President Bush Has a Speech in His Drawer Too

Martin S. Indyk
Martin S. Indyk
Martin S. Indyk Former Brookings Expert, Distinguished Fellow - The Council on Foreign Relations

May 31, 2002

If you watched President Bush’s performance in Normandy this week you would have come away with the impression that he gives a good speech. And if some of his Middle East advisers have their way, pretty soon he’ll be making another speech, a dramatic initiative that will outline the parameters for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I haven’t seen a draft of that speech so what follows is speculation. But my educated guess is that it will go something like this:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the time has come to end the bloodshed in the Middle East. Too many innocents have died, too many grandmothers, mothers and their children have fallen victim to horrendous homicide bombers or have been caught in the crossfire of Israel’s response. It is time for the international community to stand as one and demand what Yitzhak Rabin declared on this White House lawn in 1993: Enough of bloodshed! Enough!

“We all know what the solution to this century-old conflict is. It was first put forward in 1947 when the United Nations called for the partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and the other Arab. It was recently put forward again by the United Nations Security Council in its Resolution 1397 which called for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel. Two states for two people in the Holy Land. One a Jewish state for the Jewish people whose security and character must be preserved and guaranteed for all time. The other an Arab state for the Palestinian people in which they will for the first time be free to determine their own future through representative, accountable and transparent institutions.

“The border between these two states will have to be defined through direct negotiations between the two parties. But the Palestinian state will not be viable unless its borders are based on the line of June 4, 1967 with equitable adjustments to account for demographic realities. And the Jewish state will not be secure unless the Palestinian state is demilitarized and the Israeli army has the ability to deploy rapidly to the Jordan Valley in the event of a real threat from the east.

“The same test of viability and security must also apply to the issues of refugees and settlements. The Palestinian refugees should have the right of return to the Palestinian state and they should have a right to fair compensation. But they cannot have a right of return to the Jewish state—that right must be preserved for the Jewish people. By the same token Jewish settlers cannot have the right to live in the Palestinian state. They should be accommodated in the Jewish state, most of them in settlement blocs adjacent to the 1967 lines with territorial compensation made to the Palestinian state.

“United Jerusalem should serve as the capital of the two states. Arab Jerusalem should come under Palestinian sovereignty and Jewish Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty but arrangements must ensure that the city is not physically divided. A special regime should be established for the Old City and its immediate environs to ensure that the status quo is preserved with respect to the holy sites of the three great religions.

“The Arab states must do their part by ending the conflict with Israel, signing peace treaties and normalizing relations with the Jewish state.

“To those Palestinians who would oppose this two-state solution with blood-soaked hands, I issue this warning. The United States and the international community will not allow you to perpetrate your terrorist attacks any more. We will take the lead in restructuring the Palestinian security services and confronting all those who would jeopardize the achievement of Palestinian statehood through bloody deeds.

“And to those Israelis who would resist this solution in pursuit of their dream of a greater Israel, they should understand that the time has come to accept the greater good of a secure, Jewish state living in peace with its Arab neighbors.

“Finally, I want to address myself to the Israeli and Palestinian people. You have both suffered too much for too long. Your children deserve a better, more secure and more hopeful future. They cannot have that if each side continues to view victory in terms of inflicting greater suffering on the other side. When you are ready, we are ready to help you lead separate lives in dignity, security and mutual respect.”

Is it credible that George W. Bush would give such a speech? Not at the moment. He retains a visceral desire to stay disengaged from any Israeli-Palestinian political process. And this, combined with sharp instincts for the political advantage of avoiding tensions with Israel’s supporters before the November Congressional elections, leads the President to avoid action.

But as it becomes increasingly clear that continuing Palestinian terror is leading Prime Minister Sharon to prepare to evict Yasser Arafat from Palestine, the pressure on the President to do something will increase. As the President has told the press, he doesn’t do Middle East summits, and he doesn’t do nuance. But he sure can give a good speech. So as the crisis deepens and the Saudis again demand action, the urge of the President will grow ever stronger to reach for that speech in his top drawer with its balanced embrace of the ’67 lines and rejection of the Palestinian right of return.

Twenty years ago, another Republican president who was also a great communicator but not particularly inclined to engage in Middle East diplomacy faced a similar dilemma. Ariel Sharon had just evicted Yasser Arafat from Lebanon and the Saudis were screaming for American action. So “the gipper” gave a speech. Back then the Reagan Plan took Israel by surprise so, if they eventuate, the Bush Principles would surely take Israel by surprise too. After all, there isn’t even an ambassador here to read the writing on the wall.