For the best indication that President Bush’s June 24 White House speech indeed amounted to what several Israeli officials described as the most pro-Israel statement ever made by a sitting U.S. president, one need look no further than the reactions it stirred in the American punditocracy.
With a literal handful of exceptions, the response divided cleanly along partisan lines: Those most friendly to Israel sounded the loudest praise, while those who take a more even-handed or outright pro-Palestinian approach were decidedly unhappy, even morose.
Here’s a snippet from the liberal fossil called Mary McGrory: “[Bush] sent Palestine to its room for three years; it can come downstairs to the grown-ups’ table when it has behaved in a democratic manner….At the same time, the leader of the free world patted Ariel Sharon on the head and told him to go on doing whatever works for him.”
How about this from Salon editor Gary Kamiya, as reliable a champion of the Palestinian cause as you’ll find in mainstream media: “George Bush added another chapter to the long history of American ignorance, ill will and condescension toward the Palestinians….By embracing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s position that the whole problem is Arafat – while making vague, pleasant-sounding noises about a Palestinian state – Bush paid obeisance to American political realities, and if the votes he gains have to be paid for in Israeli and Palestinian lives, so be it.”
On the other hand, syndicated columnist and Atlantic Monthly editor Michael Kelly, a clear and consistent voice for Israel, characterized Bush’s speech as “extraordinary,” noting that the president “has set the Palestinian issue within the context of a larger approach that is fundamentally, historically radical: a rejection of decades of policy, indeed a rejection of the entire philosophy of Middle East diplomacy.”
That philosophy, according to Kelly, was based on “a running fraud. In the interests of ‘stability’ and cheap oil and concessions to American military needs, the United States chose to recognize all regimes (except those such as Iran, Libya and Iraq who openly attacked us or the regional status quo) as more or less legitimate….We pretended that these regimes were honorable and that we could do business with them.”
Bush, though, has called a halt to the charade. While the nation stands ready to support any genuine peace effort – and, in due time and under the proper conditions, a Palestinian state – the U.S., wrote Kelly, “for the next three years at least, is out of the old fraud game.”
Daily News columnist Zev Chafets was effusive in his praise of Bush, whom he credited with a “foreign policy revolution unmatched even by President Ronald Reagan.” Since taking office, Chafets declared, “Bush has savaged conventional wisdom by dropping the anti-ballistic missile treaty, green-lighting Star Wars, walking away from the Kyoto global warming pact, boycotting a United Nations conference on human rights and saying no to the new international criminal court in The Hague. He has taken the U.S. to war without the permission of a coalition, restored ‘good’ and ‘evil’ to the language of big-power diplomacy and introduced an American defense doctrine of unilateral preemption. And now he is insisting that the price of self-determination should be civilized behavior.”
Finally, for the most accurate barometer of how we should judge the new Bush doctrine, we go to the Prince of Palestine, ABC “World News Tonight” anchor Peter Jennings, who opened his broadcast of June 24 as follows:
“Good evening, everyone. We’re going to begin tonight with what the president has decided should be done to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians. In short, the president said today the Palestinians should get rid of their leader Yasir Arafat, get a new political and economic system, a new constitution, a new security service. And when the Palestinians have done that, the Bush administration will support a provisional Palestinian state. If this sounds like Mr. Bush has come down squarely on Israel’s side in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, that is how it looks in the Middle East and in Washington.”
Viewers paying close attention to Jennings that evening swore they heard the sound of teeth gnashing.
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org