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Bush & the Mideast: Clinton Redux?

Herbert Zweibon Outpost June/July 2001

George W. Bush, who during the election campaign went out of his way to insist that he would not
repeat Bill Clinton’s mistakes in the Middle East, appears to be well on his way to repeating them.

After chiding Clinton for becoming too involved
in the details of Mideast diplomacy, Bush has bowed to
the demands of the media and the pro-Arab
policymakers at the State Department, and is becoming ever more deeply mired in that same black hole.

After asserting, shortly after the election, that
he would end the Clinton policy of involving the CIA in
political negotiations between Israel and Yasser Arafat,
Bush is now using CIA director George Tenet as his
chief Mideast negotiator. And Tenet, true to the spirit of
Clinton’s Mideast envoys, insists that Israel make concession after concession while overlooking and excusing Palestinian incitement and violence.

Despite repeatedly pledging his friendship for
Israel, in his June 26 meeting with Sharon in Washington, President Bush pressured him to negotiate with
Arafat under fire. In his press conference on the day of
the meeting Bush declared that there had been enough
“progress” in reducing the violence for Israel to return to
negotiations with Arafat-even though there were over
200 attacks during the first three weeks of the “ceasefire.” And of course the negotiations would be directed
to implementing the Mitchell Report, the one sided-report (which Israel should have rejected out-of-hand as
part and parcel of the failed appeasement policies of
the Clinton administration) rewarding Arafat with dramatic new concessions for his nine months of violence.
Even the Mitchell Report calls for an end to violence
before negotiations: Bush has made the recomendation that
this is unnecessary in so far as the Arabs are concerned.

While Sharon publicly protested Bush’s stance,
Colin Powell was sent to Israel to keep up the pressure.
Powell has told journalists he is “encouraging” Israel to
“show restraint,” i.e. he is pressing Israel to permit the
Palestinians to murder Jews without any kind of response. This is even worse than Clinton’s policy of tolerating Barak’s occasional, if largely ineffectual, bombing
of Palestinian Authority sites after major terrorist attacks.
The media ignores the contradiction between Powell’s
advocacy of all-out force against U.S. enemies and his
advocacy of no response at all by Israel to violence
against its enemies.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher
cannot even bring himself specifically to condemn Palestinian terror–he ritually invokes the morally despicable
phrase “both sides” to describe those who are responsible for the ongoing bloodshed.

Bush’s statements when he was a candidate,
as well as those made during the first months after the
election, offered hope that there would be a meaningful
change from the Clinton Middle East policy. Those hopes
have yet to materialize. Instead, Bush is repeating his
predecessor’s failed policy of pretending to see Palestinian “moderation” where there is none–and by doing
so, ensuring that Arafat will continue the violence.

In a recent interview with Peggy Noonan in the
in the Wall Street Journal, President Bush spoke of the
danger that radical Islamic poses to the West. Yet Bush
seems blind to the fact that in encouraging Arab violence
and putting Israel’s survival increasingly in jeopardy, he
is, in effect, promoting Islamic fundamentalism.

“Meet the two George W. Bushes,” Paul Gigot
wrote recently in the Wall Steel Journal. “One is the
president of high principle, the other is the ruthless political pragmatist. He’s Dr. Reagan and Mr. Clinton.” And
nowhere is that phenomenon more apparent than in
Bush’s Middle East policy so far.

Herbert Zweibon is chairman of Americans For
a Safe Israel.

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