Holes in the Road Map

The “road map” in the Middle East is leading nowhere. Even those who were still harbouring some hopes about it in recent weeks must now admit that it is dead for all intents and purposes.

This should not surprise anyone who is familiar with the history of peace-making in the Middle East. The map has all the deficiencies of the previous abortive attempts to solve the conflict, while having none of the merits included in the efforts of the past.

The previous attempts had something in common: they evaded the real issues at the heart of the matter, but at least in most cases they were born out of a genuine concern with the conflict and its victims. They were orchestrated by American and European mediators who adopted usually the Israeli and not the Palestinian point of view. According to the latter view, the conflict in Palestine began in 1967 with the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Hence, peace meant an Israeli withdrawal from these areas. The Camp David accord in 1979, and then the Oslo process in 1993, tried to persuade the Palestinians that the best they can get was establishing in these areas a Bantustan with no sovereignty, territorial integrity or a capital. Additionally, the Palestinian leaders were asked to forsake the only reason for their struggle ever since 1948–fulfilling the right of return of the refugees who had been expelled by Israel in 1948–a right recognised by the UN in 1948.

The Palestinian leader, and later president , Arafat refused to sanction such a deal as a final settlement when asked to do so in Camp David in the summer of 2000. The people under occupation rose once more when the humiliating offer was made by Clinton and Barak in that summer.

The recent road map was a brainchild of Tony Blair, who understood that global opinion found it hard to accept his and Bush’s explanations for the invasion of Iraq. The war in Iraq was presented as a precondition for peace in Palestine (this was just one station in many on the train of excuses Blair and Bush are using in order to justify the war).

Palestine is to be divided into two huge prison camps that would be called a state with no independent foreign or economic policy or territorial continuity. Anyone willing to be its leader will be the chief warden, making sure that the people do not rise again against the brutal occupation.

This occupation has not changed in nature since 1967. Long before the Palestinian suicide bombs, Israel terrorised the occupied territories: demolishing houses, starving communities with closures, expelling people and harassing them daily on roadblocks. The road map does not offer any significant change in this respect, nor did the Oslo accord before it. No wonder it is hard to find a Palestinian leader who can accept it. Sharon’s plan is to leave the Palestinians a mere fragmented 10 per cent of historical Palestine with no solution for the refugee problem. The next intifada and a next war in the Middle East can be the only result from such an offer. What is needed now is a different and more comprehensive approach. The end of the occupation is a precondition for peace. This barren truth was not recognised even by well-intentioned peace-makers in the area. For genuine peace to be achieved, Israel has to be made accountable for the expulsion of almost all the Palestinians who lived in 1948 in the areas which became the Jewish state (which constituted 78 per cent of the original Mandate Palestine). If Israel does not admit to its 1948 ethnic cleansing through the recognition of the right of the Palestinians to return, why should its leaders genuinely bother with the fate of the remaining 22 per cent of Palestine in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip?

A just solution to the heart of the matter–the refugee problem–can probably best be served by constructing a unitary or a bi-national state involving both Palestine and present-day Israel. This would be based on the principles of human and civil rights that would enable the people living in between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean to attend to other issues–women’s rights, ecology, human economy and poverty. Any other way, as the past has shown, will perpetuate the conflict in the torn land of Palestine and Israel.

Dr. ILAN PAPPE is an Israeli historian at Haifa University.


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