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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

The Bush Administration and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: The Record of the First Three Years

Filed under: Al-Qaeda and Global Jihad, Palestinians, Terrorism, U.S. Policy
Publication: Jerusalem Viewpoints

No. 516    April 2004


  • After initially seeking a “hands-off” policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict, in part because of Clinton’s failures in that area, the George W. Bush administration has pursued an activist policy on four different occasions – only to see its policy initiatives fail, primarily because of outbreaks of Palestinian terrorism.

  • The al-Qaeda terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, has worked to the disadvantage of the Palestinians. By June 2002, Arafat’s links to terrorism had made him persona non grata to the Bush administration.

  • Serious divisions at the top of the Bush administration, especially the split between Secretary of State Colin Powell, on the one hand, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Richard Cheney, on the other, created a certain amount of incoherence in the administration’s Middle East policy.

  • The U.S. effort to build an alliance to wage war against Iraq was to significantly influence its policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict.

  • The administration’s effort to seek support among Evangelical Christians and American Jews also affected administration policy.


Avoiding the Clinton Legacy

The failure of the Clinton administration to make significant breakthroughs in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite a major presidential effort, was a factor which influenced the Bush administration initially to maintain a hands-off policy toward the conflict, along with the general “I’m not Clinton” approach of the early Bush presidency. Having seen Clinton try, and fail, to achieve Palestinian-Israeli agreements in July, October, and December 2000, Bush had little desire to invest political capital in trying to solve the conflict.

Secretary of State Powell repeatedly emphasized the primary responsibility of the parties themselves to solve the conflict. “We will facilitate, but at the end of the day, it will have to be the parties in the region who will have to find the solution.”1 Thus, when Special Middle East Envoy Dennis Ross retired in January 2001, no replacement was named.

The U.S. sent no representative to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at Taba which took place at the end of January.2 The U.S. also ended CIA mediation efforts between Israel and the Palestinians, which had begun as part of the Wye Plantation agreement of October 1998. Finally, Bush supported the Israeli position that the offers made by Israel’s Labor government at Camp David II and at Taba were “off the table” once the new Israeli government, headed by Likud leader Ariel Sharon, was elected on February 7, 2001.

On the eve of Sharon’s initial visit to Washington in mid-March, Powell spoke at a conference of the pro-Israeli AIPAC lobby, noting that the starting point for talks had to be the end of violence. In a clear slap at Arafat, Powell stated, “leaders have the responsibility to denounce violence, strip it of legitimacy [and] stop it.” Powell further said: “The U.S. stands ready to assist, not insist. Peace arrived at voluntarily by the partners themselves is likely to prove more robust…than a peace widely viewed as developed by others, or worse yet, imposed.”3

When Sharon met with Bush several days later, he pressed Bush not to invite Arafat to the White House unless he publicly called for an end to the violence, a request endorsed by nearly 300 members of Congress (87 Senators and 209 House members), who also called on Bush to close the PLO’s Washington office and cut U.S. aid to the PA if the violence did not cease.4

At the end of March, the U.S. vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for a UN observer force on the West Bank and Gaza as “unbalanced and unworkable,”5 and Bush, in a news conference, declared: “The Palestinian Authority should speak out publicly and forcibly in a language that the Palestinian people [understand] to condemn violence and terrorism….The signal I am sending to the Palestinians is stop the violence and I can’t make it any more clear.”6

Following Sharon’s Washington visit, Arafat changed Palestinian strategy, seeking not only to mobilize Arab support for the Palestinian cause but also support from the European Union, Russia, and, if possible, the United States. Arafat escalated the fighting in an apparent attempt to precipitate an Israeli response that would compel both the EU and the U.S. to take action. The Palestinians began to fire mortars not just at Israeli settlements in Gaza but also into Israel proper. When Israeli forces entered the section of Gaza from which the mortars had been fired, Powell termed the Israeli action “excessive and disproportionate,” and the Israeli forces soon withdrew, seemingly under U.S. pressure. Nonetheless, Powell also blamed the Palestinians for precipitating the Israeli attack with “provocative” mortar attacks on Israeli territory.7 Meanwhile, the State Department’s annual terrorist report failed to brand the PA as a terrorist organization for its role in fostering the outbreak of violence (and the terrorist bombings that were a part of it). Instead, the report only noted that the Israeli government had accused the PA of facilitating terrorist attacks.8

As Palestinian attacks against Israel increased, Israel stepped up retaliatory raids into Palestinian Authority-controlled Gaza, although it quickly withdrew each time. The U.S. condemned both the attacks and Israel’s retaliation, with State Department spokesman Richard Boucher noting that the Israeli responses represented “a serious escalation.” Boucher also criticized the Palestinians who “have to immediately end provocative acts of violence.”9 As the fighting escalated further, Israel responded to Palestinian terrorist attacks, using jet fighters for the first time to bombard Palestinian positions.


The Mitchell Report

Mid-May 2001 saw the publication of the Mitchell Report, which provided the administration a diplomatic framework on which to base its Middle East position. Conceived at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit in October 2000 as a device to determine the causes of the current fighting and to find ways to bring it to a halt, the report was delivered by a commission headed by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell. The report described each side’s reasons for blaming the other for the outbreak of violence, and listed a series of steps the Israelis and Palestinians should take to resume negotiations.10 These included: 1) a 100 percent effort to stop the violence; 2) the immediate resumption of security cooperation; 3) the exchange of confidence-building measures; and 4) the speedy return to serious negotiations.

The Mitchell Report called for a cease-fire before negotiations; for the PA to condemn incitement and denounce terrorism and arrest terrorists, and for it to prevent gunmen from using Palestinian-populated areas to fire upon Israeli-populated areas and Israeli military positions. It also did not blame Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount for precipitating the violence. However, the report called for a freeze on all settlement activity including “natural growth” as a confidence-building measure. (Israel has always held that the future of the settlements was a “final status” issue to be negotiated by the two sides.)

In response to the report, Sharon ordered a cease-fire, calling on Israeli forces not to fire upon Palestinians unless fired upon. While the Palestinians accepted the report in principle, their deeds did not match their words as a series of terrorist attacks were mounted in Hadera and Jerusalem, along with the killing of Jews in the West Bank and Gaza. Meanwhile, Powell, who warmly praised the Mitchell Report, appointed a “special assistant” to help implement it. William Burns, the U.S. ambassador to Jordan, who had been nominated to become the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, was given the task of trying to establish a “time-line” of Israeli and Palestinian confidence-building measures that might bring about the unconditional cease-fire deemed a necessity by the Mitchell Report.11 At the same time, Powell continued to echo the administration theme that the U.S. would not directly intervene, as had the Clinton administration, to put forth its own solution to the conflict.

On June 1, 2001, a Palestinian suicide bombing at the Dolphinarium in Tel Aviv killed 21 people, mostly teenagers. With Prime Minister Sharon under public pressure to launch a massive counterattack, Arafat suddenly endorsed a cease-fire after Bush called on him “to condemn this act and call for an immediate cease-fire.”12 German Foreign Minister Joshka Fischer also warned Arafat that the terrorist act had cost the Palestinians dearly in public opinion in Europe.13 Bush followed Arafat’s call by sending CIA Director George Tenet to the Middle East to consolidate the cease-fire.

However, neither Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi nor Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti supported the cease-fire.14 Bush then sent Powell to the Middle East, but the violence continued and escalated during the summer, with more drive-by shootings, mortar attacks, and suicide bombings, including one in a pizza parlor in downtown Jerusalem on August 9, 2001, that killed 15 Israelis.

Sharon responded both militarily and diplomatically. On the diplomatic front, he went to France, Italy, and Germany in July, seeking to convince the Europeans to pressure Arafat to halt the attacks, but was told by Gerhard Schroeder, the Chancellor of Germany, that the Mitchell Report should be implemented even if the violence had not halted.15 With the U.S. again taking a hands-off policy following the failure of the Powell mission, and Europe unwilling to pressure Arafat, Sharon intensified military actions, with incursions into Palestinian territory and the closure of Orient House, the de facto Palestinian headquarters in eastern Jerusalem, as well as targeted killings of Palestinians planning terrorist attacks, including the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Abu Ali Mustafa, at the end of August.

State Department spokesman Boucher condemned this action, stating, “Israel needs to understand that targeted killings of Palestinians don’t end the violence but are only inflaming an already volatile situation and making it much harder to restore calm.”16 However, Vice President Cheney told Fox television, “If you’ve got an organization that had plotted, or is plotting, some kind of suicide bomber attack, for example, and they have hard evidence of who it is and where they’re located, I think there’s some justification in their trying to protect themselves by preempting.”17 Meanwhile, President Bush, who had used U.S. influence at the UN to block approval of an anti-Israel resolution on international monitors, remained adamant that Arafat must “put 100 percent effort into stopping the terrorist activity” before the beginning of peace talks and “do a better job of quashing violence.”18


After 9/11

Immediately after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, the U.S. sought to build a coalition, including Muslim states, against Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist organization. In an effort to gain Arab support, the U.S. announced its support of a Palestinian state and pressured Sharon to agree to a meeting between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Arafat to establish yet another cease-fire. Yet the violence continued after the talks, including a terrorist bombing in Jerusalem and an attack on a Jewish settlement in Gaza. In frustration, Sharon hinted that the U.S. strategy was the equivalent of British and French policy at the 1938 Munich Conference when Czechoslovakia had been sold out to the Nazis. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer called these comments “unacceptable,”19 and Sharon apologized, claiming his words were misinterpreted.

On October 17, 2001, Palestinians assassinated Israeli Cabinet Minister Rehavam Zeevi in a Jerusalem hotel, precipitating a move by the Israeli army into six major Palestinian cities, as Arafat continued to refuse to arrest Palestinians who attacked Israelis. Israel compared its actions to those of the U.S. in Afghanistan, arguing that just as the U.S. was justified in attacking the Taliban for harboring al-Qaeda terrorists, so, too, was Israel in entering Palestinian areas to search for terrorists.20

Yet State Department spokesman Philip Reeker, noting the Palestinian casualties resulting from the Israeli incursions, said Israeli forces “should be withdrawn immediately from all Palestinian-controlled areas,” and that Israel should abstain from further incursions.21 President Bush said, “I would hope that Israelis would move their troops as quickly as possible,” but he also said: “We continue to call upon Chairman Arafat to do everything he can to bring the killer to justice. It is very important that he arrest the person who did this act – and continue to arrest those who would disrupt and harm Israeli citizens.”22

After the U.S. military victory in Afghanistan, President Bush sought to invigorate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, telling the United Nations in November 2001, “We are working for the day when two states – Israel and Palestine – live peacefully together within secure and recognized boundaries.” However, he warned that “Peace will come when all have sworn off forever incitement, violence and terror. There is no such thing as a good terrorist.”23 Bush pointedly refused to meet Arafat at the UN, while Condoleezza Rice, his National Security Advisor, noted, “You cannot help us with al-Qaeda, and hug Hizballah or Hamas. And so the President makes that clear to Mr. Arafat.”24 The U.S. then added Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hizballah to the post-September 11th terrorist list.

On November 19, Secretary of State Powell outlined the U.S. view of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.25 He condemned Palestinian terrorism as “self-defeating violence,” stating that while the U.S. believed there should be a two-state solution to the conflict, with two states, Palestine and Israel, living side-by-side in secure and recognized borders, the Palestinians must make a 100 percent effort to stop terrorism. For this, actions, not words, were required, and terrorists must be arrested. Powell emphasized that “no wrong can ever justify the murder of the innocent,” and that terror and violence must stop now. He further asserted that the Palestinians must accept the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state. While emphasizing America’s “enduring and iron-clad commitment to Israeli security,” Powell indicated that Israel, too, had to make concessions for peace to be possible. He concluded that the U.S. would do everything it could to facilitate the peace process, “but at the end of the day the peoples have to make peace.”


The Zinni Mission

In addition to promises of economic aid, Powell dispatched Assistant Secretary of State William Burns and former Marine General Anthony Zinni to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to reach a cease-fire that would lay the basis for the resumption of peace negotiations. In an effort to facilitate the Zinni mission, Bush wrote to King Abdullah II of Jordan, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, King Mohammed VI of Morocco, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah (who had publicly praised Powell’s speech), and President Ben-Ali of Tunisia, asking for their help in persuading “the Palestinian leadership to take action to end violence and get the peace process back on track.”26 Zinni asserted that his goal was to achieve a cease-fire which would allow for the implementation of the Mitchell Plan, and said he would stay in the region “as long as needed” to complete his mission.27

Almost as soon as Zinni arrived, he had to confront Palestinian terrorism. On November 27, two Palestinian terrorists killed 3 Israelis and wounded 30 others in Afula. Zinni then met with Arafat to ask him to end the violence, but even as they were meeting, Palestinian gunmen fired at the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo from the nearby Palestinian town of Beit Jala – despite an explicit pledge by Palestinian leaders in October not to do so.28 On November 29, three more Israelis were killed as a suicide bomber exploded a bomb on a public bus near Hadera.29 This was followed on December 1 by a double suicide bombing attack at the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall in Jerusalem, killing 11 people, mostly teenagers, and injuring 180.

Zinni saw his mission literally going up in flames. He demanded that “those responsible for planning and carrying out these attacks must be found and brought to justice. This is an urgent task and there can be no delay or excuses for not acting decisively. The deepest evil one can imagine is to attack young people and children.”30

On December 2, 15 Israelis were killed in a suicide bombing of an Israeli bus in Haifa. In response, Israel destroyed Arafat’s helicopters and the airport runway in Gaza, as well as attacking PA security headquarters in the West Bank and Gaza. Presidential spokesman Ari Fleisher noted, “Obviously Israel has the right to defend herself, and the President understands that clearly.”31 In addition, Fleisher noted, “The President thinks it is very important that Palestinian jails not only have bars on the front, but no longer have revolving doors at the back.”32

While Arafat appeared to arrest some terrorists, on December 9 another Palestinian suicide bomber struck in Haifa. Three days later, 10 Israelis were killed when Hamas terrorists detonated bombs under a bus traveling in the West Bank and shot passengers trying to flee.33 An exasperated Israeli government announced that “Arafat has made himself irrelevant as far as Israel is concerned,” and broke off all contact with him.34 In addition, Israeli tanks surrounded Arafat’s compound in Ramallah, and Israeli forces blew up the main transmission tower of the Palestine Broadcasting Company, while also hitting offices of Arafat’s Fatah organization in Gaza, Ramallah, and Jenin.35 On December 15, Powell returned Zinni to the U.S.36


The Karine-A Weapons Ship

On January 3, 2002, Israeli forces captured the ship Karine-A, carrying 50 tons of weapons including C-4 explosives and katyusha rockets – clearly weapons of terrorism. Arafat’s initial denial that the Palestinian Authority had anything to do with the vessel further undermined his credibility, both in the United States37 and in Israel, although, after U.S. pressure, he later arrested several Palestinian officials including a major general in his own security forces and an officer in the PA naval police.38 Meanwhile, Hamas attacked an Israeli military outpost in Gaza, killing four Israeli soldiers.39 Israel responded by striking a series of Palestinian naval targets and rendering unusable the runway of the Palestinian airport in Gaza, an action that drew criticism from the EU, which had paid for construction of the airport.40 Yet Powell called the Israeli actions defensive in nature and warned Arafat that if he did not take action against those involved in the arms smuggling, it would “complicate enormously” relations between Arafat and the United States.41 On January 17, Palestinian terrorists linked to Arafat’s Tanzim militia killed six Israelis and wounded more than 30 at a bat mitzvah party in Hadera.42 Israel responded by moving tanks to within one hundred meters of Arafat’s compound in Ramallah.43

Thus ended the first year of the Bush administration’s involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with two major U.S. efforts, one in June and one in November-December 2001, sabotaged by Palestinian terrorism. This pattern was to continue over the next two years as the Bush administration made two additional attempts aimed at easing tensions in the region, one in March-April 2002 and another with the publication of the “Road Map” in April 2003.


Zinni Returns Again

Following the failure of the Zinni mission, and the Karine-A episode, the United States again pulled back from active involvement in the peace-making process. Then in mid-February 2002, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, in an apparent trial balloon, told New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman that in return for Israel’s withdrawing to the June 4, 1967, borders, he felt that all 22 members of the Arab League would normalize relations with Israel.44 In an interview with the New York Times on February 28, 2002, Secretary Powell stated: “We have not put it [the search for an Arab-Israeli peace agreement] on the back burner. What that [the U.S. should get engaged] usually means is ‘Go and force the Israelis to do something.’ That’s what many people think when they say ‘Get more engaged’ or ‘You’re standing on the sidelines. You haven’t made Israel blink in the face of the violence.'” Powell also praised the Saudi peace plan, but said it was something that had to be “fleshed out.”45

In March, Bush sent Zinni back for another try at achieving a cease-fire. To facilitate the Zinni visit, Sharon lifted his demand for seven days of no violence before talks could resume. The atmosphere of the Zinni visit was further improved by the announcement that the peace plan, suggested by Saudi Arabia, would be introduced at an Arab summit scheduled for the end of March in Beirut. To reinforce the momentum for peace, the U.S. pushed a new UN Security Council Resolution, No. 1397, on March 13, 2002, which called for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the end of violence, incitement, and terrorism, and the resumption of negotiations based on the Tenet and Mitchell plans.46


The Passover Massacre

On March 27, the first night of the Jewish holiday of Passover, a Palestinian suicide bomber murdered 30 people and wounded 140 at a Passover seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya. This was followed by suicide bombings in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa over the next three days that killed an additional 17 people and wounded 84. These events precipitated an Israeli attack on Arafat’s compound in Ramallah, part of an IDF sweep into the major Palestinian cities of the West Bank called “Operation Defensive Shield.” At first, the U.S. strongly backed Israel, with Powell noting, “Sharon made concessions, while Arafat backed terrorism.”47 Then on April 4, President Bush denounced the terrorism and noted that “the chairman of the Palestinian Authority has not consistently opposed or confronted terrorists nor has he renounced terror as he agreed to do at Oslo,” while at the same time calling for Israel to withdraw from the cities they had entered.48 Bush also announced that he was sending Powell to the Middle East to work for a cease-fire.

Several days later he urged Israel to withdraw “without delay,”49 but ran into a firestorm of domestic criticism for pressuring Israel. Neoconservatives, who were the intellectual lifeblood of the administration, attacked Bush for urging Sharon to withdraw, claiming that Israel was fighting terrorism just as the U.S. was fighting terrorism after 9/11. Evangelical Christians, a key segment of Bush’s core constituency, also attacked him for pressuring Israel.50 On April 15, 2002, a massive demonstration in Washington organized by the American Jewish community called for the U.S. to support Israel in the face of Palestinian terrorism. In addition, top Republicans in Congress such as House Majority Leader Tom DeLay called for support of Israel.51

Arafat’s continued sponsorship of terrorism was a further factor in prompting Bush to change his position. Israel provided the U.S. with captured documents showing that Arafat not only had tolerated terrorism but had helped finance it. On May 26, Bush noted that Arafat “hasn’t delivered. He had a chance to secure the peace as a result of the hard work of President Clinton and he didn’t. He had a chance to fight terrorism and he hasn’t.”52 In May 2002, Israeli forces pulled out of the West Bank cities but were sent back in June, this time with minimal U.S. criticism.


Bush Calls for a New Palestinian Leadership

On June 24, 2002, President Bush called for “a new and different Palestinian leadership” – so that a Palestinian state could be born.

I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror. I call upon them to build a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty. If the Palestinian people actively pursue these goals, America and the world will actively support their efforts. If the Palestinian people meet these goals, they will be able to reach agreement with Israel and Egypt and Jordan on security and other arrangements for independence. And when the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbors, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state whose borders and certain aspects of its sovereignty will be provisional until resolved as part of a final settlement in the Middle East.

Today, Palestinian authorities are encouraging, not opposing, terrorism. This is unacceptable and the United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure. This will require an externally supervised effort to rebuild and reform the Palestinian security services. The security system must have clear lines of authority and accountability and a unified chain of command.”53

Bush then called on Israel to respond to a new Palestinian leadership when it was formed:

As new Palestinian institutions and new leaders emerge, demonstrating real performance on reform, I expect Israel to respond and work toward a final status agreement….As we make progress towards security, Israeli forces need to withdraw fully to positions they held prior to September 28, 2000. And consistent with the recommendations of the Mitchell Committee, Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories must stop.”54

With this speech, Bush formally joined Sharon in ruling out Arafat as a partner in the peace process.


The Road Map

Following the Bush speech, the U.S. then began to work with the EU, Russia, and the UN as part of a “Quartet” to fashion a “Road Map” leading to a Palestinian-Israeli peace settlement. However, while the U.S. had written off Arafat as a suitable partner for peace, as had Israel, the other three members of the Quartet had not. Thus, publication of the Road Map was to be delayed until April 30, 2003. Meanwhile, in September 2002, when Israeli forces laid siege to Arafat’s compound in Ramallah following a series of brutal suicide bombings, the U.S. chose to abstain, rather than veto, a UN resolution condemning the Israeli action, with Condoleezza Rice reportedly telling the Israeli government that the U.S. expected a speedy resolution of the siege because it “doesn’t help” U.S. efforts to galvanize support for the campaign against Iraq.55

When the Road Map was finally published,56 it included three phases, leading to a Palestinian state. In phase one, the Palestinians had to “declare an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism and end incitement against Israel and undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning attacks on Israelis anywhere.” The Palestinians were also to appoint an “empowered” prime minister and establish a government based on a strong parliamentary democracy and cabinet, one that had only three security services which would report to the empowered prime minister. For its part, Israel had to refrain from deportation, attacks on civilians, and the confiscation or demolition of Palestinian homes and property. As the “comprehensive security performance” of the Palestinians moved forward, Israel had to “withdraw progressively” from areas occupied since September 28, 2000, dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001, and “freeze all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements).”

Arafat acceded to the demand to create the post of prime minister, appointing senior Palestinian leader Abu Mazen. Yet it quickly became evident that Abu Mazen was not the “empowered” prime minister the U.S. had wanted, since Arafat retained control over most of the Palestinian security forces. While the Palestinian Authority accepted the Road Map, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade, and the Tanzim did not. Israel also accepted it, albeit with fourteen specific reservations.57 Meanwhile, 88 U.S. Senators attacked the Road Map, saying it did not take a strong enough position against Palestinian terrorism when compared with Bush’s speech of June 24.58

Bush then came to the Middle East on June 3, 2003, meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh with King Abdullah II of Jordan, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, King Hamad al Khalifa of Bahrain, and Abu Mazen to gain Arab support for the Road Map. The next day he met with Sharon and Abu Mazen in Aqaba, Jordan. Yet Palestinian terrorist attacks continued until June 29, when Abu Mazen succeeded in eliciting a 90-day truce from the leaders of Hamas, the Tanzim, and Islamic Jihad, although not from the al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade. While Israeli military leaders worried that the terrorist groups would use the truce to rebuild their forces and armaments, Israel withdrew its forces from northern Gaza and Bethlehem, closed some checkpoints, shut down some illegal outposts on the West Bank, released some Palestinian prisoners, and allowed more Palestinians to work in Israel. Bush also met with Abu Mazen and Sharon in Washington in July.59

However, there was no crackdown on terrorists by Abu Mazen, primarily because Arafat refused to allow it. On August 19, 2003, a suicide bombing in Jerusalem killed 23 Israelis, including a number of children, and wounded 130, signaling the end of the cease-fire. Abu Mazen resigned on September 6.



In examining the first three years of the Bush administration’s policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict, we see that after an initial reluctance to get directly involved in peace-making after the failure of President Clinton’s efforts, Bush was drawn into the peace-making process on four different occasions. The first was in June 2001 when, following the Dolphinarium suicide bombing, Arafat acceded to the Mitchell Report’s call for a cease-fire. Bush sent both CIA Director George Tenet and Secretary of State Colin Powell to solidify the cease-fire, only to see it evaporate because Arafat was unwilling to crack down on the Palestinian terrorist groups which opposed it.

The second U.S. effort came after 9/11 when the president sought to expedite a two-state solution by sending General Zinni to work out a cease-fire. Yet no sooner had Zinni arrived than he was met by a series of Palestinian terrorist attacks that torpedoed his mission. With Bush now dedicating his presidency to the fight against terrorism, Arafat’s support of terrorism – reinforced by the Karine-A episode – delegitimized him in the eyes of the American president.

The third U.S. effort occurred in March-April 2002, as Bush sought to build a coalition for a war against Iraq. Zinni was again sent to secure a cease-fire, but then came the suicide bombing at a Passover seder in Netanya, and other bombings in Israeli cities. Bush dispatched Secretary of State Powell to the region, but these efforts once again ended in failure.

The fourth effort came in April 2003 after the major military phase of the war in Iraq when the Quartet published the long-awaited Road Map. Yet Arafat was unwilling to cede power to Prime Minister Abu Mazen, and the Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israel continued. Thus, all four U.S. peace-making efforts failed primarily because of Palestinian terrorism.

External events also had a significant influence on U.S. policy-making, primarily in the area of pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. Thus, after 9/11, when the U.S. was trying to forge a worldwide coalition, including Muslims, to confront al-Qaeda, Israel was pressured into resuming negotiations with the Palestinians even though Palestinian attacks on Israelis had not ceased. Thus, following a string of Palestinian suicide attacks in March-April 2002, when Israel reoccupied the major cities of the West Bank, Bush, fearing an Arab backlash that would hinder his efforts to confront Iraq, urged Israel to withdraw from the Palestinian cities “without delay.” A similar U.S. motive appeared to underlie the U.S. decision to abstain on, rather than veto, a September 2002 UN Security Council resolution calling on Israel to lift the siege of Arafat’s compound following another series of Palestinian suicide bombings.

A final conclusion relates to the importance of domestic politics in the Bush administration’s policy-making. Following his razor-thin victory in the 2000 presidential elections, Bush had to be concerned about 2004. Whenever he pressured Israel, Bush ran into a firestorm of domestic criticism that included large majorities in both Houses of Congress. Israel’s supporters argued that Israel was fighting terrorism just as the U.S. was doing in Afghanistan. Finally, in the wake of the murder of numerous Israeli civilians, the vast majority of the American Jewish community rallied around Israel. Given the location of large Jewish communities in key electoral states, Bush could ill-afford to alienate the Jews whom he wished to win over from their long-time association with the Democratic party.

*     *     *


1. Dana Milbank, “Powell vows U.S. will match foes,” Washington Post, December 17, 2000.
2. See Mathew Burger, “Middle East talks held in Taba – without the United States,” Washington Jewish Week, January 25, 2001.
3. Roula Khalaf, “Powell sets out Bush line on Middle East,” Financial Times, March 20, 2001.
4. Alan Sipress, “Lawmakers criticize Palestinians,” Washington Post, April 6, 2001.
5. Barbara Crosette, “U.S. vetoes UN Council bid on Palestinian force,” New York Times, March 29, 2001.
6. Ben Barber, “Bush presses Arafat to stop violence,” Washington Post, March 30, 2001.
7. Alan Sipress, “Worried U.S. issues rebuke to Israelis,” Washington Post, April 18, 2001.
8. Marc Lacey, “Attacks were up last year U.S. terrorism report says,” New York Times, May 1, 2001.
9. Ben Barber, “Israel refuses to halt settlement building,” Washington Times, May 8, 2001.
10. For the text of the Mitchell Report, see Ha’aretz (English edition), May 6, 2001.
11. Jane Perlez, “U.S. widens role in Mideast crisis, sending an envoy,” New York Times, May 22, 2001.
12. Lee Hockstader, “Bombing kills at least 17 at Tel Aviv Club,” Washington Post, June 2, 2001.
13. Deborah Sontag, “Arafat calls for cease-fire, deploring Tel Aviv attacks,” New York Times, June 3, 2001.
14. Dan Ephron, “Israelis, Palestinians, agree to cease-fire,” Washington Times, May 13, 2001.
15. Herb Keinon, “Playing Europe,” Jerusalem Post, July 6, 2001.
16. Jane Perlez, “U.S. says killings by Israel inflame Middle East conflict,” New York Times, August 28, 2001.
17. Mark Lavie, “Cheney backs Israel assassination policy,” Sydney Morning Herald, August 4-5, 2001.
18. Melissa Radler, “U.S. backs Israel at U.N., opposes international monitors,” Jerusalem Post, August 21, 2001.
19. Aluf Benn, “Sharon calls Powell after White House blasts PM comments,” Ha’aretz (English), October 5, 2001.
20. Eli Kintosh, “‘U.S. vs. Israel’ Blip say Jewish groups,” Forward, October 26, 2001.
21. Daniel Milbank and Lee Hockstader, “Israel incursion strains relations,” Washington Post, October 24, 2001.
22. Tim Weiner, “Israel rebuffs U.S. demand to end its West Bank raids,” New York Times, October 24, 2001.
23. For the text of Bush’s speech, see New York Times, November 12, 2001. See also Serge Schmemann, “Arafat thankful for Bush remark about ‘Palestine,'” New York Times, November 12, 2001.
24. Bill Sammon, “Bush will not meet with Arafat,” Washington Times, November 9, 2001.
25. For the text of Powell’s speech, see U.S. Department of State web site,, “United States position on terrorists and peace in the Middle East,” November 19, 2001.
26. Janine Zacharia, “Bush asking Arab nations to pitch in for a secure peace,” Jerusalem Post, November 25, 2001.
27. Aluf Ben, “Zinni to PM: I will stay as long as needed to fulfill my mission,” Ha’aretz, November 27, 2001.
28. James Bennet, “U.S. envoy meets Arafat and asks for end of violence,” New York Times, November 29, 2001.
29. Avi Machlis, “Israeli bus blast casts shadow on peace process,” Financial Times, November 30, 2001.
30. Ibid.
31. James Bennet, “Israelis strike Arafat’s bases,” New York Times, December 4, 2001.
32. Bill Sammon and Ben Barber, “U.S. takes harder line on Arafat,” Washington Times, December 4, 2001.
33. Joel Greenberg, “More violence jolts ME truce efforts,” New York Times, December 10, 2001.
34. James Bennet and Joel Greenberg, “Israel breaks with Arafat after Palestinian assault on bus in West Bank kills 10,” New York Times, December 13, 2001.
35. Tracy Wilkinson, “Israel pounds Palestinian Authority,” Los Angeles Times, December 14, 2001.
36. Aluf Benn, “U.S. envoy recalled to Washington; meets Egypt’s Mubarak,” Ha’aretz, December 16, 2001.
37. For a discussion of this point, see David Frum, The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush (New York: Random House, 2003), p. 256. Frum was a speech writer for Bush from January 2001 to February 2002. See also Bob Woodward, Bush at War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002), p. 297.
38. Lee Hockstader, “Arafat arrests three in arms incident,” Washington Post, January 12, 2002.
39. Mary Curtius, “Hamas takes responsibility for attack,” Los Angeles Times, January 10, 2002.
40. Margot Dudkevitch, “Navy destroys PA boats and installations,” Jerusalem Post, January 13, 2002.
41. Cited in “Powell: IDF actions are defensive response,” Jerusalem Post, January 13, 2002.
42. David Rattner, “Hadera victims buried on Friday,” Ha’aretz, January 20, 2002.
43. Amos Harel, “IDF plans to hit more PA targets, Voice of Palestine Radio torched in Ramallah, police bombed in Tulkarm,” Ha’aretz, January 20, 2002.
44. Thomas Friedman, “An intriguing signal from the Saudi Crown Prince,” New York Times, February 17, 2002.
45. Todd S. Purdum, “Powell says U.S. will grab chances at Middle East peace,” New York Times, February 28, 2002.
46. The text of UNSC Resolution 1397 is found on the UN website.
47. For Powell’s comments, see “Excerpts from Powell’s news conference of March 29, 2002,” New York Times, March 30, 2002. See also Tracy Wilkerson, “Israel corners a defiant Arafat,” Los Angeles Times, March 30, 2002.
48. Woodward, op. cit., p. 34.
49. Ibid.
50. Israel has been carefully cultivating the Evangelical Christians. The Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Daniel Ayalon, regularly visits Evangelical churches to thank them for their support which he has called “so important in this day and age” (cited in James Morrison, “Israel gives thanks,” Washington Times, November 27, 2003). See also James Morrison, “Praying for Israel,” Washington Times, October 28, 2003, citing Ayalon speaking in an Evangelical church in Tampa, Florida, where he stated, “the American Christian community is a bedrock of support for the State of Israel and its people.”
51. Howard Kohr, Executive Director of AIPAC, has called DeLay, now House Majority Leader, “one of the more important, resolute and outspoken supporters of Israel” (cited in Juliet Eilperin, “Mideast rises on DeLay’s agenda,” Washington Post, October 16, 2003).
52. “Bush slams Arafat but sees ‘new attitude’ in some PA leaders,” Ha’aretz, May 26, 2002.
53. For the text of the Bush speech, see Washington Post, June 25, 2002.
54. Ibid.
55. Cited in Aluf Benn, “U.S. telling PM that the Muqata siege undermining plans for Iraq,” Ha’aretz, September 29, 2002.
56. The text of the Road Map is found on the U.S. Department of State website, April 30, 2003.
57. Israel’s 14 Road Map Reservations, Ha’aretz, April 27, 2004.
58. For the text of the letter of the 88 Senators, see Journal of Palestine Studies, v. 32, n. 4 (Summer 2003):185.
59. See Elaine Monaghan, “Bush praises Palestinian leader’s courage,” The Times of London, July 26, 2003; Guy Dunmore, “Bush attacks Israelis for building of West Bank wall,” Financial Times, July 26, 2003; and Brian Knowlton, “Sharon meets with Bush but says security fence will still go up,” International Herald Tribune, July 30, 2003.