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June 21, 2004

Election 2004: George Bush and Israel—The Record: “Far From Perfect”

Listed in: Other Domestic Policy, Fact Sheets, NJDC News, Press Releases

Supporters of the current administration often assert that George Bush is the best president Israel has ever had. While this administration has taken a number of positions that have garnered support among friends of Israel, the Bush record on Israel is far from perfect -- and friends of Israel must be prepared to criticize Bush policies where appropriate. The following facts are also a part of the Bush record on Israel.

A History of Opposing Israel's Security Fence:

** Fact: George Bush and his administration were opposed to the construction of Israel's security fence, and had threatened to penalize Israel for constructing the fence. Echoing many other Jewish and secular press articles, one press report noted in 2003 that "the Bush administration ... has been pressuring Israel about its fence because the barrier veers over the 'green line,' the old 1949 armistice line, to encompass at least two large West Bank settlements. The administration has said it may deduct what Israel spends on the fence from loan guarantees. ... 'We have made it clear that the fence... is a problem,' Secretary of State Colin Powell told The Washington Post [in October], in language that has been echoed by Bush" (The Forward, October 10, 2003).

Continuing to Oppose the Fence Through January, 2004:

** Fact: George Bush and his administration were clearly opposed to the fence as recently as five months ago, after which President Bush reversed his position. In January, the Forward reported that "Israel is pressuring the Bush administration to omit references to the West Bank security fence from the State Department's annual human rights report. ... The administration is still considering whether it will support Israel's position [on the fence] in front of the [International Court of Justice at the Hague]" (The Forward, January 16, 2004). A week earlier, the Forward explained, "The Bush administration, which takes a dim view of international tribunals but does not approve of the fence, has not yet decided if it would support such a campaign [against the International Court of Justice], several sources said" (The Forward, January 9, 2004).

Both Supporting and Opposing Israel's Targeting of Terrorists:

** Fact: Following Israel?s actions targeting Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin in March, White House spokesman Scott McClellan first said on-camera that ?Israel has the right to defend herself.? But then, according to Reuters, ? off-camera comments minutes later, McClellan revised the White House position by adding, ?We are deeply troubled by this morning's actions in Gaza?? (Reuters, March 22, 2004). The same rhetoric was echoed days later by the Bush Administration's Ambassador to the United Nations at the time, John D. Negroponte, who told the UN Security Council that "the United States was 'deeply troubled' by the killing of Sheik Yassin and believed Israel's action had escalated tensions in the region" (New York Times, March 26, 2004).

Recent Sharp Criticism of Israel:

** Fact: In May, the Bush administration had sharp words for Israel, and the administration permitted the UN to pass an Arab-sponsored resolution condemning Israel. One month ago, under the headline "Bush's Support of Israel Falters," the Associated Press reported that the White House "sharply criticized Israel's military operations in Gaza and the United States allowed the U.N. Security Council to condemn the Jewish state. ... [I]n a sudden turnabout, Secretary of State Colin Powell lashed out at Israel, the White House issued a statement criticizing Israel on humanitarian grounds and the United States dropped plans to veto -- or at least weaken -- an Arab resolution at the U.N. condemning Israel for the housing demolitions and the attack on Palestinian demonstrators. By abstaining, as it almost never does when Israel is under assault in the Security Council, the Bush administration permitted the resolution to pass, 14-0" (Associated Press, May 20, 2004).

Retracting Pledges to Prime Minister Sharon:

** Fact: Under the headline "President Bush retracts pledges to Sharon," Israel's Maariv newspaper reported in May that George Bush was stepping back from promises he made to Prime Minister Sharon regarding Israel's borders and the Palestinian right of return: "Despite his warm embrace of Sharon recently, US President George Bush is showing signs of capitulating in the face of pressure from Arab states. In a press conference held following his meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah today (Thursday), Bush called on Israel to withdraw from territories it captured in 1967. Bush also failed to repeat an earlier statement that Palestinian refugees will not be allowed to enter Israeli territory. 'The US will not determine the results of the negotiations,' he noted. ...The Palestinians, however, were very pleased with Bush's speech. Palestinian Minister Saeb Erekat said that 'Bush understood that international agreements and direct talks are the guarantee for continuation of negotiations. The Palestinians are very encouraged by Bush's declaration, since only the Palestinians and the Israelis can discuss their conflict and come up with solutions. The pledges Bush made to Sharon are not legally valid'" (Maariv Online, May 6, 2004).

Continued Silence to American Jews on Sharon Pledges:

** Fact: Weeks after George Bush made key pledges to Prime Minister Sharon and then appeared to reverse course during meetings with Jordan's King Abdullah, he spoke before the largest annual pro-Israel gathering in the country -- the conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) -- and remained silent on his previous promises. The New York Jewish Week reported that George Bush "never mentioned his April 14 promises to Sharon rejecting a Palestinian right of return to Israel and endorsing a permanent Israeli presence on portions of the West Bank, continuing diplomatic backpedaling that started with his recent promises to Jordan's King Abdullah" (New York Jewish Week, May 21, 2004). The Forward added, "Israeli officials and ranking pro-Israel strategists were nearly unanimous in pointing to what the president had not said as his real message. 'He didn't repeat the promises he made to Sharon last month about refugees and the 1949 borders,' grumbled one ranking analyst, a former Aipac staffer, referring to Bush's April announcement at Sharon's side.... Reiterating the two promises would have given Bush 'two guaranteed applause lines, and he chose not to use them,' the analyst said. 'That was the message.' Several senior strategists close to Aipac echoed the complaint" (The Forward, May 21, 2004).

Increasing Pressure on Israel's Leaders:

** Fact: George Bush and his administration are increasing pressure on Israel and its leaders, and many analysts have predicted that such pressure would increase if George Bush is given a second term in office. One Jewish newspaper related last week that on June 10th, the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot "predicted that if Bush were re-elected, he would step up the pressure on Sharon, a pressure that Israeli papers chided Sharon for being so unable to resist or defuse.... Yediot ventured that a combination of Bush pressure and further terror would lead more Israelis to support Sharon?s withdrawal plan..." (New York Jewish Week, June 18, 2004). Under the headline "Bush Pushing Israel on Terms Of Disengagement From Gaza," The Forward added the same day, "As Israel prepares to withdraw from Gaza, the Bush administration is laying down a stiff series of expectations that could set the stage for a rocky few months between Washington and Jerusalem, pro-Israel activists say.... The expectations provide much potential for friction.... 'Progress has been too slow,' an administration official said" (The Forward, June 18, 2004).

Initially Opposing Prime Minister Sharon's Disengagement Plan:

** Fact: The New York Times reported in December that "The Bush administration, responding coolly to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's announcement of a possible 'disengagement plan' in the West Bank, warned Israel on Thursday against taking unilateral steps that effectively abandoned the American-sponsored peace plan, called the road map, which would establish a Palestinian state. 'We would oppose any unilateral steps that block the road toward negotiations under the road map that lead to the two-state vision,' said Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman" (The New York Times, December 19, 2003).

Avoiding Moving our Embassy to Jerusalem:

** Fact: As reported on June 16th, "President Bush suspended moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel for six more months. The White House released a statement Tuesday announcing that the embassy would not move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for the next half year because of national security concerns" (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, June 16, 2004). Then-Governor Bush told at least three major Jewish organizations in 2000 that he would begin moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem "as soon as I take office" (remarks before AIPAC, May 22, 2000; remarks before the B?nai B?rith International Convention 2000, August 28, 2000; response to the American Jewish Committee?s Election 2000 Questionnaire, October, 2000). Then-Governor Bush's pledge was echoed by major media at the time: "George W. Bush, the front runner in the race for the Republican presidential candidacy, has declared that he will move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem the day he is inaugurated as U.S. president. Bush was speaking at a large gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Washington? (Ha?aretz, December 3, 1999).

Refusal to Call Arafat a Terrorist in 2002:

** Fact: The UPI wire service reported in 2002: ?President George W. Bush on Monday said he would not label Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat a terrorist since the Arab leader remained engaged in peace negotiations despite a week of devastating suicide bombings within Israeli cities. ?We've got a plan that will lead to peace. It's a security plan called Tenet, it's a political plan called Mitchell. Both sides have agreed to this plan,? said Bush speaking to reporters in the Oval Office. The president said that Arafat's involvement in negotiating a peace settlement was prevented him from designating him a terrorist? (UPI/United Press International, April 1, 2002).