Sat, 12 Apr 2003

The road map for a Palestinian state

Ghayoor Ahmed Former Ambassador of Pakistan The Dawn Asia News Network Karachi

In a surprise announcement on March 14 United States President George W. Bush conveyed his willingness to spell out the 'road map' for the Palestinian statehood as soon as President Yasser Arafat formally announced the appointment of his deputy, Mahmood Abbas, a moderate, as prime minister of Palestine.

This announcement was viewed as a desperate attempt to offset the adverse effects of Bush's pro-Israeli policies, with a view to seeking the Arab leaders' support for his war against Iraq.

Bush's announcement was also timed to assuage the European Union which considers the long-standing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians a potential threat to international peace and security. British Prime Minister Tony Blair also focused his attention on the road map for the Middle East in an effort to illustrate what he called an even handed approach to the region. He also said that the proposed peace plan would result in a comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by 2005.

President Yasser Arafat has already appointed Mahmood Abbas as prime minister of Palestine but, in the meantime, Bush has unleashed a war on Iraq. Thus, the issue of the road map has been overtaken by the events and seems to have been relegated into the background. Arafat has termed the war on Iraq a 'coup' against the region. Political analysts are of the opinion that the coming weeks could be the bloodiest in the history of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict as, taking advantage of the world's attention on Iraq, Israel may commit massive violence against the Palestinians, who are already beleaguered and suffering atrocities for two years.

In any case, the fate of the proposed plan for Palestinian statehood has become uncertain since the after-effects of the current war on Iraq are bound to have far-reaching political and economic ramifications in the region. Israel, a protege of the U.S., is likely to benefit the most from the war. It may emerge as the strongest power in the Middle East, playing a dominant role in any future regional scheme of things.

Regrettably, some of the Gulf states, by siding with the United States in its war against Iraq, have not only betrayed a brotherly neighbor at a critical time but have also failed to realize that by doing so, they have jeopardized their own long- term interests -- indeed their very existence as sovereign states.

Iraq will remain but what about these tiny specks on the map? In fact, the emergence of Israel as a dominant power in the region, in nexus with India, should also be a cause for concern for Pakistan as well; it should devise a strategy to face the challenge with a view to protecting its present and future geo- political interests.

The proposed road map to be implemented in three phases by 2005, involves a freeze on the Israeli settlements. Israel controls almost 42 percent of the West Bank and its settlements and bypass roads have virtually encircled the occupied East Jerusalem, making it impossible for the Palestinians to develop and expand this, their most important urban center.

Israel's "security wall", parts of which are nearly 25 feet high, has more to do with the seizure of the Palestinian land than with its own security. The wall is not being built on the side of an Israel's border but in the occupied Palestinian territory in such a way as to separate the Palestinians from their adjoining farmlands and water resources. Many Palestinians believe that what Ariel Sharon has in mind is a "ghetto" Palestinian state surrounded by Israeli settlements. For obvious reasons, the Palestinians will not accept such a state.

The Palestinians remain deprived of their inalienable right to self-determination, to have an independent state of their own in their own land as envisaged by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 181 of Nov. 29, 1947, which provides for the establishment in Palestine of a "Jewish state" and a "Palestine state".

Ironically, of the two states to be created under this resolution, only one, Israel, has so far come into being, while the one for the Palestinians has been relegated to a secondary position. It appears that the Palestinian state had been perceived only as a byproduct of the Jewish state.

Since September 1993, a number of important developments have taken place in the peace process between the Palestinians and Israel, most notable among them being their mutual recognition by the PLO and Israel.

These developments led to the withdrawal of Israeli forces from most of the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority there.

The signing of the Sharm-el-Sheikh memorandum, in September 1999, had rekindled the hope of a durable peace between the PLO and Israel. The Camp David summit, in July 2000, had reaffirmed the commitment of the two parties to a lasting peace in the Middle East on the basis of mutually guaranteed security for a Palestinian state and Israel.

Unfortunately, however, Israel's frequent incursions into the Palestinian-controlled areas and its use of brute force there in the name of self-defense has disrupted the Oslo peace process. Its military offensives against the Palestinians have not only undermined the Palestinian Authority's position but have also damaged its security and civilian infrastructure.

Israel also continues to reject any solution to the question of the Palestinian refugees and has unilaterally annexed Jerusalem in open violation of the UN resolution of the future status of the Holy City. Thus, Israel is responsible for the most distressing developments in the region; unless there is a real change in its policy it would be difficult to bring about a resolution of the long-standing Palestine problem by peaceful means.

For the last 55 years the Palestinians have been demanding justice in accordance with the principles of international law, the UN Charter and the decisions of the United Nations. It is heartening that the U.S. has reaffirmed its vision of a region where two states, Palestine and Israel, may coexist side by side.

However, the prospects of the proposed Palestinian independent state, which Israel considers anathema to its long-term interests in the region, will become bleak if Tel Aviv does not withdraw its forces behind the lines as they existed on June 4, 1967, and gives up its opposition to the establishment of a sovereign, independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state.

If Washington is indeed serious in its search for peace in the Middle East, it will have to redouble its efforts to ensure an early and equitable solution of the Palestine problem.