Misleading Roads


By Azmi Bishara*

Al-Ahram Weekly
March 20-26, 2003

Just before announcing his plans to attack Iraq, and prior to his meeting with some of his European allies, George W Bush suddenly rediscovered commitment to the so-called roadmap for resolving the Palestinian issue, a roadmap that remains to this day a blurry, intangible concept. UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, who remains sensitive to the Palestinian issue by virtue of his being European -- and as such aware of public opinion pressures and able to separate national interest considerations from US colonial exigencies -- must have advised Bush to reaffirm commitment to the roadmap in order to encourage the Palestinian Authority -- or those Palestinian officials calling for curbing Arafat's powers -- to take a firmer stand against so- called Palestinian violence.

George W Bush must have also listened to the whispered pleas of European leaders, including those who support the war against Iraq. Certainly, these whispers are more effective than the pleadings of Arab leaders who have, since the Beirut summit, approached Bush repeatedly with overtures, most of which diminishing the scope of the Arab peace initiative.

Europeans whispering in Bush's ear, and the latter's sudden epiphany -- what an exquisite exercise in war-related public relations? This whole show is quite interesting, more so than the content of what Bush is promising. The US president is conducting a public relations campaign, one that Europe finds crucial, ahead of aggression against Iraq. The US president could not present the Palestinians with more than a ruse, and yet -- perhaps more significantly -- he was careful to phrase this ruse in terms that are compatible with Israel's mindset. He made progress with regard to the roadmap conditional on the completion of the aggression against Iraq. He also made the roadmap conditional on the halt of so-called Palestinian violence. Bush spoke of a Palestinian state that is democratic and hostile to terror, but stopped short of delineating its borders. He did not, however, forget to link this process to the organisational restructuring of the Palestinian authority, particularly the appointment of a prime minister. And, Bush did not forget to elaborate on the need to clarify and emphasise the powers of the new Palestinian prime minister.

This set of requisites and conditions is designed to ensure that the US and Israel will be pulling the ropes all the time, for it is up to both to decide if "terror" has stopped and if the Palestinian Authority is serious enough about fighting it. The reward promised to the Palestinians -- and to Arabs who wish to make peace with Israel (unconditional peace, if one may recall Bush's statements on 14 March) is the continuation of talks, and nothing else. The United States would meanwhile remain committed to the roadmap and continue to listen to the observations of both Israelis and Palestinians. In reality, what this means is that the United States has no commitment, or at least one than no one can figure out. The US is committed to continue to listen to Israeli observations -- the only observations that carry any weight with the US administration. This simply means that the US administration has no ready-made proposals to impose on both sides. The Arabs -- and those who want the Arabs to take the US side in the war against Iraq -- would have wanted, at least, the US to impose something on both sides in the course of implementing this roadmap.

The roadmap does not require Israel to dismantle the settlements, but to freeze settlements once the Palestinians deliver their part of the bargain. The roadmap makes no mention of the borders of the Palestinian state or anatomy of its political sovereignty. By failing to stipulate Israel's withdrawal to the lines of 4 June 1967, the roadmap clearly offers Sharon the ambiguity he needs to make a thousand conditions that could rob the initiative of direction and momentum.

What, then, is new about Bush's assertions? Very little indeed, apart from the fact that the United States is determined to attack Iraq, despite international opposition. As far as the Palestinian issue is concerned, the roadmap illustrates how the US, even when it volunteers nothing but lip service, does so only on Israel's terms. One may speculate endlessly on why is this so, but would that change anything? Also, it is now clear that Israel has nothing to offer the officials who may replace Arafat, aside from the promise to keep talking to them and asking them to fight terror.

The aggression against Iraq remains a solely US- motivated endeavour. The international community has been sidelined in numerous ways, as the UN Security Council deliberations made abundantly clear. Soon, the US will wage its attack on Iraq. It will then call on the world -- including the opponents of war -- to help in its reconstruction. Soon, UN experts and human rights emissaries will be on television calling the world to help the refugees, the sick, and children. Soon, the countries that opposed the war will be taking part in this new humanitarian mission, while calling on America to move forward with the roadmap. The war will set in motion a number of political initiatives, but in what direction and to what end? Obviously, one needs a roadmap to decipher Bush's roadmap.

*About the Author: The writer is a leading Palestinian political activist and member of the Knesset.

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