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Bush Endorses Israel Plan On West Bank Settlements

From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring
progressive viewpoints on national
and international issues under-reported
in mainstream media
for release April 26, 2004

Bush Endorses Israel's Plan to Make West Bank Settlements Permanent; Lights Middle East Fuse

- Interview with Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, conducted by Scott Harris

Listen in RealAudio:

In a severe blow for efforts to restart stalled Middle East peace negotiations, President Bush endorsed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip while making several major Jewish settlements in the Palestinian West Bank permanent. In an April 14 announcement at the White House, President Bush, with Sharon at his side, also rejected the right of millions of Palestinians and their families to return to homes and land they left during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948.

In making his announcement, Bush angered Palestinians by taking away their right to negotiate these critical issues themselves. The agreement which Bush described as "historic" and "courageous," was viewed by many nations around the world as an abandonment of international law, which dictates that Israel must return to its prewar 1967 borders.

But just three days after the Bush-Sharon announcement, Israel's assassination of Abdel Aziz Rantisi, the leader of the militant Palestinian group Hamas, further infuriated Palestinians and prompted calls for revenge against Israel and the U.S. While Ariel Sharon, backed by President Bush, claimed the second assassination of a Hamas leader in a month as self-defense against terrorists, many nations around the world condemned it and expressed fears that the action will only accelerate a deadly spiral of violence. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the progressive Jewish magazine Tikkun, who assesses the possible consequences of President Bush's endorsement of the Sharon plan and the Israeli policy of assassinating its opponents.

Rabbi Michael Lerner: This is a major historical change. The United States has always had the position that Israel would have to go back to the pre-1967 borders. This is as major as Bush announcing a policy of pre-emptive strikes central to American foreign policy. To now say that boundaries of nations can be set according to the "facts on the ground," what that means is that any nation can conquer land from a neighboring country and put their population there, and then claim that's where their real boundary is. It has to include the demographic "realities" on the ground. So this is horrendous. It's a horrendous precedent for the rest of the world and it's horrendous for those of us who are seeking peace in the Middle East who want an outcome that is both a secure Israel and a secure Palestine. It's part of the general deep distortion in the policies of both Israel and the United States in seeking security through domination.

Between The Lines: Rabbi Lerner, what are your fears for what happens next? The Palestinians seem all but resigned to the idea that hope for a negotiated settlement is dashed. At the same time, you've got cries of vengeance, for blood in the streets of Israel, from supporters of Hamas and even from people who didn't support Hamas, with the assassination of these two (Hamas) leaders.

Rabbi Michael Lerner: I have no doubt that this will lead to more violence, but I think that you have to understand that violence is exactly what the Ariel Sharon types benefit from because they then are able to point to the violence as confirmation that there is a need for more protection against the Palestinians. So, in a way, taking the most provocative actions possible, for example in killing Hamas leaders without ever allowing them to have a trial and defend themselves from the charges that they organized violence against civilians, this behavior produces exactly the results that gives Ariel Sharon political strength in Israel.

If, on the other hand the Palestinian movement were to respond to all this by building a Gandhi-like or Martin Luther King-like non-violent movement I think that Sharon's powers would be weakened. But, he takes provocative actions hoping to strengthen the voices of the most extreme elements in the Palestinian world.

Between The Lines: People in the Bush administration, as well as representatives of Sharon's party Likud in Israel, say that Israel leaving the Gaza Strip could jump-start peace negotiations and will actually assist in reaching, ultimately, a peace settlement that will be good for both Israelis and Palestinians -- how do you respond?

Rabbi Michael Lerner: The idea that Israel has is to create essentially a Bantustan state, siimilar to what South Africa did when it gave the "homelands" to black people and said, "Here you're going to have these independent states." But those independent states were surrounded by South Africa and by the South African Army. In this case, Gaza is surrounded by Israel and by the Israeli Army, even on the seaside by the Israeli Navy. They (the Palestinians in Gaza) have no freedom of travel, they have no freedom of trade. They are totally cut off, they're like one big ghetto. And by the way it's not that big, the whole Gaza Strip is considerably smaller than the Bay area of northern California -- it's a tiny little area.

In that tiny little area, it's now going to be controlled by Hamas, because Hamas is the force that will be able to claim that its violence produced this exit from Gaza. You see, Israel had the option of dealing and negotiating an end to the occupation and thus showing the moderates of the Palestinian people that moderates in the Palestinian world could achieve something. Instead by unilaterally withdrawing, and doing so in the face of acts of terror by Hamas, it gives new credit to Hamas' view and Hamas' claim that it's only violence that Israel understands.

Between The Lines: Rabbi Lerner, what do you make of the presumed Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's reaction here to the Sharon-Bush agreement to pretty much abrogate the right of return and to undermine the return to the pre-1967 borders in Israel?

Rabbi Michael Lerner: He had a reaction? I thought it was like a squeak.

Between The Lines: A squeak. Well, Kerry seemed generally supportive of the Bush-Sharon plan, what's your view?

Rabbi Michael Lerner: Kerry seems to be committed to running on a strategy of "me -tooism," and being a Republican lite. Of course, I know that Kerry, in his heart, actually, on many issues, certainly on ecological issues, is not Republican lite -- he's a person of principle. But the way he thinks that he can win this election, apparently, is to play down any principled disagreements and just hope that the antagonism toward Bush will carry him to victory. I think that's a mistaken strategy, I don't think that it's going to work for him. I think that it would be far better were he to articulate an alternative. But I also have a feeling that no matter, even if he did get elected, I think that he might very well be a captive of the voices in the Jewish and Christian right who insist that the United States walk lock-step with the most right-wing governments of Israel -- officially claiming that they're being pro-Semitic. But of course, from my standpoint, there's nothing worse, nothing more anti-the interest of the Jewish people than to support policies that are actually going to blow up in our face -- and in the meantime are undermining the moral and spiritual foundation of Judaism.

Tikkun sponsored a Teach-In too Congress on Middle East Peace in Washington April 25 -27. Contact Tikkun by calling (510) 644-1200 or visit their website at

Related links on our website at

"Bush's Dramatic Shift in Mideast" "The Ariel Sharon-George Bush Axis of Occupation" "Creating a Bantustan in Gaza"

Visit our Between The Lines Newswire regularly at to read other in-depth news stories that are under-reported or ignored in the corporate media.


Scott Harris, is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on over 35 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( for the week ending April 30, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Scott Harris and Anna Manzo.

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