I am delighted to revise part of my earlier comments to note that President Bush did address Palestinian-Israeli issues in his Abu Dhabi speech and did call on Israel as well as the Palestinians to make sacrifices: acceptance of a Palestinian state was necessary for Israel's long-term security, in his words. This is noteworthy - what will come of it remains to be seen, especially with respect to how these remarks are interpreted not only in the region but in the U.S.
One sign of alarm comes from Daniel Pipes, always a good sign. Pipes is so perturbed that he has written an op-ed in today's (1/17) Jerusalem Post condeming the idea of, quote, a "sovereign" Palestine. Pipes states that "the mischievous goal of creating 'Palestine' [his quotes] will inspire more fervor to eliminate the Jewish state, especially if accompanied by a Palestinian 'right of return'." [his quotes]
Pipes makes clear here what was only suspected before. Pro-Likud alarmists like Pipes oppose the creation of any Palestinian state in principle since any state will supposedly seek to eliminate Israel; therefore it should be opposed. What the alternative is is carefully avoided. Admittedly Pipes qualifies this by his reference to the right of return issue, but analysts in general accept that in reality there will only be a token return accepted. What is important to Palestinians is that the issue should be negotiated, not rejected and taken off the table before talks begin. As former security chief Ami Ayalon has noted, what Palestinians want is Israeli acknowledgement of the PRINCIPLE of a Palestinian right of return. This would mean that Israel would also be acknowledging that the creation of Israel led to the Palestinian refugee problem that now creates the demand for a right of return.
That Israeli forces, official and terrorist (Irgun, LEHI), participated in the ousting of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians is no longer in question for scholars, other than those on the far right of the Israeli spectrum. But dealing with historical reality is difficult for many Israelis. Prime Minister Olmert has stated he will never admit that Israel played a role in the Palestinian exodus and Likud historian Efraim Karsh is now the leader of "Project 1948" sponsored by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (besacenter.org) at Bar-Ilan University and championed by former prime minister Bibi Netanyahu; Project 1948 is dedicated to publishing the "basic truths" of what occured.
With this in mind we can look forward to "scholarly" publications on the issue, especially if matters come to the point where actual negotiations occur, as opposed to preliminary forays and subsequent denials of accomplishments. But there is hope that we can also look forward to further encouraging and surprisingly balanced statements from the president. Whether that inspires any American presidential candidates of either party to openly applaud the president, and thus appear to even tacitly question Israeli policy in an election year, is an entirely different question. But it does put them in the dilemma as to whether they should openly oppose him, with Rudy Guiliani being the exception - his advisers include Pipes, Martin Kramer, and Norman Podhoretz.
But, for now, despite the obstacles to found in the region, we have a somewhat sophisticated and open statement addressing both sides from an unexpected source. That itself is an accomplishment.