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Every few months, a "peace plan" is pulled out of the drawers of the white house and keeps the public discourse busy for a few weeks. Although this ritual has a fixed pattern and predetermined end, it is curious that many in Israel are still tempted to believe that this time it is different.
The Road Map announces that this time "the destination is a final and comprehensive settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict by 2005". To check if it offers anything concrete in this direction, it is necessary to first get clear regarding what the conflict is about. >From Israeli discourse one might get the impression that it is about the right of return: the Palestinians are trying to undermine the mere existence of the state of Israel with the demand to allow their refugees to return, and they are trying to achieve that with terror. It seems that it was forgotten that in practice this is a simple and classical conflict over land and resources (water). The Road Map document as well manifests complete absence of any territorial dimension.
The demands from the Palestinians are clear: to establish a government that will be defined by the U. S. as democratic, to form three security forces which will be defined by Israel as reliable, and to crush terror. Once these demands are fulfilled, the third phase is to begin, at which the occupation will miraculously end. But the document doesn’t put any demands on Israel at this third phase. Most Israelis understand that there is no way to end the occupation and the conflict without the Israeli army leaving the territories and the dismantlement of settlements. But these basic concepts are not even hinted at in the document, which only mentions freezing the settlements and dismantling new outposts, already the first stage.
The first stage is more substantial, because it repeats the Tenet plan. In this stage Israel is expected also to "withdraw from Palestinian areas occupied from Sept 28 2000… [and to restore] the status quo that existed then". There is no doubt that fulfillment of this demand can contribute greatly to establishing some calm, even if a temporary one. Had I believed that the European representatives in the quartet could bring this plan to implementation, I would have welcomed it. But there is no basis for such a belief. The Tenet plan has come into the spotlights many times before. The last round was what appeared to be an American cease-fire initiative in March 2002, for which Zinni and Cheney were sent to the region. Already then Sharon clarified that he does not agree to this demand, and he only agrees to easing the conditions for the population in areas in which quiet will be preserved (Ha’aretz, Aluf Ben, 19.3.02). This did not prevent the U.S. from pointing at the Palestinians as the side that refused the cease fire. With the end of this initiative, Israel embarked on the "Defensive Shield" spree of destruction, with the blessing of the U.S.
Israel responded also to the Road Map with the same old objections. It further emphasized that a negotiated halt to terror is not sufficient and what is required is a visible clash between the new security forces and the opposition organizations (namely, a civil war). Israel even demands that a Palestinian declaration of end of conflict and renunciation of the right of return must be given as a precondition at the beginning of any process, and not at the end. Again, none of this undermines the U.S. position that Israel is the side that is seeking peace, the side "whose security is the key to the security of the world", as Condoleezza Rice put it. The U.S. is ruled today by hawks whose vision is an unending war. Israel, whose leaders are always eager to go on another war, is an asset in this vision. There is therefore no basis for the belief that the U.S. will allow anyone to force Israel to make any concessions.
In March 13, 2002, at the eve of Zinni’s peace visit in the previous round, the Israeli army welcomed him with an attack on the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza, in which 24 Palestinians were killed in one night. Now it has welcomed Powell with a wave of arrests and deportation of international peace activists. In the Pax Americana, there is no room for peace activists. Peace will be brought by the tanks.
TANYA REINHART is a Professor of Linguistics at Tel Aviv University. Other articles by Reinhart can be read at: http://www.tau.ac.il/~reinhart