Where will this road map really lead?

LONDON — Recently I listened to a BBC World Service report on the situation in Colombia, where for decades, FARC, a left wing faction, has waged an unrelenting campaign against government forces. Both sides have committed atrocities and the civilian population has suffered accordingly. No end to the conflict is in sight. Yet in the report, the BBC never once used the word “terrorist” in referring to FARC fighters — guerrillas, yes; militants, yes; armed revolutionaries, yes. Terrorists, no. This was not an oversight.

The FARC insurrection exceeds the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in terms of intensity, perhaps even in terms of pain and suffering. Furthermore, FARC’s aims are unclear. Consequently, FARC has been unable to legitimise its struggle in the way that Palestinians justify theirs. In contrast, the Palestinian cause — the liberation of land from foreign occupation — is understood and generally considered to be just by objective observers. Gaza and the West Bank — the Occupied Territories — are all that remain of the territory the Palestinians have tended and farmed for centuries. The building of illegal Israeli settlements and settler roads, and the annexation of Palestinian wells and aquifers, are remorselessly eroding even this rump of land.

Is it not strange, therefore, that the BBC awards FARC fighters the sobriquet of guerrilla and Palestinians the title of terrorist? Why is it that the Palestinian and FARC cases are treated so differently? Is it because of the resistance tactics employed by the Palestinians? Israeli tactics are nothing to gloat about either — firing tank shells into civilian areas, bombing crowded refugee camps from F16s and undertaking extra-judicial assassinations. No media outlet calls the IDF (the Israeli Army) terrorists, yet as an occupying force, Israel has the added duty of care for civilians under the Fourth Genevan Convention.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Palestinians are called terrorists simply because their adversary is Israel, a crucial strategic Western ally and friend. What is more, the Palestinians have the misfortune to be the victims of the victims. As a consequence, the Palestinians are the West’s enemies and are demonised accordingly. By association, Palestinian supporters are also demonised. Syria is a case in point.

The Syrians give succour to Hizbollah — a group actively engaged in encouraging those who are resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, and who also successfully uprooted the IDF from south Lebanon. Worse still, Hizbollah has “form”. If it had not been for Hizbollah the Israeli Army would still be in southern Lebanon. It is the only force ever to have defeated Israel’s military might. It is hardly a surprise therefore that the Syrians are demonised along with the Palestinians and that the world is encouraged to forget that Israel still occupies the most fertile land in Syria — the Golan Heights.

In the politics of the Middle East, justice seldom gets a glance; in fact, it is often stood on its head. Worse still, electorates in the West are not told the truth. In the UK both the government and the opposition parties have consistently failed to condemn Israeli actions — appeasement by another name! Why are we fed a diet of half-truths and lies? Could it be that the British public would object to what is done in its name if it knew the facts? Is this how democracy is supposed to function, or are we to assume that the system is corrupt?

American power is paramount. The US can impose its messianic message wherever it wishes. Not to comply is heresy and risks inviting economic sanctions, exclusion from the WTO, freezing of World Bank or IMF funding, or, in extreme cases military attack. Will this new American zeal make the world a safer place? Will living under the American political and cultural umbrella make those billions of people around the world who are without a voice, are discriminated against, hungry and humiliated pacified? Will this unilateral “good” vs. “evil” approach make them compliant?

We now witness the publication of the Middle East Road Map, the latest attempt to resolve the Israeli/Palestinian impasse. Cynics will expect Israel to prevaricate and demand amendments and President Bush to lack conviction in the face of a US election in 2004. Cynics will no doubt recall Sharon’s oft-stated belief that it is necessary to inflict a devastating defeat on the Palestinians before peace can be agreed to. They will also remember the words of General Moshe Ya’alon, the IDF chief of staff, when he said that the aim is to lead the Palestinians to internalise “in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people”. Is this the appropriate mindset for an equitable peace?

The danger exists that a watered down version of the much delayed Road Map may be imposed on Palestinians exhausted by fifty years of struggle and shorn of any sort of support from Iraq and Syria — a peace plan which will leave strategically important Israeli settlements in place, water resources controlled by Israel, refugees refused the right of return and the status of East Jerusalem fudged. In effect, the Road Map may turn out to be a sticking plaster on a festering boil, leaving poison embedded beneath. The Palestinians must not be forced into that predicament. It would be a tragedy if the Road Map should become another example of apparent success leading to failure.

Contact Nick Pretzlik at upretzlik@yahoo.co.uk