In his inaugural speech before the Dead Sea extraordinary session of the World Economic Forum (WEF), His Majesty King Abdullah, urged the Palestinians, the Israelis and the international community to stay the course of Middle East peace. This peace, according to the King, can be reached by implementing the roadmap through “real commitment that will test our leadership, resources, and our deepest morality,” King Abdullah said.
Actually there is no question as to the genuine commitment of the Palestinian side, who had unconditionally accepted the roadmap the moment it was presented to the newly formed Palestinian Cabinet, and of the Arab side who, over a year ago, also endorsed the Arab Initiative at their Beirut annual ordinary summit, offering Israel full peace from every Arab country in return for an Israeli withdrawal to the June 1967 lines and an Israeli recognition of the Palestinian rights as defined by the UN resolutions and international law. This far-reaching Arab Initiative, also known as the (Saudi) Prince Abdullah initiative, has been included in the roadmap as a major component of the peace plan for what it stands for: a firm Arab commitment to recognise Israel and its right to exist in a state of unchallenged peace and guaranteed security once Israel decides to reciprocate this commitment.
There should be no question either about the commitment of the international community or, for that matter, the four members of the Quartet, of which the United Nations, representing the entire international community, forms only, indeed oddly, one part out of four — a quarter.
What remains crucially lacking, therefore, is Israel’s commitment; and what needs truly to be tested is the leadership and the morality of those, mainly in the United States, who indisputably have the power and the means, but not yet the will or the moral aptitude, to enforce the just and the appropriate implementation of the roadmap, rather than protecting Israel’s procrastination and destructive defiance of even a United States-sponsored and backed peace plan.
It is true, and it must be recognised, that without immense US pressure, the Sharon government would not have endorsed the roadmap. But it is also true that by endorsing the dozen or more reservations that Israel conditioned its acceptance upon, Washington has rendered the Israeli acceptance of the roadmap meaningless. What followed from that point on has been totally futile, obstructive, even dangerously counterproductive.
At the Aqaba summit, meant to further consolidate the resolve to advance the cause of peace, the Palestinian commitment was, as demanded, so unreserved and so unequivocal, that it got Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in serious trouble with his people for having accepted too much and, consequently, it weakened his ability to rein in the other resistance groups and make them abide by the position of the official Palestinian National Authority. Nevertheless, there was a clear, renewed, Palestinian commitment.
Ariel Sharon, on the other hand was not only allowed to renege on his previous sham commitment, he was also enabled to make additional illegal gains which further erode the Palestinian rights and distance the goal of peace. Rather than forcing his hand to stop the manoeuvring and the playing of tricks and games, and to clarify his commitment instead, he was offered the needed opportunity to escape under the guise of more of his well-known linguistic deceptions and hoaxes.
One of the essential elements of the roadmap is the required freeze on settlement activity by Israel. Sharon managed, in Aqaba, with full American endorsement, to reduce this demand to a mere promise of removing “unauthorised outposts”. Even in the Israeli and American press, the towing away of uninhabited caravans and temporary kiosks, originally placed for the sole purpose of making their removal later look like a great Israeli concession to peace, is no more than a laughable gimmick which should never be part of any serious debate relating to the destiny and peace of millions of Arabs and Jews in this troubled region.
The other roadmap promise of ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has been treated in the same shifty Sharonian manner and with the same unhelpful summit endorsement. When Sharon surprised the world, few days before the Sharm El Sheikh and Aqaba summits, uttering the word “occupation”, which is strictly banned in Israeli lexicon, it was hailed by many as a breakthrough. It turned out to be no more than another of his gimmicks. He repeated it in Aqaba, though, meaning that it is the occupation of the Palestinian people, not the Palestinian land which is to be ended.
His plan to herd the West Bank Palestinians in four cantons, covering no more than 42 per cent of the West Bank territory, which will be subjected to wholesale Israeli occupation, and separated from each other by the settlements, was also tacitly granted at the summit. The only price Sharon had to pay for this was to include in his statement a mischievous mention of the contiguity of the “Palestinian state”; mischievous because if the roadmap truly means what it says about ending the occupation, up to the June 4 lines, as also indicated in the Arab Initiative, the Sharon promise of contiguity would be totally irrelevant.
Another dangerous gain Sharon went back home from the summit with was the newly formulated recognition of “the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state”, adding to its already exclusionist and discriminatory, if not outright racist, nature another dimension. Apparently, Abbas had declined the American demand that he himself announce the new recognition to seal once and for all any Palestinian follow up on the issue of the right of return, which is clearly the main purpose behind this novel idea. The danger, though, transcends the fatal elimination of the inalienable rights of the diaspora Palestinians well into the realm of the one million or more Israeli Palestinian Arabs whose existence in Israel would be directly and immediately threatened, as their status would be delegitimised for not being Jewish.
To compound all the obstructive behaviour of the Israeli government, actions on the ground, the assassinations and the routine atrocities, have been so frequent that, on the one hand, it was impossible not to provoke retaliation and, on the other, it was equally impossible for the PNA to enforce its orders of banning any form of Palestinian violence against the Israelis while the Israelis continue their attack. The Hebron assassination, last Saturday, of the Hamas member Abdullah Qawasmeh and the assassinations that followed in Beit Hanoun on Monday are only more flagrant example of Israeli indifference and effrontery.
Was Israel firmly asked by the United States to stop these assassinations and provocative actions as an essential prerequisite for pacification? Probably it was, but the Israelis reserved for themselves the right to attack if there is a “ticking bomb”, and that obviously provides ample cover for any assassination which Israel could claim with usual impunity, even understanding, as it always did, that it was a ticking bomb.
How could any true implementation of the roadmap be possible under the current circumstances? Instead of demanding Israeli compliance, Washington continues to facilitate Sharon’s evasiveness and escapism, continues to give acceptance to his trickery, and continues to follow him in the blind alleys of loss and detours to nowhere.
With or without the map, the road to peace is straightforward, short and well-known. It has been known for a very long time, but Israel has banned it for the traffic of the peace-makers and it still does. It is the occupation, all of it, that is at the root of all problems. Shifting our concern from the cause to the symptom is also at the root of all failures.
Violence, all forms of violence, should indeed go, but its causes should be removed first. It is utterly ridiculous to pour oil on the fire with one hand and hold the extinguisher with the other and wonder why the fire continues to rage. It is equally ridiculous to ignore the occupation, its fierce ruthlessness, its torture of innocent people and its humiliating injustice, and wonder why the Palestinians continue to resist.
Violence will cease to exist once the occupation has ended. At that point, the Israelis and the Palestinians will live in peace and enjoy full security, and so will all the people in the region. Otherwise, all the tricks and all the gimmicks — such as resorting, again, to the subcontracting of the Israeli security in certain sectors of Gaza (and Bethlehem this time instead of Jericho) to test the ability of the destroyed Palestinian police, the disarming of the Palestinians and punishing them for being terrorists, the removal of “unauthorised outposts” and caravans to disguise the continued building of settlements, and the continued Israeli procrastination until the established facts on the ground match the extent of the Zionist vast territorial ambitions, will not bring us one inch closer to peace or one inch further from violence.
The only fact is that the United States has the power to make things work. Until it decides to do so, the region will have to be kept on tranquillisers.
The writer is a regular EI contributor and former ambassador of Jordan to the UN.