Israel the roadblock to peace in Middle East
The peace process has been just that - a process with no real outcomes.
EVERYONE wants to see "peace" between Israel and the Arabs. It has now dawned on most people that the terrorist attacks on America and Europe, the al-Qaeda rhetoric about the suffering of fellow Muslims, and the instability in the Middle East are connected with the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The previous British prime minister, Tony Blair, realised this truth while still in office. In his new post as Middle East envoy for the Quartet (the European Union, Russia, the US and the UN), he has put peacemaking in Israel/Palestine at the top of his agenda. The vehicle for this, so beloved of Western policy makers, is the "peace process", a bland term that suggests something is being done while absolving the major players of any responsibility for real thought or action.
The peace process began in 1993 with the Oslo Agreement drawn up between then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The agreement was supposed to eventually resolve the conflict through stages, ending implicitly in the creation of a Palestinian state. Instead, it initiated years of broken agreements and interminable negotiations, all called "the peace process", and ended in 2000 with the second intifada and the current crisis.
No attempt was made to confront the causes for Oslo's failure, and more peace proposals followed. The Tenet plan and then the Mitchell Report came and went, and in 2002 the "road map" was devised. This called for phased and monitored peace moves between Israel and the Palestinians towards a settlement, supervised by the Quartet, and whose end would be a Palestinian state by 2005. But this also floundered.
A US-inspired international peace conference, planned for next month, is the latest attempt to revive the "peace process". It will bring Israelis, Palestinians and several Arab states together in Washington to endorse a "statement of principles" between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
No negotiations are anticipated, since the parties are expected to have drawn up an agreement before the meeting.
The Arab states, which are reluctant to attend without an agreed agenda, are under US pressure to do so, but may not come. On the face of it, this initiative is more doomed than those before it. Olmert and Abbas are weak leaders with little popular support. Worse still, Abbas represents only one side of the split between Fatah, his party, and Hamas in Gaza. The latter is thus automatically excluded from any deal agreed to at the Washington meeting.
All these manoeuvrings are ostensibly about solving the conflict. But in reality, they substitute process for substance. Finding a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is not the problem. The parameters have been clear for decades: Israel's withdrawal from the 1967-occupied territories, the creation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and the right of return of refugees. These are also the components of the 2002 Saudi plan and offer Israel full normalisation of relations with the Arab states in exchange.
The plan is in line with international law and has the support of the Western powers. Yet it has no chance of succeeding, nor has any other peace proposal not to Israel's liking.
And that is the nub of the problem. Israel, which ceaselessly professes its desire for peace, has never initiated a peace proposal of its own and has prevaricated when offered one. By postponing a settlement indefinitely, it has sought to gain time to colonise more Palestinian land, making that colonisation irreversible. This ploy has succeeded marvellously.
Today, Israel controls 46 per cent of the West Bank and the whole of Jerusalem. By building its barrier wall on West Bank territory, it has annexed the best Palestinian agricultural land and 80 per cent of its water to the Israeli side of the wall.
It dominates every aspect of Palestinian life, which it has transformed into a living hell through checkpoints and closures, arbitrary arrests, collective punishments, house demolitions and a vicious economic siege.
The dire effects of this regime have all been documented by the World Bank and various aid organisations. Yet this abuse of human rights, condemned by every international agency and legal body, even by some Israelis, continues unchecked.
A real peace process would have started here. By forcing Israel to accept that peace involves giving, not just taking, a proper settlement could begin to emerge. America, which could have made a difference, is hamstrung by its domestic subservience to the Israel lobby, and the EU seems incapable of extricating itself from US policy.
So what will happen? Only three outcomes are possible: doing nothing (the current position), moving towards a two-state solution or creating one common state.
Leaving the status quo to fester will lead to more desperate acts of violence and more dangerous instability. Israel's colonisation has left the Palestinians with enclaves of land, separated by Jews-only roads and "security areas", cut off from each other and from Gaza, making the two-state solution as previously envisaged beyond reach.
Linking the Palestinian enclaves to Jordan in a confederation is under consideration as the only way to preserve a semblance of a Palestinian state, but it is far from agreed on.
That leaves the one-state option, rejected out of hand by Israel and its supporters, and viewed as hopelessly utopian by many others. And yet, it is the only one of the three that offers any hope of a lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians and, by extension, everyone else.
But while power lies with Israel and its supporters, all solutions that Israel rejects will be pipe dreams.
Ghada Karmi is a Palestinian academic at the University of Exeter, Britain, and the author of Married to another man: Israel's dilemma in Palestine.
She will give a public lecture at 6.30pm today at the Copeland Theatre, Melbourne University.
I just noticed that Ghada's book, "Married to Another Man: Israel's Dilemma in Palestine", is published by Pluto Books. This is IMPORTANT, Pluto Press is currently under grave attack through the University of Michigan which distribute their books in the US. In October, UM is holding a meeting at which they are considering canceling their distribution agreement with Pluto Press. Read about it HERE and what you can do to hopefully prevent this from occurring.
in the Middle East mentioning US "policy" towards Palestine HERE.