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Give the Road Map a Chance

David Miller Online

Give the Road Map a Chance

It does not take an expert in International Affairs to realise that the US backed ‘Road Map’ for the Middle East is already in trouble. Less than two weeks after the Palestinian and Israeli Prime Minister’s signed the new agreement there has been bloodshed and the placing of blame on both sides. Even though the dialogue is being maintained and Ariel Sharon has pledged to remove settlements in the Occupied Territories the outlook for the Bush plan does not look promising. There is much opposition within Israel to the plan and any ceding of land while the Palestinian militants have refused to call a ceasefire. So can this peace plan succeed where others have failed?

The prognosis does not look promising. The Palestinian Authority for whatever reason does not appear capable of stemming the activities of Hamas, Islamic Jihad or any other dissent group. Israel contends that the P.A. is unwilling to take action rather than incapable. Whether one agrees with this or not is a matter of personal opinion and not one that will be discussed here but it does not alter the fact that the extremists are still able to operate with devastating effect. For their part, the Israelis continue to carry out military operations against Palestinian targets in the Occupied Territories and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat remains confined to his headquarters in Ramallah. After each terrorist attack, the Israelis open fire with f-16 fighter planes and Apache helicopter gun-ships and move tanks and infantry into Palestinian ruled towns and despite this the suicide bombers still return.

The problem that Israel faces is that no matter how much firepower and military might it uses it cannot prevent low level attacks from taking place. The latest suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus demonstrates the effectiveness and the lethality of the Palestinian suicide tactics. For a start the choice of soft targets such as this is random and without first rate intelligence there is no way of knowing which target is next. There is also the fact that the weapon in these attacks is simply one person and in no way to prevent these people from infiltrating the Israeli cities. The latest bomber was disguised as an Orthodox Jew and unless the security forces are prepared to screen every person in the street then there is no way that the bombers can be stopped. If they are prepared to use such tactics then one of them will slip through the net.

The final problem here is that the operatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not afraid to die for their cause. This is the Palestinians most lethal weapon as it demonstrates the difficulty in defending ones people against those who are trying to kill you and who have accepted that they too will be killed in the process. This was the reason September 11 was as devastating as it was. Had the al-Qaeda operatives wanted to live to see the results of their mission, they probably would have resorted to using a car bomb or similar devise and there is a greater possibility that they would have been stopped in the act or trying to make their getaway as was the case in the first World Trade Centre attack in 1993.

What is happening here is that Israel is not learning the lessons that have plagued the British in Northern Ireland. In that conflict, as with the Middle East, there is an armed force deployed with massive amounts of firepower and resources and one that has not been able to defeat a small terrorist force. Here the two sides in such close proximity that it is difficult for the British to find the terrorists as they hide among their own communities and as each generation has come of age so too have another group of men willing to fight and if necessary die for their cause. The British have dealt with the Northern Ireland situation by opening dialogue with the republican groups and offering concession. They had little choice. They were tiring of the conflicts and the attacks made on their people and they could see that the intractable nature of the conflict made victory impossible.

Whether it wants to or not, IsraeI must make the first concrete move towards implementing the Road Map and towards finding a peace. I say this not through any bias but from a practical point of view. Israel should follow the British example and offer dialogue with the Palestinians and if necessary, offer them their state and freedom. That way Israel places the emphasis for peace squarely with Mr. Arafat and Mr. Abbas and their people and it becomes their decision as to whether they really do want calm and stability in their region. Such a step would isolate the extremists who only find strength in the repression and occupation and whose call to violence seems attractive to those people who can't see any solution to the problem and do not trust the US or the West. If a solution is presented then the support base for the extremists will diminish. While the PA must do what it can to curb the terrorists, Israel must not allow moderate Palestinians to move further away from them or they will let peace slip through their fingers once again and there are only so many chances for it to be realised.

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