ME Peace Plan Unraveling with Threats to Arafat
From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Sept. 22, 20023
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Interview with Hussein Ibish, communications director with the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, conducted by Scott Harris
Listen in RealAudio: http://www.btlonline.org/ibish092603.ram
The Bush administration's Middle East peace plan, known as the "road map," has quickly unraveled over the last month. The breakdown of a cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants, coupled with the resignation of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has shattered hope that the plan could diminish escalating violence and pave the way for a negotiated settlement. The cease-fire fell apart soon after Israel targeted leaders of the militant Islamic group Hamas for assassination, which in turn triggered a series of Palestinian suicide bombings, killing Israeli civilians in buses and restaurants.
A declaration by Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's government to "remove" Yasser Arafat has drawn international criticism. Israeli Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's public statement that Arafat could be removed from his besieged Ramallah compound either by expulsion or assassination further deepened the crisis atmosphere and was condemned by nations around the world, including the United States. In reaction to the threat against their leader, thousands of Palestinians recently gathered at Arafat's compound vowing to defend him against any Israeli attack.
Between the Lines Scott Harris spoke with Hussein Ibish, communications director with the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, who looks at the underlying cause of the road map's failure and the dangers that lie ahead for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Hussein Ibish: I think that the "road map" (peace plan) was never going to be implemented as written, first of all because the Sharon government was totally opposed to it; they made it very clear. Sharon himself tacitly accepted it with 14 reservations, which is a little bit like being asked, "Will you take this man or woman to be your lawfully wedded spouse," and saying, "Yeah, I do, with 14 reservations." I mean it's effectively a "no" answer.
Also, the Palestinian extremists didn't want anything to do with it either. That is to say Hamas and Islamic Jihad. So I think that between the two of them, these right-wing Israeli extremists and the right-wing Palestinian extremists, managed to combine to kill the thing.
I mean Mahmoud Abbas was able to get himself installed as Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, he was able to engineer against all conceivable odds this unilateral cease-fire that held for almost three months, during which time 22 Palestinians were assassinated by Israel. At some point, there was going to be a breaking point.
I think the Sharon government was bound and determined to provide the Palestinian extremist groups with an excuse to do something horrible, or a reason to do something horrible to give him the excuse to go on the rampage again to destroy the thing. They (the Palestinian extremists) of course, as they always do, played right into his hands in the most reckless and idiotic fashion. Most notably through the Jerusalem bus bombing that killed over 20 people, many of them children. And so then Sharon was able to go on the offensive again and Prime Minister Abbas was killed, the road map was killed, etc.
Additionally, there is the role of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and I think it is true that he wasn't helpful to Abbas and he wasn't helpful in this attempt to start the road map. And I think one of the reasons for that is that the whole success of Abbas was supposed to signal the end of Arafat. I think that had, however, the United States played the role that it purported to want to play -- the Bush administration setting itself up as an arbiter who was going to hold both sides strictly to account to meet their obligations -- there would have been progress and Arafat could have been part of the solution rather than -- as the Israelis and the United States accuse him of being now -- part of the problem.
Between The Lines: The Israeli government under Ariel Sharon, has recently issued a decision to expel, or as they put it, "remove" Yasser Arafat by expulsion or assassination as articulated by Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Hussein Ibish: And Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz I might add, at least two senior (Israeli) figures.
Between The Lines: What is the design behind this obviously inflammatory statement and plan put out by this Israeli government?
Hussein Ibish: I think the obvious intention here is to inflame the conflict and to create a situation where there is no going back from it. I think that's the most crucial thing. It's not just that the Sharon government understands that this would be a colossal escalation that would produce rage and deepen and greatly intensify both the cycle of vengeance that's been going on, but also the parties involved by bringing the mainstream PLO, the mainstream Fatah (faction,) the mainstream Palestinian Authority, into the war that has, generally speaking, been going on between the Israeli government and the Islamists. It would be an attempt, deliberately, to bring in the mainstream secular Palestinian nationalists into that cycle. Getting rid of Arafat would inflame and intensify the conflict, which they want as a general rule -- number one -- and number two, it would produce a situation where conflict was all that was left.
Between The Lines: Hussein Ibish, just a final question here. Are we likely to see any change in the Bush administration's policy here in terms of their reluctance to put pressure on the Israeli government to compromise in the future on some kind of negotiated settlement, some plan that might have a chance for resolving this decades-long conflict?
Hussein Ibish: I'm afraid not and I think the reason for that is not anything particular to the Bush administration, but it has to do with the constellation of forces that exist in American domestic politics.
I think the questions about Israel, generally speaking -- certainly about Israel and the Palestinians, Israel and Lebanon, Israel and Syria etc. -- are not foreign policy questions in the American political scene. I think they're domestic political questions because the motivating, driving force is not American national interests, but primarily it's principally the wishes and opinions and moods of an incredibly powerful set of special interests -- kind of an alliance of special interests -- that includes major Jewish organizations, the evangelical Christian movement, the neo-conservative movement, many powerful liberals, all of whom demand unconditional support for Israel and its colonial occupation. And no matter what Israel does it should not be questioned, it should supported absolutely without conditions, unlike any other country in the world. So these are forces that are not to be taken lightly.
At the same time, any president who wants to actually create or help to play a constructive role for the first time in a long time in a serious way in the Middle East -- and actually produce results rather than efforts that don't succeed -- would be able to harness public opinion and could take on this collection of special interests. But it would require kind of a determination, expenditure of political capital and guts that we haven't seen for a while and is still lacking from the Bush administration, which suffers greatly from the fact that it's split on this issue as with so many others, both in terms of foreign policy especially and also domestic issues.
Contact the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee at (202) 244-2990 or visit the group's website at http://www.adc.org
Related links on our website at http://www.btlonline.org/btl092603.html#1hed:
-"A Disaster Foretold," by Uri Avnery, ZNet, Sept. 16, 2003
-"One State: Preparing for a Post Road-Map Struggle Against Apartheid," by Jeff Halper, ZNet, Sept. 16, 2003
-"Middle East Roadmap for Peace May Lead to a Dead End," interview with Rabbi Michael Lerner, by Scott Harris, Between The Lines, June 6, 2003
-"Guaranteed Failure of the Road Map," by Tanya Reinhart, ZNet, May 15, 2003
- Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on over 30 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( http://www.btlonline.org), for the week ending Sept. 26, 2003. Between The Lines Q&A is compiled by Anna Manzo and Scott Harris.
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