SUNDAY MAGAZINE

`Peace Road' runs into a fence

The wall and the road map cannot co-exist.

The wall and the road map cannot co-exist.  

ISRAEL continues to terrorise and bomb at will. After the missile attack killing the Hamas political leader Abu Shanab, on August 21, 2003, a retaliatory move following the suicide bombing in Jerusalem, the Middle East waits for a malicious twist to the already dead road map. A viable Palestinian state seems to be now like something in the distant future. A bloody retribution, a tit-for-tat flare up to a plan that Bush Jr., like his father in 1991, had initiated for finding a solution to the Middle East problem. The President had been at the height of his power, basking in the glory of his Iraq triumph and his road map was a move to breathe life into that "imaginary creature", the peace process. It was a part of his broad mental picture of Middle East peace-building.

But what seemed to be a rare commitment and a hopeful window for peace, has turned out to be a never-ending drama of killings on both sides, with the road map going nowhere. It all seemed to augur well for a feasible peace plan; the restructuring of the Palestinian authority with the installation of a government agreeable with Israel's requirement, riddance of bloodshed and the stepping up of the humanitarian situation by the reduction of restrictions and lifting of curfews. These were some steps that could have kickstarted a fruitful beginning.

But an analysis of the three phases of the road map, makes it clear that it is Israel that remains in a superior bargaining position. And the road map implicitly envisages not peace but appeasement of the intensity of the Palestinian confrontation. The Israeli evacuation from the 60 settlements did begin at the outset according to the plan, but no mention is made of the 20,00,000 illegal settlers on the West Bank and Gaza and the same number in East Jerusalem. The next stage foresees an independent Palestine state, but ridiculously leaves the borders of the new state "provisional". And the third phase envisions a conflict-free Middle East after an international conference finds amicable solutions to the problems of refugees, borders and illegal settlements. Surprisingly, a suggestion for an international conference implies that the Middle East problem is now the concern of the global community and is no longer singularly within American turf. In the past, the U.S. had always, without fail, rejected any such international interventions or, what Thomas Friedman, the New York Times' Foreign Affairs Columnist, calls "an open-ended, gang-up-on-Israel international conference" that would dilute its monopoly.

`Peace Road' runs into a fence

However, Noam Chomsky argues, with no provision of an international vigilance force to oversee the implementation of the peace plan, Israel has the option to do what it pleases and has U.S. support for its incorrigible stance of "rejectionism". Sadly, the Security Council has been rendered outrightly ineffective by U.S. veto, though more than 150 members in the General Assembly have voted for the Palestinians' right to self-determination.

While the establishment media makes it out to be an anti-Israel peace plan, the Palestinians strongly feel that the responsibility is on them. Very few even realise the terrible humiliation of a displaced Palestinian left homeless and at the mercy of Israeli soldiers who continue to heartlessly harrass men and women at most check-points.

With the latest killing of a much admired Hamas leader, the several-week-old ceasefire has finally come to a blood-spattered halt. Now we can wait for more suicide bombings that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad have vowed to avenge Abu's death: "The assassination of Abu Shanab means the Zionist enemy has assassinated the truce and the Hamas movement holds the Zionist enemy responsible for the consequences," the spokesman Ismail al-Haniyah retorted in Gaza.

There is no denying that the road map was indeed born dead. It was vague, without any focus and had no binding clauses to it which could put some pressure on both sides. Militant groups, with the backing of Arafat, had rejected it at the outset. And Hamas apparently seems to be the obstacle in the path of peace. Clearly, the Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, has no control over it; nor does he have the support of Arafat. Nor is he in a position to crack down on Hamas to please Sharon. The road map defines no precise deal or has no intention of cracking down on the militant groups that adversely affects any positive move towards a reconciliation. Politically, the spiral downwards has never been faster and this was bound to happen without an international mandate and monitoring force to help restructure state institutions and ban violence.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will make no move until the terrorist attacks stop. And terrorist attacks will not stop until Sharon makes a move. Undoubtedly, he began positively by releasing some Palestinian prisoners, but that has now been stopped and thousands still remain in Israeli jails. Public opinion in Israel is for giving up land in Palestine in exchange for peace, but their leader looks on. His convictions as a "Christian Zionist", seem to bestow on him the theological right to go on doing what he does despite what happens to a few million Palestinian "terrorists". In the meantime, the two nations sink neck-deep into uncontrolled violence, leaving behind an unsolvable conundrum.

Then where does the solution lie? While it cannot come from the right in Israel, the left remains unelectable. On the other hand, in Palestine, there is no check on the militant agitation. Peace can never come from top down; it is the people at the bottom who can put an end to violence and terrorism. And more than the militant groups, the biggest eye sore is the eight metre high and two metre broad fence that is fast coming up on the border. Most Israelis feel it gives them a sense of security and personal safety, for, it prevents terrorist infiltration. It is true that no terrorists have managed to get in from the Gaza strip because of the fence, though they do manage to sneak in from the various check-points. But undeniably, the wall and the road map cannot co-exist as it is, first, not conducive to building confidence on both sides, and, second, it is politically useless, though militarily useful. Most unfairly, the wall swallows up chunks of land belonging to the Palestinians. In many cases, poor farmers are left on one side of the wall while their land lies on the other.

If Washington was sincere and committed to move the Middle East towards peace, there should have been some sign of a reprimand to Israel for building this fence; Bush is reluctant to confront Sharon, or speak up against Palestinian actions. He, instead, has funded the construction of what Edward Said calls as, a "ghastly racist wall". Thus, in the light of the recent history of peace initiatives and unrestrained violence, there seems to be only one way out: an international solution on the lines of what took place in East Timor through the pressure exerted by international opinion. You cannot change the nature of the Middle East problem through war or bloodshed, and democracy cannot come on the wings of a bomber. More force is not the solution and the U.S. must understand that it must water down its monopoly of control, may it be in Iraq or in the Middle East. Is it not that Bush needs an Arab-Israel cover for his military adventures?

Edward Said is of the opinion that there would have been no peace plan if it had not been for the Palestinians' "stubborn refusal to accept that they are a defeated people". And the road map, according to him, fails from tackling the basic issues: "Like so much of the prevailing peace discourse, it places the need for restraint and renunciation and sacrifice squarely on Palestinian shoulders, thus denying the density and sheer gravity of Palestinian history. To read the road map is to confront an unsituated document, oblivious of its time and place". The road map, like the previous political discourse emanating from the Pentagon, contains blatant "Orwellisms" which emphasise a truce that is suitable more to the Israelis and the Americans with negotiations to be carried out with "acceptable negotiating partners". This only implies a Palestinian leadership that is "representative", a code word for "acceptable to us". For too long, the media in Washington has deceived the public by blaming the "no-compromise dogmatism" of the Palestinian leadership led by Arafat and others, who have more or less in reality been in line with international consensus of trying to ensure a political settlement.

Shelley Walia is a Rothermere Fellow at Oxford.

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