President Bush Endorses Israel-Palestine Vision, But Does Not Meet With President Arafat

In his statement to the United Nations General Assembly on 10 November, President George Bush relayed an important U.S. position on the Middle East. Mr. Bush stated, "The American Government also stands by its commitment to a just peace in the Middle East. We are working toward a day when two states, Israel and Palestine, live peacefully together within secure and recognized borders as called for by the Security Council resolutions. We will do all in our power to bring both parties back into negotiations. But peace will only come when all have sworn off, forever, incitement, violence and terror."

This statement by President Bush represented the first time an American president used the term "Palestine" rather than the term "Palestinian State" to refer to the Palestinian entity, with all the legal and political significance of that word, especially when coupled with the weight of U.N. Security Council resolutions. It is also significant that this position was articulated at the U.N., giving it added importance in light of the historical role of the U.N. with regard to the question of Palestine and its resolutions that form the basis of the Middle East peace process.

As such, President Bush’s statement constituted an important step forward towards a more balanced American position and increased U.S. engagement in the peace process. At the same time, President Bush appeared to make all of this conditional on what he referred to as the swearing off of "incitement, violence and terror".

President Bush’s statement, however, was coupled with the illogical decision not to meet President Yasser Arafat while they were both in New York, which seemed totally incompatible with the American position on the issue. One explanation for such a decision is that the President was attempting to appear to be striking a balance for purely domestic reasons.

The U.S. tried to ameliorate the situation by arranging a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and President Arafat. The meeting, which lasted for over an hour, was indeed positive and constructive. It was during that meeting that Secretary Powell indicated his intention to soon make a comprehensive policy statement on the Middle East, specifically with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and indicated the U.S. determination to follow up the statement with action.

In sum, the assurances given by Secretary Powell, combined with the statement made by President Bush to the General Assembly, reaffirmed the continuing important role of the U.S. in the Middle East peace process and the intention to reinvigorate efforts in this regard. These developments were welcomed by the Palestinian side, and it is strongly hoped that such efforts will soon produce much-needed positive results, both with regard to the situation on the ground and the peace process as a whole.