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Toufic Haddad on the new "peace" plan for the Middle East<
Road map to where?

May 23, 2003 | Page 8

SECRETARY OF State Colin Powell traveled to the Middle East and Europe last week to promote the newly released "road map" to Middle East peace. But all of the State Department's spin can't disguise the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rejects the basic framework--and won't even utter the words "road map" in public.

Barely two weeks after the U.S., United Nations (UN), European Union (EU) and Russia released their plan with much fanfare, it's practically a dead letter--like so many other plans released since the Oslo accords were signed in 1993.

TOUFIC HADDAD lives in Ramallah and co-edits Between the Lines, a journal that both Palestinians and Israelis opposed to Israel's occupation of Palestine contribute to. He spoke to Socialist Worker's ERIC RUDER about the "road map" and the larger context in which Palestinian resistance to Israel's occupation is taking place.

DOES THE "road map" propose a viable strategy for peace?

I THINK it's safe to say that the road map is not only not a viable strategy for peace, but that it's actually a non-starter--a document stillborn in both its vagueness and structural flaws that repeats all the problems of prior proposals. And in some cases, it's actually far worse. As such, it is destined in my opinion to the same fate as Oslo.

First, it's important to point out that in order for its backers to all agree to sponsor the road map, it had to leave so many things undefined that it doesn't say much. Every party--and with the respect to the Palestinians, I'm talking about the Palestinian Authority (PA) and not the people--can look at the road map and see what it wants to see. Each side sees the potential to fulfill its own goals, despite the fact that these visions are irrevocably at odds.

At the same time, the road map also lays out some things very clearly. In particular, it carefully adheres to the Israeli-American understanding of the causes of the current conflict--that peace can "only be achieved" when there is "an end to [Palestinian] violence and terrorism" and when "the Palestinian people have a leadership acting decisively against terror and willing to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty."

It is not surprising that the primary target of the road map is the Intifada. This popular uprising--with both armed and unarmed acts of defiance against Israel's illegal occupation--was the masses' sole alternative. You have to realize that PA officials were prepared to agree to a complete capitulation of national rights at the negotiating table.

The Intifada was able to unmask the "peace process" for what it was--a guise to build more settlements, create "facts on the ground" and get the PA to police resistance to these plans. In so doing, the Intifada also served to de-legitimize the PA officials who brokered these "peace" deals--and to reassert the power of the masses whose national and individual rights were in the process of being sold down the river. The Intifada forced Israel's hand, establishing that if Israel is to deepen its occupation and colonialism and to destroy the Palestinian aspiration for self-determination, this must be done in the name of the occupation and not in the name of peace.

This last point is somewhat important--because the road map clearly desires to recreate and resurrect more "process" even if it doesn't lead to "peace." This has been the American strategy in the "peace process" since its inception in the early 1970s, whereby the process is more important than the peace. Process means time, and time means settlements and new facts on the ground that constrict the options for Palestinians and undermines the call for fulfilling Palestinian national rights.

Sure, there are a few small carrots--more like bones--thrown out to the Palestinians: an end to settlement expansion, removal of settlement outposts built after the beginning of the Intifada, a "provisional state." But all this--aside from being incredibly vague, even absurd--will only come about after the old colonialist self-policing is resurrected, which in reality means that the Palestinians have to tie their own hands and hand the initiative to Israel even before negotiation on real issues has begun.

As far as Israel is concerned, the best case scenario is a collaborationist Palestinian leadership that signs a deal doing away with the international resolution to end the occupation and concedes the right of return for Palestinian refugees--thus affirming the Zionist strategy of creating "facts on the ground" and "might makes right." In the worst-case scenario, the road map is sufficiently vague to be delayed indefinitely, allowing for the expansion of settlements, the herding of more Palestinians onto less land and the consolidation of a matrix of control.

Ultimately, all of this makes negotiations irrelevant. Take, for instance, how the road map proposes to resolve the question of Palestinian refugees--perhaps the most important Palestinian national question. According to the road map, there must be "an agreed, just, fair, and realistic solution to the refugee issue."

What the hell is that supposed to mean? Which is it? Because it's clear that each of these qualifying adjectives has completely different ramifications. A "just" solution would imply implementing UN resolution 194. A "fair" solution is somewhat of a retreat from a "just" solution, though It's not clear exactly what that would mean and who would get to interpret "fair."

Finally, it's not clear what a "realistic" solution is or who gets to decide what's "realistic." "Reality," after all, can be changed by political will--in fact, that's how Israel largely came into being in the first place. It's safe to say that a "realistic solution" is advantageous to those who are capable of changing the "reality," so this ends up being a concession to Israel's dominant military power and its backing by the world's only superpower, the U.S.

Thus, the road map is an attempt to return to the old model. It's an attempt, if you will, to "put humpty dumpty back together again," after Israel used everything in its arsenal to liquidate the Intifada. It is designed to punish the Palestinians for daring to break the mold of the conflict--an endless process, whose temporariness has become a form of permanence, a treadmill where the weak party impotently runs around calling for a genuine implementation that can never be, owing to the balance of forces against it.

Tragically, this charade continues to find partners on the Palestinian side, though the Intifada has greatly weakened this current in Palestinian society.

The road map is nothing more than old wine in new bottles. What the imperialists in Israel and the U.S. don't realize, or don't wish to see, or seek the road map to "address" (read: liquidate), is the fact that with the outburst of the Intifada two years ago, the Palestinian masses are boycotting this wine. They have their eyes on a new paradigm, which at present may seem somewhat inchoate, but nonetheless will inevitably arise from the sacrifices of the past two-and-a-half years.

WHO IS Abu Mazen, and what does his new role as prime minister say about what's going on within the PA?

ABU MAZEN is one of the few remaining, first-generation, Fatah party founders, though he certainly didn't have much clout or an independent following within Fatah, unlike like former leaders such as Abu Jihad, Abu Iyad, and Abul Hol. In fact, Palestinians only became familiar with him after the Oslo agreement.

As a signer of Oslo, Abu Mazen received a number economic "incentives" and engaged in shady dealings to enrich himself. He was associated with establishing large private corporations in the names of his sons to profiteer from a monopoly on basic necessities. He has a massive beachside mansion in Gaza--which more than once has had demonstrators throwing rocks at it.

The list goes on. Abu Mazen and those like him are the very figures delegitimized by the outbreak of the Intifada.

He is perhaps most infamously known for his participation in what became known as the 1996 Beilin-Abu Mazen Accord. This was essentially a negotiated final status solution with Yossi Beilin, a Labor Party member of Israel's parliament. When its terms were leaked to the media, it confirmed Palestinian fears that the negotiations were leading to a wholesale sell-off of Palestinian rights, including no right of return and no return to the 1967 borders before Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza. In the plan were details that exposed the gerrymandering gymnastics of expanding the borders of Jerusalem to include the village of Abu Dis, which would then be renamed Al Quds (Arabic for Jerusalem) and would serve as the capital of the new Palestinian state.

Abu Mazen's appointment as prime minister signifies the direct meddling of the U.S. and the Europeans--and their goal of using the "road map" to create the conditions for Arafat's final demise. Abu Mazen represents the competing wing of the elite within Fatah and the PA that has no patience for Arafat's longstanding strategy of simultaneously pursuing contradictory tracks--a strategy that serves Arafat's own interest in maintaining power.

Abu Mazen is openly against the Intifada, condemning it publicly and calling it "armed chaos." Instead, he prefers to ingratiate himself to the U.S., seeing the U.S. as the savior of the Palestinian cause.

He believes that the overall vision for Palestinians must be changed. Instead of struggling to achieve national rights, he believes that it's necessary to integrate into the global economy--and that he and his hangers-on will then serve as the chief collaborators with Israel and the globalization process.

It's a cruel twist of irony that Abu Mazen has ascended to power under the guise of "democratic reform." Even pro-American surveys don't give him a popularity rating among Palestinians higher than 3 percent. He's precisely the kind of character that Palestinians--who have long sought genuine reform--would have long ago "reformed," that is, pushed aside.

But the fact is that Abu Mazen has developed strong ties with the Americans, Europeans and elements of the Israeli establishment throughout the Oslo years. He has thus been propped up and groomed as the "only acceptable candidate for prime minister"--in the democratic rhetoric of the EU--if another round of peace process theatrics is to have the blessings of imperialism.

HOW HAS the U.S. victory in Iraq changed the attitude of Ariel Sharon and the Likud Party towards the Intifada? What do you expect from the Israeli government in the coming months?

THOUGH I am no expert on Israeli politics, it's clear that the U.S. campaign in Iraq represents a victory of "might makes right" logic, which has been the logic of Zionism since its inception.

No doubt, the victory in Iraq will make the Israeli establishment feel comfortable with deepening and entrenching its racist and colonial policies. We see this on a daily basis. Israel has arrogantly continued its policy of assassinating and arresting activists, demolishing homes, conducting massive incursions into Gaza, laying cornerstones for new settlements, and even releasing plans for constructing an eastern wall--all since the publication of the road map.

The campaign in Iraq may not have permitted Sharon and company to implement the final transfer of the Palestinians out of Palestine--perhaps because of pro-Palestinian awareness raising campaigns, perhaps because of American orders to Israel, perhaps both. But it is clear that it allowed for further consolidation of Israel's second choice--the strengthening of its apartheid regime across historic Palestine. We can thus expect that this approach will continue with increased speed before the road map theatrics come to an end.

THE QUICK U.S. victory in Iraq--especially coming after a brief period when the Pentagon was set back by unexpected resistance--must have been a blow to the morale of opponents of imperialism in the Middle East. Has it led to people lowering their sights on what kind of political change to organize for?

THIS IS a very interesting and important question. I don't believe the result of the war will lead to a lowering of sights, but rather will bring about "a clearing of vision."

This has many dimensions to it. First, the active role that Arab governments played in the assault--both openly and secretly--has put in perspective the real dilemma facing anti-imperialist forces, especially in the pro-Western countries of Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf states.

Some commentators correctly noted that there weren't large demonstrations in the Arab world protesting the war, as there were in Europe and the U.S. But they wrongly interpreted why this was the case.

The demonstrations in Europe, in as much as they were in opposition to the policies of their governments and against U.S. imperialism, were in one way or another an affirmation of the systems themselves, despite the flaws of these systems. But in the Arab world, no such legitimation of these systems exists in the first place. In fact, you have entire countries with no historical basis that are themselves the creation of imperialism.

The anti-imperialist forces are becoming conscious of the fact that the Arab world is in need of far more than their governments saying that they are against the war. There needs to be a more fundamental transformation--a transformation that they are not prepared for and don't necessarily know how to advance, given the complexities of the systems of control that oppress them.

It's not clear that this has been entirely thought out yet, but my guess is that there will be an internalization of the lessons that the anti-imperialist Arab camp is accumulating.

First and foremost among these lessons is the conclusion that the undemocratic, pro-Western, crony-capitalist model has to be done away with. Second, there's a realization that the alternative embodied in the "bin Laden approach" is not a desirable alternative.

I therefore expect to see the growth of a movement that breaks both with the corrupt Arab regimes as well as the dead-end strategy of al-Qaeda, though this will take years to develop and formulate. Unfortunately, here the weakness of genuine left forces in the Arab world is laid bare, greatly impeding the formation of a current that understands the current structure of oppression and exploitation and how to advance an alternative to it.

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