DEBKAfile - Bush to Abu Mazen: The Palestinians Must Start Helping Themselves
The Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas did not get much chance to lay down his usual list of demands and gripes in his talks at the White House with US president George W. Bush Thursday, Oct. 20. Instead, in contrast to the jovial mood of their joint news conference, Bush crushed his visitor’s hopes of a Palestinian state in the foreseeable future. “Not during my term,” the president declared firmly, according to DEBKAfile’s Exclusive sources Washington.
Abu Mazen is described as coming out of the meeting pale and shaken, with nothing to show for his Washington trip. Most of their 45-minute conversation was one-sided. Bush scarcely let Abu Mazen get a word in edgeways, cutting him short several times.
According to our sources, the US president laid down a new set of rules, unfamiliar to the Palestinians. In a word, no one will help the Palestinians if they don’t help themselves – and that goes for me, the US President, too. If you think you can disarm Hamas by letting them take part in elections, go ahead, but you are on your own. We think you are making a big mistake, but we don’t interfere. But there is a price to pay. A regime dominated by terrorists cannot expected to be treated as a democracy.
He reminded Abbas that he was the first American president to envision an independent Palestinian state and make it a strategic goal of his foreign policy, but the Palestinians had not risen to the challenge. He informed Abbas that to achieve statehood, they must meet three categorical conditions:
A. A Palestinian state must live in peace with Israel.
B. Peace alone is not enough. The Palestinians must demonstrate they are capable of being good neighbors.
C. The Palestinian state must be clean of terrorism.
As matters stand now, said Bush, I see no prospect of Palestinian statehood coming into existence before I leave the White House.
The US president said he continued to support the Palestinian leader. However, his terms were the reverse of what Abbas wanted to hear.
1. Final-status negotiations must not begin yet. (This knocked on the head Abbas’ most cherished goal which is to skip the road map preliminaries and jump to the final stage.)
2. Washington is holding back the timeline for progress towards Palestinian independence. (This was a stunning setback for Abbas’ plans and his standing at home.)
3. The Middle East road map for peace will not for now be activated. It will remain on paper as long as Palestinian “armed gangs” are in charge.
Abu Mazen tried to put in a word on Palestinian demands, such as the unresolved status of the Egyptian-Gaza border crossings, a direct, sovereign Gaza-West Bank link, a halt on the Israeli defense barrier and various complaints, but Bush brushed him off, saying he is familiar with the problems and he leaves them to advisers – “Jim Wolfensohn,” or “General Ward.”
He gave some ground on the Palestinian demand for weapons and ammunition to arm their security forces, but said this would have to wait until a new military coordinator takes over from General Ward. The US president said he was still looking for a suitable candidate, a military man with the right intelligence background who worked well with the CIA. He also agreed to raise the granting of more economic concessions with Ariel Sharon.
All in all, the meeting ended without results or decisions.
Outside, when they both faced reporters, President Bush took advantage of a question put by a Palestinian correspondent to drive home his new message. Asked if a Palestinian state would come about during his term as president, he replied: My purpose is to lay the foundations for a state. Whether it comes about or not is not my problem; is up to the Palestinians.
Clearly the US president has taken several steps back from his first concept of Palestinian statehood as a top American policy goal. He is leaving it to the Palestinians to make the running. For the first time, they have been put clearly and firmly on notice that as long as they harbor terrorists, they can forget about attaining their own state.