Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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April 4, 2002: Bush on Middle East Peace (and a Correction on Cheney)

by Elliott Abrams
April 4, 2014


On April 4, 2002, twelve years ago today, President George W. Bush gave the first of two important speeches about Middle East policy. The April 4 speech challenged the leadership of Yasser Arafat, whom the administration had found to be continuing to support terrorism and lie to American officials about it. Bush said this:

This can be a time for hope. But it calls for leadership, not for terror. Since September the 11th, I’ve delivered this message: everyone must choose; you’re either with the civilized world, or you’re with the terrorists. All in the Middle East also must choose and must move decisively in word and deed against terrorist acts. The Chairman of the Palestinian Authority has not consistently opposed or confronted terrorists. At Oslo and elsewhere, Chairman Arafat renounced terror as an instrument of his cause, and he agreed to control it. He’s not done so. The situation in which he finds himself today is largely of his own making. He’s missed his opportunities, and thereby betrayed the hopes of the people he’s supposed to lead.

This was criticism, but not a clean break. That came in a speech Bush delivered on June 24, 2002, where he said this:

Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership, so that a Palestinian state can be born.

I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror. I call upon them to build a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty. If the Palestinian people actively pursue these goals, America and the world will actively support their efforts….And when the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbors, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state….Today, Palestinian authorities are encouraging, not opposing, terrorism. This is unacceptable. And the United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure.

This was a clear message: Arafat had to go.

There were long debates within the Bush administration about the June speech. In my book, Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, I describe them at length.

If there had been a glimmer of hope at the end of April that violence and terror would end, by June that hope was gone.  With acts of terror almost daily and major Israeli action in the West Bank, could Bush say and do nothing? The last time the President had dealt with the region, in April, the “action” he had taken was to announce he was sending Powell out there again, but Powell’s unsuccessful April trip took that option off the table.  “The State Department again proposed a peace conference; the President again said no, not with Arafat,” Rice recalled.  Cheney and Rumsfeld urged Bush to remain silent: he had given his views in the April speech and nothing would be gained by wading in again.  From his own March trip to the region, Cheney had concluded that the Arab leaders were focused on the United States and Iraq, not the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

I’ve been informed, since the book appeared in print, that Cheney and Rumsfeld were not in fact opposed to giving the speech. What they opposed was another effort like the April speech, equivocal about Arafat and giving him yet another chance, and launching yet another Powell trip to see Arafat yet again. They believed that Arafat had proved conclusively who he was, and that the United States should break with him entirely and call for his replacement.

So they favored giving a tough speech, and in the end strongly supported the draft that emerged for June 24th —while Powell and the State Department hated it. Cheney spent several days in June in Beaver Creek, Colorado at the annual AEI World Forum, where he met with Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet prisoner of conscience and in 2002 Israel’s deputy prime minister. On June 20th Sharansky delivered the keynote speech there, entitled “Democracy For Peace,” and in it said “I believe that it will be a tragic mistake if, just in the midst of this campaign of terror, the president of the United States rewards Arafat with a declaration that he deserves to head a state. There is no doubt that such a state would be a terrorist one.” The link between these thoughts and Bush’s remarks is obvious, and in fact Cheney discussed the Bush speech drafts with Sharansky on June 21st. In his book The Case for Democracy, Sharansky wrote about his meeting with Cheney:

Even though I had discussed the link between democracy and peace with the vice president before, our meeting, initially scheduled for  thirty minutes, went on for over an hour and a half. I told him how disappointed I was to hear that President Bush was planning to give Arafat another chance….When Cheney asked me what I thought the president should speak about…I returned to the important link between democracy and peace, between a free society for the Palestinians and security for Israelis, ideas for which the vice president  had a great deal of sympathy….Cheney promised he would pass along my ideas to the president.

So the account in my book is not entirely accurate: it seems that Cheney and Rumsfeld wanted to avoid another Bush speech like that of April 4, but did not oppose a speech on June 24 as long as it delivered a tough and final message about Arafat. And in part due to Cheney’s pressure, so it did. President Bush was committed to Palestinian democracy as a precondition for statehood, accepted the Sharansky view (and the two men later became good friends), and made it clear that Arafat had to go. That message was not delivered in April, but came through loud and clear in June.

A final note: the issue at stake in those speeches remains critical today. Is it the goal of American policy to create a Palestinian state regardless of what goes in within the borders of that state? Have we abandoned the goal, stressed by Bush twelve years ago, that a Palestinian state be “a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty?” So it appears, for the negotiations under way now appear focused on the shape of the Palestinian state–not its character.

Post a Comment 14 Comments

  • Posted by Adam

    That was a speech I much admired Bush for; it showed principle.

    I for one certainly applaud the security cooperation which goes on today between the PA and Israel. Things have changed dramatically on the ground, in part thanks to the U.S.-trained PA forces. But let us not forget that the security cooperation is a marriage of convenience. Abbas has foresworn terror and violence, but many Palestinians have not. Were the occupation to end tomorrow and Israel withdraw, it is highly dubious that a lid could be kept on the numerous terror groups active in the West Bank. And one reason is because the Palestinian leaders are corrupt, illegitimate and weak; Fatah is but a shell of its’ former self with little credibility. The day after a hypothetical peace agreement/withdrawal, who would lead the Palestinians toward continuing the peace? No one.

  • Posted by Jassem Othman

    President George W. Bush was really a Great President. Bless and protect him!

  • Posted by Beatrix139

    It’s time for Abbas an almost 80 year old propagandist to retire and for a young, ambitious Palestinian leader to take over. A Palestinian leader should at least treat Israel with the same respect as Egypt and Jordan do and Israel will reciprocate, Friendship may take another generation or two, but friendship between England and America didn’t happen right away, either.

  • Posted by EMT

    I totally agree with Mr Jassem Othman. Adam is right, even if Israel would give up the West Bank tomorrow, which I don’t believe, peace could not exist. The same I can say from Arik Sharon, when he was in New York at my show at the Javits Center. That day he told me that sooner or later Israel would make peace with Egypt and with Jordan but not with either Arafat or his successors or with the PLO people. We cannot easily transform terrorists into decent people. Peace can be done only when the Palestinians evolve peacefully without their PLO party and its lies.

    I wonder why Barak Obama insists on pushing Israel to make peace with the PLO. I have one response to that. Obama made a mistake when he chose the Muslim Brotherhood hastily, asking Mubarak to leave his presidency. Although he met with the Saudi leadership and even was their guest and knew their power and their political tendency he did not realize that General Sissi was Mubarak’s envoy to Saudi Arabia. I believe Israel could make an arrangement with the Saudis and the Egyptians who need Israel in order to reach an agreement for the Palestinians, without going through the PLO.

    The Arabs – Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq have several times attacked Israel, and the results of the confrontations were not in their favor, as Israel came out on top. Now that the PLO threatens Israel, it can only succeed in terrorist acts that bring no gain for them, but never in battle. Abbas, who receives every month a big budget, does not use it in the interest of the people. They could have developed the West Bank during all these years. In my view, Israel should not fear anything. Just wait and see what they can do.

    In my view, Obama does not know that the Arabs of the Middle East are not the same as the Indonesians he got to know in his childhood. The Arabs of the Middle East do not trust him. He would be better off not to stir Israel or the Middle East. He is only losing credibility. Netanyahu was very patient with Kerry and with his people. I don’t believe any country would free terrorists just to continue fruitless negotiations. Israel should stop negotiating, as the Palestinians depend on the Arab League and cannot make any decisions on their own. In the meantime, the Arabs who live in Israel have the benefits of democracy and are better off that those who live in any Arab country.

  • Posted by Jassem Othman

    Well said, EMT! thank you, Sir!
    The late Sharon was right. Yes, peace will not prevail in the region as long as terrorist organizations and radical movements are participated in political life there, this kind of people do not want peace with Israel. In general, the radical Islamists and militant dictators in the region seek to eliminate Israel from the map.

    “it can only succeed in terrorist acts that bring no gain for them, but never in battle. Abbas, who receives every month a big budget, does not use it in the interest of the people.”

    Yes, you give the money to PLO where use it in order to send their children to terrorist training camps NOT for the benefit of their people.

    “the Arabs who live in Israel have the benefits of democracy and are better off that those who live in any Arab country.”

    Israel in the Middle east, is like “a healthy mind lives in a diseased body!”

  • Posted by EMT

    Dear Mr. Jassem Othman, thank you for your positive comment. All the Arabs are scared to say the truth as they do not trust each other.
    I know them and the Iranians well. But Obama and Kerry wasted the time of the Israelis and their time, believing that with this so-called gesture they could regain the lost trust with the Saudis and with the Egyptians forgetting that the Egyptiens do not like them and do not trust them.

    I congratulate the Israelis for not losing their patience. They know the history with Arafat and with Abbas. I believe that Obama made a big mistake with the Jews and the Israelis and the Democratic Party will pay for it.

  • Posted by Jassem Othman

    Dear EMT, because the truth can be a very painful thing, so they do not dare to tell the truth.

    Yes, Israel is the best friend and ally to the United States of America on the planet, but unfortunately, the United States under the naive policies of the administration of President Obama have betrayed it, where left it vulnerable and more isolated in the region than ever before in the United States history.
    Btw, there is a very interesting booklet by Dr. Michael Ledeen titled “Obama’s Betrayal of Israel.”

  • Posted by EMT

    Dear Mr. Jassem Othman thank you. “Obama’s Betrayal is also of america..

    The generous gives precious stones
    When their price is climbing

    The observer smiles of joy
    Seeing such an event passing

    The stingy will not offer water
    To the thirsty who is dying.

    Take the people as they are
    May they be close to you or far

    A small Gesture

  • Posted by Jassem Othman

    Thank you Sir, for the lovely gesture. Yes, President Obama betrayed America and brought it to its knees. he neglected its most important allies in the region “Saudis and Israelis”.

    I think that the best way to assess people is through their “NATURE” and how they treat other people!? Life is very strange, sometimes you are up and down but the good people or a true friends who showing their true character and their true face and stick by you in the time of failure or when you face adversity. But unfortunately today lots of friends turn away or turning against each other when one of them becomes in danger. Such behavior is not surprising, a few centuries ago the Great Machiavelli in his great book (the Prince) told us about the nature of this bad and selfish creature called “humans.” However, it is very difficult to distinguish between good and bad people but in reality “this world is awash in evil people!”

  • Posted by AMT

    I don’t believe that Obama know what the people want. His behavior is guided by his ideology. As my father used to say, nothing will last in this world. We will wait and see. .
    Here another of 2 poems in English and in French: as a friendly gesture


    Don’t take happiness as a grant
    Decide what you really want
    To others’ Gods do not bow
    But to yourself give a vow

    You will never be stressed
    Every day will be blessed
    If you only do your part
    God will be born in your heart

    Go on and don’t be sorry
    Poems and the nicest stories
    All will be just memories
    Your future is filled with glory

    Bless mankind and its descendents
    Avoid the fake and its resemblance
    Those who don’t inspire confidence.
    Only destiny will prepare your chance

    Luck and happiness depend on you,
    Your will, your faith, your actions too
    Your love, your joy, for your own sake
    As an offering keep them awake.

    Copyright 2008 Emile Tubiana

    Le monde de nos jours

    Ne voyez-vous pas que le monde a changé
    De nos jours on se trouve tous en danger
    On est bien content que les jours passent
    Et qu’en faisant son travail rien ne se casse

    L’être humain a changé sa perception
    On est actif, mais on n’a plus de vision
    Avant la guerre tout était plus serein
    Personne ne sait ce qu’il y aura demain

    Le monde est devenu plus restreint
    Malgré ses richesses, l’être a bien faim
    Les familles se connaissaient à tout âge
    Dans les quartiers, les villes et les villages

    Je ne dis pas que les êtres étaient mieux
    Car aujourd’hui ils meurent plus vieux
    Les écoles n’étaient pas moins rigides
    Aujourd’hui on cherche dans le vide

    Aujourd’hui les êtres sont bourrés
    De propagande, mais rien à savourer
    Les êtres ne savent plus avancer
    Chacun dans son petit coin est abrité

    Il se sent à l’aise, assis sur une chaise
    La télévision ne lui donne pas de malaise
    Pour la bonne santé, il faut bien manger
    Il faut éviter ce qui pourrait nous déranger

    Il semble qu’on dépend du gouvernement
    Alors qu’en nous-mêmes repose le talent
    Les nouvelles du jour nous accablent
    Nous oublions de quoi nous sommes capables

    Chaque action que nous faisons avec amour
    Guérit la souffrance, apporte la lumière du jour
    Laissons la grâce pénétrer dans nos cœurs
    Semons l’amour, nous récolterons le bonheur

    Copyright 2013 Emile Tubiana

  • Posted by Jassem Othman

    Dear Mr. Tubiana, once again, thank you very much for very kind words that with poetic rhyme “assonance”.

    On your article or letter that addressed to the president “Wake Up America!”
    “I know these countries. Under Ben Ali, Mubarak, Khadafy the people were living peacefully…Do you know how the situation is today, in the countries of the Arab Spring? In Tunisia, in Egypt and in Libya the people are far worse off than they were before.”

    Mr. Tubiana, respectfully, there is no rose without a thorn. I think chaos indispensable to accomplish the noble goals. Actually the people were NOT better off under those oppressive regimes. Although I prefer those tyrannical regimes on Islamists but that regimes did NOT grant its people a decent life. they tyrannized their people, massacred them, oppressed them and impoverished them.

    In general, although I born in that tragic and nasty world, but I can honestly say: “it’s a disgusting and terrible world, a world of frustration and hopeless, the people there live the backwater in all scopes…” maybe they love that!?

  • Posted by EMT

    Dear Jassem Othman, I really appreciate your comment and I read it with honesty and sincerity. You mentioned my article “Wake Up America!” I wrote a few articles where I used these same words: “Wake up America!” As you mentioned these countries: Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, of course I know their situation today, after the revolutions, which were initiated or encouraged by our administration, directly or indirectly, and which made the situation there worse.
    Today no single Arab country is our friend. It is pity they do not trust our administration anymore. Those mentioned countries are known to me and my family for centuries. They are not Arabs; they are Berbers, as Bourguiba mentioned when he was in Jordan. When he told them, “You are better off making peace with the Jews than war, as you can only benefit with them.” They answered him: “You are not a good Muslim.” His answer was, “I am a Muslim Beseif, “ which means, “I am Muslim by the power of the sword” I know North Africans then and now. Of course, they are not anymore as they used to be before. I feel terribly sorry for them and I keep good relations with school friends, the elite and the people.
    Fereydoun Hoveyda used to be the United Nations Ambassador for Iran in New York, and was the brother of Amir Abbas Hoveyda, the Prime Minister of Iran; both were very knowledgeable people. In his book “Que veulent les Arabs?” (“What do the Arabs Want”), wrote that according to his research, there are about 95% of Berbers and only 5% of Arabs in North Africa.
    Mr Othman, I fully agree with you with those words: “Although I prefer those tyrannical regimes on Islamists but that regimes did NOT grant its people a decent life. They tyrannized their people, massacred them, oppressed them and impoverished them.”
    I just want to say, I don’t know any revolution or civil war which brought peace to their people, including the French revolution, the American civil war and the Russian revolution, which massacred their people.
    May I offer you another Poeme;
    Birthday in My Home Town
    I visited you, after years of longing
    I felt the roots of my heart
    Like roses and jasmine
    Your abundant wheat
    Your green mountains
    Displayed like a carpet
    From afar, I honored you
    And on my birthday I visited you
    Your beauty is that of my mother
    When I was nursing
    I will return to you, my town
    Without make-up
    With my serene soul and pure heart
    So that they may only say of you
    Words of truth
    And words of our Lord
    Of love and purity
    I sneaked a kiss from you
    You have opened my heart to love
    Remembering you today
    My heart is appeased
    Your joy is mine
    Your love is mine
    In your center is the nest of my ancestors
    Full of honey and light
    I feed myself on you
    From my young age, until now

    Copyright 1977 EMT

  • Posted by Jassem Othman

    Thank you Sir, I highly appreciate your very nice words.
    “as Bourguiba mentioned when he was in Jordan. When he told them, “You are better off making peace with the Jews than war, as you can only benefit with them.”
    Yes peace with that developed and prosperous country “Israel” is much better than to fight it, we indeed need to learn from Israelis, at least the love of life.
    “His answer was, “I am a Muslim Beseif”
    No doubt that Islam was spread by force and by the sword, and today by bloodshed because one of its main pillars is jihad. In fact, wherever Islam rules it is just terrible.

    As you know Mr. Tubiana, that Arab cultures went through a mixing process. In general the phenomenon of cultural and ethnic mix is prevalent everywhere. For example, there are a lot of Jews who are not pure Jews and a lot of Arabs who are not pure Arabs…unfortunately, in the West, there is a large proportion of Westerners who are not pure Westerners. Although I am a little bit dark-skinned, but I rabidly pro-the Western white imperialism and colonialism. I am not saying that I am against mixing, but I am against those who reject the values and principles of the West, yet, they want to live in the West, and what is worse? they bring with them a very disgusting habits and values which trying to impose it on the Western societies.
    However, originally, Arabs were tribal people dwelling in the mid Arabian Peninsula and are still a tribal and Bedouin people at the present time. Add to this, there is no tough and terrorist people more than the Arabs and Muslims, and no other people violent and pitiless as the people of the Arab and Muslim world, where the violence is a chronic mental condition of Arab mentality.

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