nly a few months have passed since discussion
of the ‘Road
Map’ dominated the headlines about the conflict in
Israel and Palestine. Optimists hailed the plan as the best
chance for peace in a generation. In particular, they applauded
the apparent change of heart on the part of the Bush administration,
not only to play an active part in brokering a peace deal,
but in recognising that a viable Palestinian state was as
vital to such a deal as a secure Israel.
Other commentators were more sceptical, not least about
the Bush administrations motives in the light of the conflict
in Iraq. But even most of the sceptics conceded that as ‘the
only show in town’, the Road Map process had to be
given as fair a wind as possible by both the parties involved
and the international community if a viable two-state solution
was to be achieved.
All those debates seem like a long time ago. As I write
this article for Chartist early in October, the last week
witnessed 20 people killed by a suicide bomb in Haifa, the
dangerous international escalation of the conflict when Israel ‘responded’ with
an air strike on Syria, a further suicide bombing near an
Israeli army post in the West Bank, and several more Israeli
military incursions into towns and villages in the Occupied
Territories. The latest of these - an attack on the Rafah
refugee camp in Gaza – claimed seven lives, including
those of two Palestinian boys aged 8 and 15. 50 more were
injured. At the political level, the last two months have
also seen one Palestinian Prime Minister resign. The future
of his successor is also uncertain this week as arguments
have erupted in the Palestinian Legislative Council over
the appointment of a new ‘emergency cabinet’ by
Yasser Arafat, apparently with precious little consultation.
So where does all this leave the Road Map and the prospects
for peace? The respected Israeli human rights activist, Jeff
Halper, probably had it just about right earlier in the year
when he described the Road Map process as the last chance
for a two-state solution. Bogged down in the quagmire of
Iraq and with a Presidential election coming up, trying to
get to grips with the complexities of the Israel/Palestine
issue may seem less of a prority for the Bush administration.
Instead, the White House could slip back into a comfort zone,
encouraged by Ariel Sharon and the neo-cons, of simplistically
treating the problem as one of ‘terror.’ Of course,
the Road Map is not owned by the US alone. Published by the
so-called ‘Quartet’, its authors also include
the United Nations, the European Union and Russia. But will
they be either willing or able to put sufficient pressure
on the parties to abide by their responsibilities under the
plan without the active engagement of the USA?
If, the answer is no, it could be years before another
serious international initiative sees the light of day. By
according to Halper, the situation on the ground will have
moved on so far that it would be simply impossible to create
a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Securing Israel’s position in the Occupied Territories
by creating ‘facts on the ground’ which are impossible
to reverse has long been a central part of Ariel Sharon’s
strategy. Anybody who visits the area today can see how far
that has already happened. Ever expanding Israeli settlements
monopolise the hills of the West Bank and a network of new
by-pass roads, which to Palestinians are not allowed to use,
are already cutting the territory into segments and establishing
a matrix of entrenched Israeli control. The discriminatory
use of planning laws, building regulations, and residence
rules are combining to de-arabise occupied East Jerusalem
at the same time as the borders of the Israeli municipality
of Jerusalem are expanding. Originally, the Israeli Labour
Party idea of a Security Wall or fence to separate the Occupied
Territories from Israel did not fit easily with the ‘facts
on the ground’ approach, but as, in practice, the Wall
is now being built inside the Occupied Territories rather
than between them and Israel, the resulting expropriation
of land and water resources is far more compatible with the
It won’t take much longer, for all this to have advanced
so far as to be irreversible. When it is, no viable Palestinian
state will be possible. Maybe a series of Bantustans dotted
across the West Bank and Gaza, but that is about all.
These things could destroy the dream of an independent
Palestine. But, as Halper has observed, they could also mean
for Israel as a Jewish state. Bluntly, if Palestinians are
simply corralled into their Bantustans with control over
few natural resources and no hope for the future, then the
chances of an end to violent resistance would also be zero.
Such an arrangement would also not be sustainable economically.
The only way such a scenario could be viable would be for
the Palestinian areas to be merged over time into a greater
and colonial Israel – providing a pool of labour for
the settler cities down the road and dependent on those cities
for access to water and other resources. In other words,
the occupation would have to be accepted as permanent.
But that would present its own impossible conundrum for
Israel. Already, the birth rate for the minority Palestinian
inside Israel is much higher than that for its Jewish citizens.
If Israel ends up turning its occupation of the West Bank
into effective annexation, a non-Jewish majority for the
new ‘greater Israel’ will be only a short time
away. This will be the case even if Israel was happy to cut
Gaza adrift and continue to deny the right of return to Palestinian
refugees living in the diaspora. Sure, Israel could continue
to deny the vote to Arab West Bankers whilst maintaining
it for Jewish residents of the West Bank as their settlements
are regarded more and more as mainstream Israeli towns and
cities. But in the long term, would it be any more sustainable
for a greater Israel to deny the basic rights of citizenship,
on the grounds of race, to its majority population, than
it was for White South Africa?
If the Road Map process does indeed disappear into the
dust, Jeff Halper is probably right that it could herald
of both Zionism and Palestinian nationalism and the start
of a struggle against a new form of Apartheid. Interestingly,
the power of this logic is also just starting to dawn on
parts of the mainstream Left of Israeli politics. Avraham
Burg, a former Speaker of the Knesset, took up a similar
theme in an article recently published both in the Israeli
paper, Ha’aretz, and in The Guardian. As a Jewish state,
he argued, Israel can have democracy or it can maintain the
occupation. It cannot have both. (Avraham Burg: “The
end of Zionism - Israel must shed its illusions and choose
between racist oppression and democracy” The Guardian:
September 15th 2003).
Such voices are still in the minority. But the logic is
compelling. It is something that, sooner or later, Israelis
as a whole
will have to face. That logic is reflected in the recently
announced Alternative Peace Plan known as the ‘Geneva
Accord.’ Facilitated by the Swiss Government, the plan
has been drawn up by a number of Israeli opposition politicians,
academics and senior Palestinian figures. Avraham Burg himself
is one of the authors. The plan has already been condemned
by the Sharon government and it is difficult to see exactly
what will happen to it in the current climate. The details
of the plan had not been published at the time this article
was written. Reports suggest, however, that it challenges
some traditional Palestinian thinking on the shape of a settlement
for the refugees and that is likely to be met with less than
unanimous approval amongst them.
But it is also a powerful reminder to the Israeli public
of the central point that Burg and others have been trying
to make. The creation of a viable and independent Palestine
is as important to the future character of their own state
as it is for the Palestinians.
As for the international community, the message is also
stark. Time is running out for the two state solution envisaged
by the Road Map and required by countless UN resolutions.
If we still believe in it, we must make sure it happens.
That means doing more than condemning the violence. It also
means requiring an end to those things that are not only
illegal but which, if left unchecked, will make such a two-state
solution impossible. So it is not just desirable to stop
settlement expansion and the land grab of the security wall.
It is imperative.
If Israel will not cooperate, then the UN must be prepared
to impose economic sanctions to uphold its authority. And
for Britain in particular, there are some choices to be made.
There is little doubt that Tony Blair played an important
role in getting George Bush to sign up to the Road Map earlier
in the year. But if he was serious then it means being more
assertive with Israel now – whether or not that goes
down well with the White House.