Why so many peace initiatives in the middle east failby Derek Coombs / January 20, 2003 / Leave a comment
Tony Blair wanted to hold a middle east peace conference in London this winter. But his advisers have conceded that nothing will happen until after the Israeli election at the end of January, and possibly not until the Iraq crisis is resolved, whenever that might be.
Bush’s middle east policy has zig-zagged wildly since 11th September. And the current “road map” proposed by the US (and formally backed by the UN, the EU and Russia) is not being taken very seriously by anyone in the international community.
It calls for an end to attacks on both sides, a reform of the Palestinian Authority, a halt to further Israeli settlement building, and a provisional Palestinian state on 40 per cent of the pre-1967 West Bank (75 per cent of the Gaza strip) growing to some unspecified size by the time a final agreement is reached in 2005.
The problem with this road map-submitted by Assistant Secretary of State William Burns in October-is that it repeats the same mistake as all the other peace plans of the past few years: it demands of the Palestinians that they give up all forms of armed resistance without spelling out what rewards this will win them.
The Mitchell report, the Tenet proposals, the Zinni mission and even the Oslo accords themselves all did the same. Oslo was clear about what Israel expected to gain straight away-security. But what about the Palestinians? Oslo committed the Israelis to negotiating various “final status” issues but gave no indication of what the Palestinians might expect the outcome to be. The term Palestinian state did not appear in the accords. There was also no provision in Oslo for any international monitoring of the agreement.
The current “road map” repeats these two mistakes. First, the lack of specificity about what the Palestinians might expect their state to look like in 2005 promises a repetition of the frustration created by Oslo. Second, the lack of international supervision means that Ariel Sharon’s government will remain judge, jury and executioner. The current road map is worthless without a role for a third party in guaranteeing both Israel’s security and Palestinian sovereignty. Only the US and the EU acting together can provide that guarantee.
Meanwhile, unless Israeli voters can see a realistic political way forward they are likely to cling to Sharon, who is expected to win January’s election comfortably. He will press on with his attempts to reform the Palestinian Authority, something that Yitzhak Rabin never attempted. Rabin did not trust Arafat either but he realised that you had to do a deal with the leader in place.
The one glimmer of hope is the election of Amram Mitzna, the mayor of Haifa and a former general, as Labour leader. His arrival means that at least someone is trying to claim the Rabin mantle. In the current climate Mitzna cannot win, but he will represent an alternative pull in Israeli politics. Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs still live side by side in relative harmony in Haifa. Moreover, Mitzna is likely to do some kind of deal with the Palestinians, based on the Barak Camp David offer of 2000.
But to leave peace in the hands of the Palestinians and Israelis is folly. They cannot come to a permanent deal on their own. An international conference is required, when the time is right. Such a conference would shake out the extreme right in the Israeli coalition. It would have to participate or quit, either way it would lose its veto.
Many of the terrorist threats to the US are connected to its almost unqualified support for Israel. You only have to look at the demography of the Arab middle east to see that this will not go away without a fair deal for the Palestinians. A new international conference is the necessary starting point.