Middle East: Fall-out from Bush speech as Europe and US clash

The European Union and the United States of America do not see eye-to-eye on the Middle East. Bush wants to oust President Arafat, while the EU deems the Palestinian people responsible to choose their own leader.

Tony Blair, arguably one of George Bush’s closest allies in the past year, made the UK’s position clear at a joint press conference in Alberta. He said that Britain shares the view expressed by the EU that the Palestinian people have the right to choose their own leader and it is they who should decide. “It is for the Palestinians to elect the people they choose to elect . . . It is not a question of saying we are going to tell people who they elect or not. That is for them”, he said. However, he added that a new Palestinian leadership must renounce terrorism. Faced with this firm position by the international community in general, George Bush significantly did not mention Arafat at his press conference, instead limiting himself to a more vague reference to the fact that “there needs to be new institutions, new constitutions and elections” in the Palestine Authority. This could indicate a possible softening of Washington’s stance taken earlier this week in George Bush’s speech on the Middle East, leading to an acceptance of Yasser Arafat, should he be re-elected in January, which seems likely.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed this possibility when he said that President Bush had not mentioned Yasser Arafat by name, but that Washington was hoping for a “number of leaders” to arise from the Palestine Authority elections, thus dispersing power away from Yasser Arafat alone. He also claimed that he was “trying now not to give up on anyone”.

The repeated references to Yasser Arafat’s link to terrorism seems to have been compounded by Israeli intelligence, which claims to have proof that Yasser Arafat authorised payment to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which has carried out terrorist attacks inside Israel. The Palestine Authority denounces this intelligence as “Israeli propaganda”.

The fact that Washington did not seem to forecast the wave of outrage at the notion that a people should not be free to choose who they want as their leader shows that either there continues to be a lack of coordination at the highest level, or the speech was badly planned.


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