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Naseer Aruri on the fate of the U.S.-backed "peace" plan
Breakdown of the "road map"

June 20, 2003 | Page 5

LAST WEEK, mainstream media commentators in the U.S. wondered how the "hopefulness" of Bush's Middle East "peace" summit quickly disintegrated into renewed violence. But the U.S.-backed "road map" for peace was bound to break down. After more than 10 years of watching their leaders make concessions throughout the U.S.-brokered Oslo "peace" process, few Palestinians believe that the road map represents their interests.

Likewise, Israel has spent the last decade dragging its feet on a future Palestinian "entity"--while creating "facts on the ground," in the form of a vast network of Jewish-only settlements crisscrossing the Occupied Territories, to thwart a viable Palestinian state. NASEER ARURI, the author of numerous books, including Dishonest Broker: America's Role in Israel and Palestine, spoke to Socialist Worker's ERIC RUDER about the roots of the conflict.

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DOES THE road map represent a significant breakthrough for Palestinians, as the mainstream media has suggested?

NO. IT didn't offer the Palestinians anything that differs substantially from earlier plans presented by the U.S. On the face of it, the so-called road map looks significantly better than its predecessors, particularly Oslo. But I emphasize "on the face of it"--because the terms that seem to have been left out of Oslo deliberately, such as "occupation," such as "sovereign Palestinian state," "contiguous Palestinian state," "end game"--all of the terms that were excised from Oslo are in the road map.

It's a question of interpretation. Like the interpretation that we know Sharon has for the term "state," versus what Bush means by "state." Secondly, do the facts on the ground enable the Palestinians to achieve what the road map promises them, such as a contiguous state? When you look at the existing map that reflects the facts on the ground, you find that it is really unsuitable for a "viable state"--another term that is used in the road map.

In effect, there are three major bantustans and 64 clusters in the West Bank that are disconnected and fragmented. Then there's the wall being constructed by Israel, which extends for more than 300 kilometers. It's larger and longer than the Berlin Wall. It cuts across Palestinian territory, it takes away much of the fruit basket and the vegetable basket of the West Bank, and it sits on 82 percent of the water resources of the West Bank.

So there is a process of ethnic cleansing and land conquest that is taking place now. None of this was mentioned, either in the road map or in the June 4 Aqaba summit.

HAS THE development of these "facts on the ground" since the Oslo "peace" process begun in 1993 made it safer for Sharon to put promising language in the road map--safer in the sense that he'll never have to deliver anything?

CONCEIVABLY YES. When we look at the so-called peace process since the late 1960s, it's been driven by geopolitics, and it has been impeded by an imbalance of power. Now the imbalance of power has become even more colossal than it was during the Oslo process. And in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, there's no question that the U.S. and Israel feel emboldened by the strategic shift that they think they have achieved--that is, to intimidate Syria and the other Arab states, so that they will no longer insist on the Saudi plan of spring 2002, in which the Arab states offered to recognize Israel if Israel withdrew from the territories occupied in 1967.

I think all of this is presumed by Sharon as something that belongs to a bygone era--and that there are new realities on the ground. The settlements have more than doubled since Oslo began 10 years ago. Given all this, and given the fact that there's been pressures on the U.S. by the Quartet [the European Union, Russia, the United Nations, plus the U.S.], he might have felt that the time had come to open the drawer and pull out another plan, so to speak--put it on the table and pretend that there's diplomacy.

We've really had seven years of pretending during Oslo, while Israel was creating these facts on the ground that would make it less and less likely that a two-state solution would ever prevail. So today, on the one hand, you have a script, you have a framework, another peace plan that sounds wonderful on paper. But in fact, it can't be realized given the balance of power and the facts on the ground.

WHY DID Sharon seem to go along with the plan, only to torpedo it with a string of deadly attacks on Hamas and Palestinian civilians?

FIRST OF all, Sharon has never really gone along with the plan, because he made conditions. And the conditions were submitted formally by his Cabinet. Last year, there were 100 conditions, according to the Israeli press. But they were compressed into 14 that were published several weeks ago. When you look at these 14 amendments--which Bush promised to consider seriously, which is tantamount to acceptance of most of them--you'll find that as a condition to even proceed, Palestinians have to renounce the right of return, and the U.S. has to agree that the Quartet will not be involved in any monitoring.

So Sharon technically accepted the road map, but didn't really accept it. Moreover, he has been under some pressure from Bush to accept, who in turn has been under pressure to immerse himself in diplomacy after he shunned it and criticized Bill Clinton so stridently for having involved himself in it.

So here we have a president, who excels in war, now projecting himself as a man of peace. We are looking at a play on a stage--at sound bites. "Road map" is a sound bite, not a policy. For all these reasons, Sharon could not say no.

Let me add one other thing. Sharon has been saying no for a long time. When the road map was first revealed in fall 2002, Sharon succeeded in delaying it. During a visit to Washington, he was asked by a New York Times correspondent what he thought of the road map, and his answer was "I didn't even read it." And then the guy who didn't read it managed to postpone it, because he said that that Israeli elections were coming up. So he was given more time. Later on, he said that he needed more time still in order to form his Cabinet. Then he formed the cabinet--it took a while--and the road map was still on hold.

The third delay was that the Palestinians had to get their act together, because we are no longer accepting Yasser Arafat--that was made certain by Bush's June 2002 speech, and by Sharon. Together, Bush and Sharon have succeeded in sidelining Arafat and removing him from this whole process. So when it came time to chose a prime minister, the Palestinians named the person that Israel and Washington wanted--Mahmoud Abbas.

All in all, Sharon postponed the road map for about five months and finally ran out of reasons to say no. So he accepted it conditionally and provisionally before sabotaging it.

HOW DOES the ascension of Abbas to prime minister relate to the U.S. drive to wring concessions from the Palestinians?

Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, is obviously the choice of the Americans and the Israelis. That should remind us of the Karzai regime in Afghanistan. These are the kinds of models that these neoconservatives and Likudniks want to apply. In their view, he is a Palestinian Karzai. Now this is not exactly how Palestinians view him, but there's a segment of Palestinian public opinion that is looking at him as the choice of the Americans and Israelis.

Abu Mazen is one of the founders of the Fatah movement along with Arafat. He is probably the only other surviving founder--all the others have been killed by the Mossad, Israel's secret service. And Abu Mazen--or Abbas, as he prefers to be called these days--fancies himself an intellectual. So he's not exactly a politico. He's more of an introvert--who doesn't use flowery language, who's not comfortable in crowds, who doesn't like giving speeches. And moreover, he does not have an independent base like Arafat does.

He's facing an uphill task here, and when you look at the road map, you see that the threshold of requirements is really so high that it becomes nearly impossible for someone like him with a lack of legitimacy to meet these conditions. Which might lead one to believe that Sharon is probably betting from the beginning that Abbas will fail. And Bush may also be betting that he'll fail because, the conditions are impossible to meet without a change in the situation.

Ironically, the only one who can empower him is Sharon, because Sharon can normalize life for the Palestinians living under siege. For the past two-and-a-half years, Palestinians have been living like rats in holes, unable to move from one village to the next--and that includes ambulances--because of Israeli checkpoints that are spread across the West Bank and Gaza. Short of a decision by Sharon to allow Abbas to deliver, Abbas will be faced with failing to live up to the road map, or with the daunting prospect of starting a Palestinian civil war.

ABBAS HAS a popularity rating in the single digits, while Hamas enjoys an approval rating in the 40 percent range. Why?

Hamas is popular because, contrary to the conventional wisdom here in the U.S. and the common view that circulates through the mainstream media, Hamas wants a two-state solution, while Sharon doesn't want a two-state solution. But people in the West Bank--in the aftermath of the Aqaba summit--are beginning to wonder whether Abbas is really committed to the two-state solution. Or is he willing to accept a "provisional" Palestinian state with "provisional borders," with "attributes of sovereignty"? All of these terms come from the road map.

That is the difference. After Abbas' speech at Aqaba, people are beginning to wonder whether he's committed to standing up for their rights. He didn't mention Palestinian rights, and yet Abbas talked about terrorism--it seemed like Bush's speechwriters wrote his speech. This is what accounts for Hamas' popularity. People feel that at least Hamas is insisting we can't make more concessions--that the concessions have bottomed out, and that anything below this level is not going to produce any sovereignty or contiguity or a dignified existence.

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