President Bush's unconditional endorsement of right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan constitutes a shocking reversal of longstanding U.S.-Middle East policy. And it is one of the most flagrant challenges to international law and the integrity of the United Nations ever made by a U.S. president.
By giving unprecedented backing for Israeli plans to annex large swaths of occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank in order to incorporate illegal Jewish settlements, the president has effectively renounced U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, which call on Israel -- in return for security guarantees from its Arab neighbors -- to withdraw from Palestinian territories seized in the June 1967 war.
All previous U.S. administrations of both parties had seen these resolutions as the basis for Arab-Israeli peace.
The Israeli settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, which deems it illegal for any country to transfer civilian population onto territories seized by military force. U.N. Security Council resolutions 446, 455, 465 and 471 call on Israel to remove its colonists from the occupied territories.
Bush, however, has unilaterally determined that Sharon's Israel, unlike Saddam's Iraq, need not abide by U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Not surprisingly, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan was highly critical of the U.S. endorsement of Sharon's plan. Annan noted that "final status issues should be determined in negotiations between the parities based on relevant Security Council resolutions."
By incorporating these illegal settlements, which the Clinton administration recognized were an "obstacle to peace," the Sharon plan divides the West Bank in such a way that makes a viable contiguous Palestinian state impossible.
Not only does Bush's endorsement of the plan effectively destroy the once highly touted "road map," it marks the first time in the history of the peace process that a U.S. president has pre-empted negotiations by announcing support of such a unilateral initiative. Both Israel and the United States have continued to refuse to even negotiate with Palestine Authority President Yasir Arafat, Palestinian Prime Minister Amhed Qureia or any other recognized Palestinian leader.
Bush also went on record rejecting the right of Palestinian refugees to return to what is now Israel. While it had been widely assumed that the Palestinians would be willing to compromise on this issue once talks resumed, Bush took away a key Palestinian bargaining chip. The Bush administration has determined that it now has the right to unilaterally give away Palestinian rights and Palestinian land. That is shocking for Palestinians.
This shock is matched only by the dismay of moderate and liberal Israelis, who fear that Bush's embrace of Sharon will incite Palestinian extremists.
In response to the announcement, Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi said that Bush has "put an end to the illusions" of a peaceful solution.
As he did by invading Iraq, so he is doing now by endorsing Sharon's plan: Bush is directly violating the U.N. Charter. The charter forbids any country from expanding its territory through military force. But that's what Israel is doing. And Bush has now given his blessing to this illegal land grab.
Bush is repudiating the post-World War II international system. He is effectively recognizing the right of conquest. And that is likely to lead to more bloodshed.
Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco and author of "Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism" (Common Courage Press, 2003). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.