Palestinian leaders on Saturday expressed their condolences over the death of former US president George H.W. Bush, whose backing of the 1991 Madrid Conference helped lay the groundwork for the landmark Oslo peace accords.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization Executive Committee who was spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation at the Madrid conference, said Bush was the only Israeli leader willing to stand up to Israel.
“He was the only US President with the guts to stand up to Israel and link $10b loan guarantees to cessation of settlement activities,” she wrote on her Twitter account.
Ashrawi, who was part of a delegation to meet with Bush at the White House in 1992, was referencing the Bush administration’s withholding of loan guarantees Israel was seeking at the time as a way of pressuring prime minister Yitzhak Shamir to take part in the conference.
Bush, the 41st president of the United States, died Friday at age 94.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sent a letter of condolences to Bush’s son, 43rd president George W. Bush, “offering his sincere sympathy and condolences over the death of his father,” according to the official Wafa news agency.
Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the PLO and top peace peace negotiator, also expressed his condolences over Bush’s death.
“We extend our sympathies to you and his family and to the American people,” he wrote on Twitter.
As president, Bush held direct talks with the PLO — which was then considered a terror organization by the US — after predecessor Ronald Reagan authorized the US to hold negotiations in his final days in office following Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat renouncement of terrorism and recognition of Israel’s right to exist.
During the Gulf War, which saw a US-led coalition expel Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s forces from neighboring Kuwait, PLO leader Yasser Arafat notoriously expressed support for Iraq, though this did not affect Bush’s efforts to push for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
In a sharp shift from the Reagan administration, Bush was sharply critical at times of Israel’s use of force to put down the First Initifada, and had an often testy relationship with Israel’s Shamir and the US Jewish community.
Along with the Soviet Union, the US under Bush was a sponsor of the 1991 Madrid Conference, which though initially opposed by Shamir would help pave the way for the signing of the Oslo Accords two years later under the premiership of Yitzhak Rabin.
Those accords, which were finalized during the presidency of Bill Clinton, led to the creation of the self-governing Palestinian Authority and established the framework for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Bush’s backing of the Madrid conference was also noted in a condolence statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who hailed the late US president’s “efforts to achieve peace” between Israel and the Palestinians.