live in peace and harmony with Israel, the president again left the tough issues of Jerusalem and refugees for “future” negotiations.
Despite Bush’s concern for the poverty and suffering that afflicts the Palestinian Arabs, Bush once again relegated the poorest of Palestinian Arab society, the Palestinian Arab refugees, to continue a life of squalor in makeshift UNRWA Arab refugee shantytowns that have been their “temporary” abode since 1949, where they have wallowed under the premise and promise of the “right of return” to their homes and villages which they lost in the 1948 war. These homes and villages from 1948 no longer exist, except in the UNRWA educational system which inculcates the idea of the right of return to the precise homes and villages that they left in 1948, even though their abodes no longer exist.
Bush is now considering an additional $50 million for US AID for the UNRWA to keep these Arab refugees in these squalid conditions… instead of initiating an effort to resettle the Arab refugees in a decent and dignified conditions that would douse the flames of their rebellion.
If the US continues to relegate millions of Arabs to their continued “temporary” refugee status until they can be repatriated to homes that no longer exist, the US fans the flames of anger that may kindle even more violence in the future.
As to Bush’s notion that Jerusalem’s status will be negotiated in the future, this also places unrealistic hopes in the imagination of Palestinian Arabs. That is because Israel annexed all of Jerusalem in 1967, after 19 years when Arabs ruled East Jerusalem and denied Jews any access to the Jewish Holy Sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. The current PLO campaign, repeated time and again by Arafat, calls for the liberation of “Holy Jerusalem”. Bush’s speech gives hope to the Palestinian Arabs that they may have an ally in their war to liberate holy Jerusalem.
As in 1993, what the PLO and Israel cannot resolve at the negotiating table will move to the field of battle.
Bush’s speech of 2002, like Clinton’s message in 1993, remains a prescription for war.