"How is it possible to return the territories? After all, there's no one to return them to," announced Golda Meir in 1969. As proof, she stated another historic fact three months later: "There's no such thing as Palestinians. They never existed." They are also non-existent today.
The summit meeting between Sharon and Bush provides evidence of this, because it rested on three basic agreements: "for the time being, there exists no Palestinian partner with whom to advance peacefully toward a settlement" as stipulated in Sharon's letter; "the United States will join with others in the international community to foster the development of democratic political institutions and new [Palestinian] leadership committed to those institutions" as stated in Bush's letter; and Jewish demography will determine the new border.
These basic agreements affirm that some kind of Palestinian people exists, but that it is merely an ethnic group whose territorial borders are a matter for deliberation and agreement between Israel and the United States - and not between them and the international community. With America's approval, Israel receives a mandate to establish an independent Palestinian state when the conditions are right: when a new leadership arises for the Palestinian entity, when the violent struggle ends, after the settlements demarcate the "realistic" border, after negotiations are held and an accord is reached between the sides, and after the road map directives are implemented. Until that time, the Palestinians constitute a political nonentity, or at most a terrorist organization with some 3.5 million members.
The letters exchanged between Bush and Sharon are not a new accord or groundbreaking political program. They are letters of commentary on reality that regard the Palestinians as an object rather than a subject, as a bone stuck in the throat of the separation fence, of the settlements and of Israel's final border. With this type of commentary, the two friends had to exchange a wink in light of the blatant contradiction between Bush's statement that "it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949" and the very next sentence, which states, "It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities." If this sentence were not in Bush's letter, one could dismiss this as just another slip of the tongue by the president. These two contradictory sentences guarantee that the conflict will continue forever, because there cannot be mutual agreement on the reality that current exists in the territories, especially when one of the two sides is determining this reality.
The fact that this represents a major victory for Sharon is undeniable. But how can this commentary of reality be accepted as an Israeli victory when it distances the chance of reaching an agreement? One reason for this is apparently the illusion that whatever is acceptable to the U.S. ultimately creates an agreement for all practical purposes. That is, if the U.S. "approved" a new border, then the Palestinians will have to agree to it, because if they don't, it would be paramount to declaring war on Washington. Another explanation - and one begins to suspect that this is the main one - rests on the Golda's line of thinking, which regained currency from Bush's statements: the Palestinians are a virtual people, as they were in 1967.
Only one small matter remains: if, according to Bush, facts on the ground are what determine political reality, does the American administration recognize the annexations of the Golan Heights to Israel, or at least understand that there is no reason to demand a withdrawal from the Golan in an accord with Syria because the facts on the ground created a new reality? And if facts on the ground determine the border, why shouldn't Israel continue building settlements? There will be some outcry and loan guarantees will be trimmed a bit, but the facts will ultimately speak for themselves.
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