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Shimon Peres' Response to Bush Speech

From Yediot Ahronot, Israel Daily newspaper. The following is an eyewitness account of Shimon Peres' responses while watching George Bush's 6/24/02 speech proposing his peace plan. It is written by Yediot reporter Shimon Shiffer:

Shimon Peres' face became more and more weary and angry, the longer Bush went on with his speech. "He is making a fatal mistake" remarked Peres. "Making the creation of a Palestinian state dependant upon a change in the Palestinian leadership is a fatal mistake" he repeated again and again. "Arafat has led the Palestinians for 35 years, kept their head above the water in the international arena. No, no, you can't just brush him aside with one speech." Peres did not watch the speech to the very end. He got up, turned off the TV and left the room, saying before he left: "The abyss into which the region will plunge will be as deep as the expectations from this speech were high. There will be a bloodbath."

Yediot Ahronot Editorial of 6/25/02

A big smile must have spread over Ariel Sharon's face at listening to the Middle East speech of his good friend George W. Bush. After all the hesitations and delays, the highly publicized power struggles between the State Department and the Pentagon, the tense waiting and the inaccurate advance leaks (which included the briefing by the White House spokesperson, an hour before the speech itself) - after all these, the leader of the Free World came out with one single message: anything but Yasser Arafat. The man with the beard must go - in a free democratic way, of course. How many other people will be gone by then, ours and theirs, the president did not say.

It is common to say that following September 11 the Bush Administration is in the habit of dividing the world into goodies and baddies. It is true, but not the whole truth: even before that terrible day in New York, the president has been consistently dividing the world into those who are like America and those who are not. Those who are like America have transparency and a free market, elections to change the government and independent judiciaries. Those who are not like America have nothing. Bush's message to the Palestinians is simple: if you become like us, we will help you improve your life; if you don't, we will just wait until you do.

The fact that a free market and an independent judiciary are impossible for a people under occupation does not appear to disturb Bush, member of a nation which saw no foreign invader on its soil for the past two centuries. Nor does the fact that legitimate self-defense against terrorism drags Israel into activities which perpetuate and aggravate that occupation interest a person who can send the marines anywhere he chooses and pull them out again at his discretion. And he does not seem to lose sleep even over the fact that while these contradictions bump against each other, the blood of hundreds of civilians is shed over here every month. As far as the White House is concerned, either a new America will arise here, or we will just have to wait. The White House is not concerned with many of us and how many of them will not survive to see that day.

So, Arafat is an obstacle - to his people, to us and to the region; a despicable fanatic. Still, peoples are not in the habit of changing their leaders at an order from Washington. Just 90 miles from the shores of Florida there is a country ruled, for more than forty years, by a man which the United States government despises and in whose overthrow successive administrations invested enormous efforts. The Americans impose a blockade on Cuba, starve its people to punish them for daring to adopt such a regime, and wait for Fidel Castro or his people to take the hint. They are waiting for a long time already. And what is true in Cuba is certainly true in the Middle East. America can wait for the Israelis and Palestinians, and they can wait for America while shedding each other's blood.

In the coming days, we will undoubtedly hear a lot from Sharon's aides about how this great diplomatic coup was achieved, due to Sharon's charm and Arafat's sins. We will hear how wonderful it is that the American president was convinced to sit on his hands a bit longer, to give some more time for suicide bombings and military operations to follow upon each other undisturbed. We will hear how we won some more time, time in which we can continue to live in fear, to become a bit more impoverished and bit more desperate with every passing day. "Anything but Arafat". The president said it. What a great victory. It was a speech of encouragement to the rejectionists on both sides. No action of any kind was announced. No declaration was made of involvement - by the US alone, or together with its allies - in any effort to stop the intolerable bloodletting in one of the globe's most sensitive regions. There was nothing but the narrow worldview of a person who is willing to help everybody become an imitation American, and wants nothing to do with anybody else. Nothing but a promise that, while the roses continue to bloom in the White House garden, the red spots seen on Israeli and Palestinian streets will be no flowers.