A Middle East Peace Process…Without the Middle East

First, it was Secretary of State Colin Powell who announced a Middle East peace conference. That was back in the spring–nothing happened.

There was no peace conference. Now it’s Tony Blair announcing a conference, along with that familiar rider about Palestinian “reform”–which means getting rid of Y Arafat Esq. But the Palestinians–now that Mr Bush has told them to ditch the corrupt Palestinian leader–will probably elect Arafat as their leader next month. So is Mr Blair planning to invite the bewhiskered old revolutionary to London? “Not expected to attend,” said a source. Or one of his henchmen? Or a new squeaky-clean, unelected leader of “Palestine”? Funny how our Prime Minister is already referring to Palestine as if it’s a country, rather than a bit of an occupied, colonised land, the 22 per cent of the original British mandate Palestine that is left up for grabs.

Funny how our Prime Minister can waffle on about George Bush’s “vision” of two states–Israel and Palestine–as if the President means what he says. Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has no intention of allowing a viable state to exist to Israel’s east. And he, apparently, isn’t even invited to London for the Blair conference. Nor is Arafat. So what chance Palestine? “Reform” is a good line. The Americans will agree with it and the Israelis will agree with it and a lot of Palestinians will agree with it– because Arafat is indeed a failure, though not for the reasons America and Israel believe. We want “democracy”, accountability, human rights in Palestine–all those things, in fact which Mr. Blair’s current guest, President Bashar Assad, has so far failed to create in Syria. And what is the last figure by which President Assad was elected?

Or by which his father was elected? Wasn’t it up there in the 90 per cents? My goodness, how Mr Blair would like an election victory figure like that.

But let’s be fair. America puts Syria on the “sponsor of terrorism” list and Tony Blair invites Bashar Assad to London. He gets the red carpet treatment. Then Mr Blair invites the Palestinians; and Arafat–desperate for continued recognition, however humiliating–says he’ll send a “delegation”. The European Union will be represented, along with the UN and the United States and, of course, that well-known democrat whose army is currently crushing and raping its way through Chechnya. In January–just next month–Mr Blair is going to “fix”‘ the Middle East.

And the aim will be–so the Foreign Office tells us–to “focus on how Palestinian reform can be accelerated.” Accelerated? Amid the rubble of the Palestinian Authority offices and police stations and administration buildings– all destroyed courtesy of the Boeing Corporation and other Israeli arms suppliers–“reform” is going to be “accelerated”, is it? There are times, indeed, when Downing Street seems as far away from Jerusalem as Washington.

And Mr Blair told us it was important to “engage” with Syria–presumably because Mr Bush can’t and won’t–and pointed out that Syria “is going to be an important part of building a peaceful and stable future in the Middle East.”

Which is all well and good. But what about Israel? What about Mr Ariel Sharon, the “man of peace”– according to Mr. Bush–who goes on building more and more and more Jewish settlements in the occupied territories?

Well, just like so much of Mr Blair’s–and Mr Bush’s– Middle East “policy”, what you really don’t want to see, you can just wish away.

Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared.