Bush’s Palestinian Road Map:
Blueprint of US-Israel Hegemony
Even as the Bush-Blair war brigade chooses its next war target, Bush has started waging ‘peace’. As promised to Blair and the world, he is now in a great hurry to dispose of the pestering ‘Palestinian problem’. So on April 30 the White House came up with its latest road map to ‘peace’ in Palestine. Officially titled “A Performance-Based Road Map to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”, the road map is understandably not an accord; it is a guideline in the form of an authoritative proposal put up by the US and sponsored by a Quartet (including the US, the UN, Russia and the European Union).
Compared to the Oslo Agreement of 1993 or Oslo-II of 1995, that were finally signed by topmost leaders of Israel and PLO along with the US president in the White House gardens, the Road Map, as the Financial Times put it, “emerged surreptitiously, dropped out of the back door of White House press office”. It reflected, at once, the air of enhanced American authority following Bush’s military victory in Iraq and also the attempts to settle the differences within the Quartet.
Prior to publication of the Road Map Bush had bluntly demanded that Yasser Arafat stepped down, almost bracketing him with Saddam Hussein. It is not that Arafat has not been desirous of a settlement with Israel; that has been amply demonstrated by his signing up the Oslo Accord. But Israel and the US wanted to rewrite the Oslo Accord, and enforce more stringent terms on Palestine. Arafat refused to be part of this game, which would further reduce the territories making up the Palestinian state and legitimize the vast increase in Zionist settlements in West Bank and Gaza Strip. Moreover, Arafat has also failed to suppress the second Intifada that erupted in September 2000 as a result of the current Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to Al Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount.
Soon after the Oslo Accord was signed, incidents of provocation to damage the spirit of peace as well as attempts to further encroach into territories inhabited by Palestinians gained a new momentum. In 1994 Palestinians offering Friday prayer inside Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron had been massacred; the next year Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, a signatory to the Oslo Accord, was himself gunned down by Zionists after he had just addressed a 100,000 strong peace rally. Then in September 1996 the Israeli authorities broke through the stone wall that had previously closed off the Hasmonean Tunnel to Jerusalem from the Arab section of the city. This sparked off a confrontation, which brought the whole Middle East peace process to the brink of collapse.
From the signing of the Oslo Accord till March 1998, Israelis had bulldozed 640 Palestinian homes, 95 of these in Jerusalem. In total violation of the Oslo accord, Israel continued to confiscate water resources in West Bank and refused to release 1,000 Palestinian political prisoners languishing in Israeli concentration camps.
The policy of establishment of new Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank area acquired a new momentum after Benjamin Netanyahu’s elevation to the post of Prime Minister of Israel in 1997. It resulted in disconnection between Palestinian territories and East Jerusalem. Then in July 2000, Ehud Barak, the then Israeli prime minister and PLO leader Arafat met at Camp David under the auspices of Clinton. Here Barak summarily refused to remove the settlements and would not recognize Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem. Barak also refused to agree to the right of Palestinian refugees (around 5 million) to return to their homes and land, who had been driven out at gunpoint in 1948-49. So the summit collapsed. And lastly, the fuse was lit when Ariel Sharon, then leader of opposition Likud Party, accompanied by a 2,000 strong posse of army and security personnel, visited Haram al-Sharif compound, which houses Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, on 28 September 2000.
The move was designed to preempt the final status of negotiations on the future of Jerusalem. The following day, Israelis using helicopter gunships, fired indiscriminately on worshippers, killing 10 and injuring 500 Palestinians in the ghastly carnage. All this gave rise to the new wave of Intifada (uprising) called Al Aqsa Intifada.
It may be recalled that at the time of its formation under a UN charter on Partition of Palestine on 29 November 1947, Israel was unjustly handed over as much as 48% of the total land area of Palestine (though at that time Jews owned only 14% of the Palestine land area and they constituted only one third of the total population of Palestine). After around half a century, the PLO had made the most painful concession, agreeing to have a Palestinian state comprising only 22% of the original Palestinian area. But the Zionist vision wants not only the whole of Palestine under its fold but even beyond.
Now, after 30 months of Al Aqsa Intifada and continuing Israeli aggression, the US released the Road Map only when Yasser Arafat, fulfilling the US demand, had appointed Mahmoud Abbas, or Abu Mazen, as prime minister on 10 March 2003. Washington had made it clear that neither it nor Tel Aviv would have any negotiation with Arafat. Abbas, co-founder of the Al Fateh faction of PLO and a central figure in Oslo negotiations, was considered a better alternative because he had served as a back-channel between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli leadership during the prolonged period of impasse.
The Road Map offers little to Palestinians other than a series of demands that they abandon and suppress any struggle against Israeli occupation. The first demand placed on the Palestinian government is that it suppresses militant groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Fateh’s own Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. The document states: “A two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will only be achieved through an end to violence and terrorism, when the Palestinian people have a leadership acting decisively against terror”.
The Road Map has outlined three phases. In the first phase, “visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere” are to be made by the Palestine Authority. And for this purpose, the “restructured/retrained Palestinian security forces” are to resume security cooperation with their counterparts in Israeli Defence Force, “with the participation of US security officials”. In short, the Palestine Authority will have to work solely for ensuring safety to their main tormentor, the Israeli army. And after Washington is satisfied that Palestine Authority has complied with this condition, Israeli army will start “progressive withdrawal” only from the areas occupied by it after 28 September 2000 (the start of Intifada-II).
The second phase concerns “the option of creating an independent Palestinian state”, but that state will only have “provisional borders” and “attributes of sovereignty”, as determined by the “consensus judgment of the Quartet”. Another condition attached to this “creation” is “comprehensive Middle East peace”, which means that until Israel feels secure from Syria or Lebanon, Palestine will not get statehood! It was to achieve this objective that Collin Powell threatened Syria to stop all backing to Hezbollah, whose forces had determinedly fought against a far superior Israeli army in south Labanon in the latter half of the 1990s and driven them out completely in 2000.
The third phase vaguely mentions settlement of all outstanding issues including borders, sovereignty over East Jerusalem settlements and the disputed right of 5 million Palestine refugees to return to their land and home. But while these issues have note been defined, the document insists that the settlement will have to be “agreed, just, fair and realistic”.
Some commentators have rightly said that there is no chance that any Palestinian entity created by this document would have even a semblance of independence. Nor will there be territorial contiguity. It would continue to be policed by Israeli forces as a virtual prison camp for a captive population.
Even then, there are forces in the American and Israeli establishments who grudge the road map as being too conciliatory, even a ‘sellout’! Hawks within the Republican Party have called the Road Map dangerous to Israel and denounced its advocates as “neo-appeasers”. Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of House, said that the State Department under Powell was pursuing a policy of “accommodation … that will clearly throw away all the fruits of hard-won victory in the region”.
Describing the Palestinian Authority as “one of the most dangerous regimes”, Benny Elon, transport minister in Sharon Government of Israel, has called for its outright destruction just as the “evil regimes of Taliban and Saddam Hussein were destroyed”. This is an indication of the hardline Israeli approach which wants to exploit the post-Saddam power equation in West Asia to the hilt. Israel has already made it clear that Palestinians must drop their demand for the “right to return” granted under UN resolution 242.
Most revealing is the observation of Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator who recently resigned from the Abbas cabinet. He said that Israel was using tanks to respond to the publication of Road Map. Sharon’s modus operandi has long been to carry out bloody provocations in order to instigate reprisals by militant Palestinian groups. These, in turn, are being followed by still harsher measures by the Israeli army so as to create “new facts on the ground” conducive to his abiding goal of a Greater Israel.
Consequently, the 3-hour summit that took place on 18 May 2003 between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the first ever Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, remained inconclusive. Sharon has an official policy of pressing for further concessions and amendments in the plan. With this objective Sharon was supposed to go to Washington, but the trip was postponed “after a barrage of four Palestinian attacks”, which were also condemned by the Palestinian Authority. Still in retaliation Sharon sealed off West Bank and Gaza Strip, blocking Palestinians entry into Israel for job and UN Humanitarian aid to Gaza, where two thirds of the population are refugees living on UN relief. The UN and 18 international organizations have strongly condemned this violation of international law by Israel. For all practical purposes the Road Map is already being torn asunder by the Israeli quest for lebensraum.
Seeds of the Palestine question were sown by the British-American imperialists in the first half of 20th century with a view to creating a strong base in the form of an Israeli protectorate, a military arm to subdue the oil-rich Arab world. It is becoming clearer day by day that domination over West Asia is so crucial for the survival of the sole superpower. Naturally a just solution to the Palestinian problem is irreconcilable with the American game plan of domination over West Asia. There can be no road map to peace till the US-Israeli cartographers stop tampering with the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to map and inhabit their own land with freedom, dignity and justice.
-- Brij Bihari Pandey