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Israeli reaction to Bush’s Middle East visit

David Newman: Most Israelis want a two-state solution but are cynical about the process

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: President Bush has left Israel, continuing his trip in the Middle East. But what impression did he leave in Israel? And why is Israel participating in this whole process? What do they hope to get out of it? To address this question, I’m joined by David Newman, a professor at Ben-Gurion University and an analyst for the Real News. David, tell me, what is it that the Israeli government hoped to get out of this process?

DAVID NEWMAN, PROFESSOR, BEN-GURION UNIVERSITY: I think it’s something they were definitely pushed into in the same way when they went to Annapolis. So now Bush has come to pay a visit to Israel. There’s certainly the feeling that the American administration wants to show that it’s becoming more involved in the Israel-Palestine arena during the last year of the Bush administration. I think there’s a willingness to try and back up Abu Mazin [aka Mahmoud Abbas] wherever possible, because everybody’s afraid that what happened in the Gaza Strip could repeat itself in the West Bank. But I think if you ask the average Israeli on the street whether they really believe that this peace process is different from any other peace processes, most people would not believe that there would be the chance of signing a final agreement within the next twelve months.

JAY: Most people analyzing the situation have said that if there is to be an agreement, Bush is sending a very clear message; it will be an agreement more or less on Israeli terms, certainly something Israel can live with. Is that part of what Bush wanted to accomplish here, to reassure the Israeli government, don’t worry, we’ll look after you?

NEWMAN: The American administration is never going to put that extent of pressure on Israel to act against what Israel sees as its minimal sort of security and defense requirements. And Israel on the whole does see that all American administrations, Democrat or Republican, as sort of being their supporters.

JAY: President Bush keeps using this phrase that both sides are going to have to make tough decisions, tough compromises. And clearly the only real force that has any leverage on Israel to make a tough compromise, which would mean really closing down illegal settlements, on the question of Jerusalem—. But do you get any indication that the United States actually is putting pressure for these tough compromises?

NEWMAN: Well, I think you’re right that there has to be tough compromises. You know, in the past fifteen years, Israel and the Palestinians on one or two occasions haven’t been that far off from making, you know, the agreement.

JAY: If there is to be a two-state solution, is Israel going to accept any kind of Palestinian state that isn’t kind of more or less a dependency, a kind of client state of some sort or another?

NEWMAN: Look, that’s the problem you have in every situation where a state has been administering or occupying another weaker state and you’ve got a sort of a post-colonial situation where a state has then sort of, you know, left and allowed the new, younger, embryonic state to have its own independence. A Palestinian state is going to be very weak economically. It’s very weak today, weaker than it was, by the way, ten years ago.

JAY: How is the Israeli press analyzing this, particularly the issue of Hamas and Gaza? What kind of an agreement can there be without Hamas in Gaza? Abbas has said that Gaza has to be included, but how can one imagine it being included? Hamas certainly isn’t going to buy into this agreement as things stand.

NEWMAN: The truth is that during this week, during the Bush visit, Hamas really hasn’t been a great deal on the public agenda. And, I mean, a lot of the visit has been about bolstering support for Abu Mazen, not only through visiting, but of course visiting Abu Mazen himself in Ramallah in the Palestinian territories and not just Ehud Olmert in Israel. I think there is a creeping realization that Hamas are there, you know, they’re not going to disappear overnight, and that either they have to be accommodated somehow or other, or they’re going to have to be voted out in the forthcoming election, just in the same way as they came into power. And there are disputes or differences of opinion within Hamas itself as to what is the right path to follow. Do we continue to have a very militant, pro-violent position, in which case no one will talk to us, not Israel, not the United States, not even Abu Mazen? Or do we accept the fact that we’ve come to power through democratic means, and that when you’re in power, you have to think differently, you have to give something in order to get something?

JAY: A more cynical analysis of this, or perhaps some would say more realistic, is Bush’s agenda here was to have a big show about resolving the Palestinian-Israeli issue, but the real agenda is to create a broad front in the Arab world against Iran and to strengthen that front, something that was hoped for in Annapolis and didn’t really play out.

NEWMAN: Well, there was a great deal of discussion with Bush about the whole issue of the Iranian threat. And in fact, some of the Israeli press picked up on the fact that this was often a more major point of discussion between Israel and Bush during his short stay than the actual Israel-Palestine context, because of course Israel is suspicious of Iran, it does see it as a strategic threat, despite the various reports that have been written in the United States. But I think Israeli journalists and analysts are very aware as well that this is a big show on the part of Bush: this is his last year in power; he doesn’t have a great deal to lose; his policy in Iraq and Afghanistan haven’t exactly worked out as he wanted; and he thinks that maybe, just maybe, if they could push something on the Israel-Palestine front, then he’d come away with a slightly more positive reputation concerning the Middle East. So there is a great deal of the show about this.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.