Obstacles all the way

Published : Jul 04, 2003 00:00 IST

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (left) and Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon after a meeting in Aqaba on June 4. - LARRY DOWNING/REUTERS

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (left) and Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon after a meeting in Aqaba on June 4. - LARRY DOWNING/REUTERS

The Aqaba summit notwithstanding, the U.S.-charted road map to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict remains a non-starter with Israel disinclined to honour negotiated terms and continuing with its acts of aggression.

THE triangular summit meeting of U.S. President George W. Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in the Jordanian resort city of Aqaba in the first week of June is being trumpeted as a make-or-break effort to achieve peace in West Asia. Much importance is assigned to the fact that the U.S. President is investing his time and effort to help the Israelis and the Palestinians come to a negotiated settlement to the long-running conflict. Bush also met the leaders of five Arab states - Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain and Palestine - at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

At Sharm el-Sheikh, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia endorsed Washington's "road map for peace". They also backed President Bush's narrow and self-serving interpretation of terrorism. Mubarak said that Arab countries would fight terrorism "regardless of justifications or motives". This has been interpreted as support for the crackdown on Palestinian groups fighting against the Israeli occupation.

The American initiative comes at a time when the Bush Administration has virtually zero credibility among the Arab masses. American military forces are getting sucked into the Iraqi quagmire, with a U.S. soldier being killed on an average every day. There are growing signs that the Iraqi people are preparing an "intifada" of their own against the occupation forces, similar to the uprising in Palestine.

President Bush, who until recently treated the plight of the Palestinians with what was viewed in many quarters as benign neglect, has now seemingly adopted a "hands-on" approach. Bush has said that his National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell will make the implementation of the "road map" their highest priority. For the first time, Bush has talked about the need for Palestinians to "have a continuous territory" that they can call their home. Prior to the Aqaba meet, the U.S. President had arm-twisted the Israeli Prime Minister into making a few token concessions.

One of the so-called concessions was Sharon's conditional acceptance of the "road map". Another was his commitment to "evacuate" Jewish settlers immediately from some "unauthorised outposts". But Sharon has indicated that he has no plans to touch the major Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories. After all, he has been one of the major architects of the Israeli occupation policy in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. According to the Israeli and Western media, Sharon was only referring to caravans left behind by some settlers on barren hilltops. In the second week of June, a couple of such uninhabited structures were symbolically demolished.

The road map has only laid down that Sharon dismantle the settlements that have come up in the last two years; there has not been any serious talk about repatriating the 200,000 illegal settlers sent in by successive Israeli governments to "create facts on the ground". The Jewish settlements have virtually cut the West Bank into three enclaves. The Sharon government plans to separate them from Palestinian territory with the help of electrified fencing. Once the fencing is completed, Israel will effectively control more than half of the West Bank. Sharon has never rejected directly any peace initiative in the past, be it the Oslo accords or the Mitchell Commission proposals. Instead he always sabotaged the peace process by attaching impossible "conditions" and "reservations". Sharon has never wavered in his stand that Palestinians should not be allowed to have a truly independent state, where they will have control of their own airspace and resources.

The Palestinian Prime Minister was much more accommodating than his Israeli counterpart during the meetings. Abbas, after all, has been virtually handpicked by Bush to represent the Palestinian people. Since September 11, Palestinian Authority (P.A.) President Yasser Arafat has virtually become persona non grata for the U.S. The sidelining of Arafat was also one of Sharon's early demands. At Camp David, three years ago, Arafat had stood by Palestinian principles and refused to compromise on the "right of return" for exiles and on the issue of Jerusalem being the capital of the Palestinian state. Washington and Tel Aviv have not forgiven him for that.

Abbas, on the other hand, pledged before the U.S. President that the "armed intifada must end and we must resort to peaceful means" to achieve the goal of peaceful independence and the creation of two states living "side by side in peace and security". The Palestinian Prime Minister also pledged to crack down on his own people "who were partners in the war against occupation" if they were caught inciting hatred against Israel. Washington and Tel Aviv want the P.A. to crack down on Palestinians who are carrying on the struggle against the occupation. Abbas has refused to do their bidding so far. A civil war among Palestinians is the last thing he wants.

A FEW days after the Aqaba meeting, the three radical Palestinian groupings, the Hamas, the Islamic Jehad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the last one an offshoot of the secular Al Fatah movement, launched a joint suicide attack against an Israeli military target in the northern Gaza Strip. The operation claimed the lives of four Israeli soldiers, apart from those of three suicide bombers, each representing the three organisations. Earlier, the Hamas had announced the cessation of the brief ceasefire it had agreed upon before starting talks with the Palestinian Prime Minister.

Hamas has announced that the talks will remain suspended until the Prime Minister withdrew some of his controversial remarks regarding the struggle he put up in Aqaba. The Hamas spokesman said that the Prime Minister failed to highlight at the meeting Palestinian suffering and instead made too many concessions. The spokesman said that Abbas, while speaking of the suffering of the Jewish people, did not find time to mention the sufferings of the Palestinian people and raise issues relating to "the right of return" of refugees, the status of Jerusalem and the continuing Israeli military presence in the West Bank and Gaza. Other militant groupings such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front have also voiced their reservations about the way in which the negotiations are conducted.

The attempt made by the Israeli security forces on June 10 to assassinate Hamas leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi is yet another indication that Sharon is not really serious about the peace process. Rantissi has been the Hamas spokesman for quite some time and is one of the most visible faces of the organisation. The attack by three Israeli Apache helicopters on his car in a crowded Gaza street came only a week after President Bush's meeting with the Israeli and Palestinian Prime Ministers. At least two dozen civilians were seriously injured in the attack. Rantissi escaped miraculously, with injuries on his legs and chest.

The incident took place at a time when the Palestinian Prime Minister was busy trying to coax the Hamas back to the negotiating table. Recent opinion polls have shown that the Hamas is now the most popular organisation among Palestinians. The Palestinian Prime Minister has described the Israeli attempt on the Hamas leader's life as a "terrorist" attack designed to sabotage the peace moves. He has demanded immediate action from the Bush administration to stop any "serious deterioration" in the situation. Hamas has already warned of serious consequences, threatening more attacks inside Israel.

A White House spokesperson said that Bush was "concerned" that the strike against Rantissi would undermine the efforts of the P.A. and others to bring an end to the terrorist attacks and that it would not contribute to the security of Israel. But there was no explicit condemnation of Israel's policy of targeting individuals for assassination in the Occupied Territories.

"We want to lead a normal life like all other people. The Israelis have Apaches, our children only have stones," said Osama Musa, the Palestinian Ambassador in Delhi. He said that the insults an average Palestinian faces daily at the hands of Israeli soldiers are no less demeaning than the assassinations, bombings and demolitions carried out by Israel.

The Palestinian Ambassador echoed the popular Palestinian view when he said that international conferences were meaningless as long as Israel continued its occupation of Palestinian land. He pointed out that when the state of Israel was formed, Jewish people constituted only 8 per cent of the population in Palestine but were given 53 per cent of the land. Expansionist policies have since then helped Israel encroach on more and more Palestinian land. The Palestinian envoy pointed out that the Oslo agreement gave back Palestinians only 22 per cent of their homeland. Musa is of the view that the only lasting solution lies "in the honest implementation of the Oslo accord". He went on to add that the presence of foreign monitors alone would have made Israel implement its "written pledges" to the international community. "We are actually refugees and victims, but are now being labelled as terrorists," said the diplomat, who had spent many years in fruitless negotiations with Israel after the signing of the Oslo accords.

Osama Musa also doubted the Bush Administration's sincerity inbringing peace to the region. He pointed out that Israel, a country with a population of five million, had an annual budget of around $62 billion. The U.S. gives Israel the best weaponry. "The real weapon of mass destruction is the nuclear weapon and Israel has it," said Musa. He pointed out that the U.S. kicked out Saddam Hussein for illegally occupying Kuwait but winks at the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. "Is there a good occupation and a bad occupation?" asked the Palestinian envoy.

He said meetings like the ones at Sharm el-Sheikh and Aqaba would be irrelevant as long as the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian land continued and there were no international monitors on the ground. "We even agreed to allow Americans to become the peace monitors. For any road map to be successful, we have to have strong international monitors on the ground," he said.

Arafat has also said that Sharon offered nothing "tangible" at the summit. He dismissed Sharon's pledge of removing a few settler outposts in the West Bank as "meaningless".

Bush is sending John Wolf, a career diplomat, identified with the neo-conservative cabal in Washington, to head a U.S. team to monitor the negotiations. Condoleezza Rice has been named Bush's "personal representative" on the issue.

Meanwhile, Christian fundamentalist groups in the U.S., whose support is crucial to the Bush presidency, have come out against the road map. Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal of Jerusalem said recently that the American refusal to pressure Israel into stopping the building of settlements meant that the road map was a non-starter. Christian fundamentalists constitute a solid vote bloc of 45 million for the "born-again" Bush. A Christian-Jewish "inter-faith Zionist leadership summit", held in Washington in May and attended by influential figures of the Christian Right, opposed "rewarding murderous Palestinian terrorism with statehood".

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment