Since under Clinton all the important foreign policy positions were held by American Jews, some of whom, like the U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, had a long history of lobbying for Israel, it was impossible to expect Democrats to be evenhanded toward Palestine so a fair and sustainable solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict could be reached.
But recent comments that Bush made to the American Jewish Committee suggest that perhaps American Muslims' faith in the president was misplaced.
Bush declared, "My administration will be steadfast in supporting Israel." He added for good measure, "A top foreign policy priority of my administration is the safety and security of Israel."
Such words sound very similar to the ones Bush uttered to American Muslims. The difference is that promises to Muslims were made before the election and promises to American Jews are being made after the election. American Muslims find this Bush posturing difficult to understand or accept given that 78 percent of American Muslims voted for Bush whereas less than 20 percent of American Jews did so.
Bush has already played host to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and President Katsav. Moreover his aides have made it clear that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is not welcome in Washington. The White House does not acknowledge letters written by prominent American Muslim organizations, including those who endorsed Bush.
During Clinton's presidency, American Muslim organizations were welcome in the White House, and Arafat had accumulated an enviable amount of frequent flier miles from his trips to Washington. In contrast, American Muslims and Palestinians have lost access to the presidency under Bush.
The American hands-off approach has meant that Palestinians have no recourse but to be at the mercy of the Israeli army. Violence and pain continue unabated. While the administration maintains that violence in Israel is largely the fault of Palestinians and Arafat's unwillingness to stop it, 500 Palestinians are dead and more than 1,000 seriously injured.
Sharon has interpreted the American hands-off approach as license to use excessive violence to break the Palestinian spirit. Tanks, F- 16s and helicopter gun ships are used at the slightest provocation. He has also escalated the building of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land and has made no commitment to stop them in spite of the Mitchell report's indictment that they are a major source of conflict and violence. Bush has yet to address settlement building.
The current cease-fire is a de-escalation rather than stoppage of violence. It is caused more by fatigue and the sobering effect of the suicide bombers' devastating attack on Israeli civilians. But the relative calm will not last unless some concrete steps are taken to ameliorate the condition of the Palestinians, whose lives and livelihood are still blockaded by Israeli forces.
U.S. initiatives taken through CIA Director George Tenet are basically in the interest of Israel. Tenet has merely opened a communication channel between the two sides to guarantee the safety of Israeli citizens. No measure has been taken to guarantee the same for Palestinians.
The United States can achieve its goals in the region only by gaining the trust and confidence of all parties involved. Muslims everywhere look to American Muslims for guidance about the United States. Bush has ambushed American Muslims who supported him. They have found that he does not keep his promises and does not care for Palestinian suffering. This lack of trust in Bush will hinder any breakthrough in the Middle East on issues central to U.S. interests - - such as Israel and oil prices.
The first blow in the backlash against Bush will be felt here in Michigan. The local and national presidents of the American Muslim Council, disgusted with Bush, intend to send a message by supporting David Bonior for governor. Bonior, by fighting the secret evidence act and airport profiling of Arabs, has proved that he is a man of his word, unlike the toxic Texan.