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Impartiality in Palestine

Impartiality in Palestine

Brian Cloughley

Also published in

One wonders how many people in Washington have actually read the full text of the "Performance-based Road Map to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict". Precious few, to judge from the reaction on the part of influential figures who appear wedded to peculiar maps of their own.

The opening palaver is predictable, and surely emanates from the central office for paragraphs opening universal treaties (COPOUT) that I am convinced was created in Geneva in about 1920. The quill-wielding, stiff-collared bureaucrats in this sleepy hollow, I am certain, have sole responsibility for producing turgid yet uplifting and optimistic prefaces to international documents.

It was surely they who crafted the preamble to the UN Charter, the convening statement for the humbug Bandung Conference of 1955, the mellow absurdities heralding composition of the Organization of African Unity in 1963, and the almost meaningless foreword to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty five years later, in addition to so many other introductions of disjointed inelegance.

The 1972 Simla Accord between India and Pakistan was probably written in toto by a specially-flown-in obfuscation task force of Geneva Scribblers. The aspirations described in an international document with 'Performance-Based' in its title are doomed. Who judges the road map's progress? The outsiders who composed the Articles (the so-called Quartet, which includes almost everyone)? The UN Security Council? A neutral body? (Selected by whom?) The devil is in the detail, but naturally enough most world media produced only highlights and soundbites of the main body of the text. It is detail -- or lack of it -- that makes the document less of a road map than a mirage.

The opening words are "In Phase I the Palestinians immediately undertake an unconditional cessation of violence according to the steps outlined below; such action should be accompanied by supportive measures undertaken by Israel." Dwell, I ask you, on the meaning of "should". Reflect on this, for the word 'should' is not 'must', neither is it 'will'. It conveys a proposal consequent upon a command being obeyed. It is not mandatory that "supportive measures" be undertaken by Israel, even if suicide bombings cease. Then comes the double whammy: Palestine has to draw up a Constitution, while Israel "takes all necessary steps to help normalize Palestinian life".

Now at least this is an admission that Palestinian life, courtesy of the occupying power, is decidedly abnormal, which is Newspeak for disgusting. But what are "necessary steps"? These are laid down in the section on Security, which states, inter alia, that Israel will cease "attacks on civilians" (again, a welcome affirmation that the Israeli army has been attacking civilians, just as Palestinian terrorists have been attacking civilians), and cease "confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and property as a punitive measure or to facilitate Israeli construction."

This raises awkward questions about all the Palestinian property that has already been destroyed and confiscated. Is it to be restored to the owners, or compensation paid to the dispossessed? Not a word about that -- and there won't be, because it was Sharon himself who approved the building of 34 new settlements in the West Bank after he became prime minister. (The number of illegal Israeli enclaves built on confiscated Arab land has now reached 145 fully functional towns with uninterrupted electricity, sanitation and water supplies, unlike the hovel shanty towns in which dispossessed Palestinians are forced to exist.) The tiny concessions on troop withdrawal offered (not granted) by Sharon on Friday were cosmetic and intended to soften up world opinion before Bush makes his photo-opportunity visit to the Middle East.

Phase One was supposed to take place by yesterday. That's what it says: "Phase One : Ending Terror and Violence, Normalising Palestinian Life, and Building Palestinian Institutions. Present to May 2003." One wonders what new time frame will be laid down by Washington for its implementation, but little can be achieved this year in the way of 'normalization'.

The most important reaction has been production of Israel's 14 Reservations about this woolly (but well-intentioned) plan. This is irony indeed, because one is drawn to think of President Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points presented to the US Senate on 8 January 1918 in which he stated his commitment to "the principle of justice to all peoples and nationalities, and their right to live on equal terms of liberty and safety with one another, whether they be strong or weak." There are no equal terms of liberty permitted by Israel, because Reservation Number 9 is inflexible, in that "Issues that will not be discussed include Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip..." End of message. How can there be progress of any sort when Sharon is not prepared to even talk about illegal settlements?

The only mention of them is in Phase III, where the most sensitive issues are put forward as discussion points for an international conference to be held in 2004-2005, when it is intended to "launch a process... leading to a final permanent status resolution in 2005 including on borders, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements..." This is pie-in-the-sky. There are 200,000 Israeli colonists in the West Bank and 6000 in the Gaza region (where they have occupied 30 percent of the area), and there is no possibility whatever of these people leaving Arab land. And Reservation Point 5 is equally blunt: "The provisional state [of Palestine] will be fully demilitarised with no military forces. Israel will control all entry and exit, as well as air space." How could any nation accept this? Israel is to dictate who shall and shall not enter a sovereign state. The United Nations Organisation is "based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its members", but Israel's flat denial of equality is contemptuous refusal to abide by international norms -- in which stance it will be staunchly supported by Bush.

Another Israeli major condition for discussing the Road Map is Reservation Point IV, which lays down that "The monitoring mechanism will be under US management", which brings us closer, perhaps, to identifying who is to judge progress in this 'performance-based' process. But the word 'monitoring' is carefully chosen, because it does not involve control of any sort. Monitoring is simply "checking or warning about a situation" and is nothing to do with judging performance and identifying rights, wrongs or inadequacies. But even if it were, it is hardly likely that Bush could be impartial in either monitoring or judging Israeli activity.

Condoleeza Rice, the closest of the Bush coterie to the president, is ass ertively pro-Israel. She is also given to strange pronouncements, such as that quoted by the Washington Post which claimed she said that in the aftermath of the Iraq debacle it is necessary for America to "punish France and isolate Germany" for daring to state that the war on Iraq was illegal. Obviously she is just the person to encourage Bush to demonstrate tolerance and maturity on the international stage and engender confidence that Washington can act without bias in international disputes.

Rice proclaimed in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot last month that "the security of Israel is the key to the security of the world", which is a startling perspective on the part of the closest foreign policy adviser to the president of the United States. (Has she told Beijing this?) And at a most sensitive time in the Middle East, when Arab nations are anxiously examining every Washington signal to try to determine what US policy might involve, she pronounced that she feels "a deep bond to Israel".

She informed the Israeli public (and the world) that "I first visited Israel in 2000. I already felt than that I am returning home despite the fact this was a place I never visited. I have a deep affinity with Israel. I have always admired the history of the State of Israel and the hardness and determination of the people that founded it". "When I visited Mount Olives [sic], Lake Kinneret, Jerusalem, I felt a very deep emotional experience."

It is difficult to see how any Palestinian negotiator -- or anyone concerned with the road map in any way -- can be assured that the most influential adviser on foreign policy to the US president is capable of giving him moderate, materially objective and intellectually impartial advice about Israeli policy regarding the Palestinian people. The road map is impractical in its present form, but this is irrelevant. Rice speaks with the voice of Bush, and her public declaration of a "deep bond" with Israel is a signal that that the Palestinians will be sold down the river yet again.

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