Robert Fisk: America uses Israel's words to justify occupation
[The Independent - 28 February 2003]:
Ah, to be a "viable" state! The word "viable" has now become the be-all and end-all of American policy towards Palestine. "For its part," George Bush told us, "the new government of Israel, as the terror threat is removed and security improves, will be expected to support the creation of a viable Palestinian state."
Well, since Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, says that the Palestinians may only get 50 per cent of the West Bank and his new chums in his coalition government are all for more settlements in that area, why should Muslims take this talk seriously? They don't. It's just another word trick to kick-arse the Arabs into support – or at least acquiescence – in the American invasion of Iraq.
Not once did President Bush mention the word "oil" – save for a brief reference to the disastrous oil-for-food "programme" – though there was just one mention of the occupied territories (or "so-called occupied" as Donald Rumsfeld infamously called them). But once America occupies Iraq, what argument can the Arabs deploy against Israel? If the West Bank is occupied, well so is Iraq. If the United States occupied Iraq to spare the world from "terror", why shouldn't Israel occupy the West Bank to spare itself from "terror"? Few have yet worked through this dangerous equation.
Much of the Bush speech to the American Enterprise Institute was written in the language of Israel. "If war is forced upon us by Iraq's refusal to disarm, we'll meet an enemy who hides his military forces behind civilians, who has terrible weapons, who's capable of any crime." This is precisely the language of Ariel Sharon. The equation that other Arab states are expected to understand is contained in that ominous suggestion by Mr Bush that after the "passing" of Saddam Hussein's regime, "other regimes will be given a clear warning that support for terror will not be tolerated". Primarily, this is a message for Syria, then for Iran and then for anyone else who has not knelt before the Americans.
To support this, we are asked to believe – even the Arabs who live in the Middle East are asked to believe – that "in Iraq, a dictator is building and hiding weapons that could [sic] enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilised world". The same man "has close ties to terrorist organisations and could [sic] supply them with the terrible means to strike this country". Or not, as the case may be.
And if it's North Korea we're talking about, you can forget all this nonsense about "regime change".
Arabs were, obviously, interested in the "coalition of more than 90 countries", until they realised that this "coalition" was merely arresting al-Qa'ida suspects, not planning to invade Iraq. And when Mr Bush said that America had "arrested or otherwise dealt with many key commanders of al-Qa'ida", a smile or two on the faces of America's friendly Arab dictators might have been forgiven. The phrase "or otherwise dealt with" will be as familiar to them as it is shameful to the US.
So on we go to a "free and peaceful Iraq". But what was it President Bush told us? "Iraqi lives and freedom matter greatly to us," he said.
Since when? When Iraqi men and women were being raped in President Saddam's torture chambers in 1983, Donald Rumsfeld was in Baghdad asking the Iraqi leader if he could reopen the US embassy. Rebuilding Iraq will require "a sustained commitment from many nations" but "we will remain in Iraq as long as necessary and not a day more". How extraordinary. For these are precisely the same words used by Israel when it invaded Lebanon in 1982. It took Israel 22 years and hundreds of Israeli lives – and thousands of Arab lives – before that occupation ended.
Ah, what it is to fight for "the liberty of an oppressed people" – this is Mr Bush on Iraq – provided, of course, they are not Palestinian.