Friday, March 31, 2006

Road Map Has to Hit the Wall

Some clips for your amusement before thoughts on the Israeli elections

From the Ybor City International Rum and Cane Spirits festival, where we judges had to taste statistically different samples of over a 100 rums local TV clip

And for something completely different, a Weekend America radio segment on peace and quiet in the UN in the Meditation Room

The Road Map Has to Go Through the Wall.

The Israeli Elections offer a mixed message. There is a clear majority of Israelis prepared to accept withdrawal of settlements. However, Olmert is a peacemaker the same way Sharon was. He does not want to deal with the Palestinians, and his unilateralism of his planned pullout is not based on the absence of a "partner" prepared to negotiate, but on the absence of a partner prepared to capitulate totally.

Somehow, he draws world applause for speaking of painful sacrifices, giving up "dear parts of the land of Israel." In case you missed the point, the "dear parts of Israel" he is giving up are, by near-unanimous opinion of the rest of the world, stolen properties: territory conquered by military force, whose inhabitants have been displaced.

Because of heavy demographic pressure, and mild diplomatic pressure, Olmert is in effect saying that we will hand back the pieces of stolen land that it is inconvenient to hold, but in return we will keep the best parts. For the Palestinians, it is the equivalent of someone squatting in a house and offering to let the owners live in the outhouse-under close supervision- if they give clear title to the main residence.

Even so, the election offers some hope. The application of pragmatism and realism about abandoning even some settlements has to be an improvement over an atavistic claim based a promise from a desert sky god to a mythical prophet. If there is no insuperable principle involved in giving up some settlements, then the road is open to pull out completely, in accordance with international law, back to the green line.

However, it is interesting to contrast the treatment of Ehud Olmert with that accorded to the new Palestinian government. For example, Secretary-General Kofi Annan emphasized before Hamas won the Palestinian elections, "It is the view of the Quartet that all members of a future Palestinian Government must be committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Road Map."

Have you heard anyone recently demand that all members of the present, let alone any future Israeli government must be committed to non-violence, recognition of a completely independent Palestinian State, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Road Map?

As far as I am aware, no members of the Likud government had declared unequivocal acceptance of a Palestinian State, let alone committed themselves to resolution 242, and other UN resolutions on the issue.

It is possible that someone may have expressed regret for terrorist acts such as the assassinations of UN Envoy Count Folke Bernadotte, or the objectively pro-Nazi assassination of Lord Moyne during World War two, let alone for Deir Yasin. But if they did, it was not very loud or widely broadcast. (Ironically, since Moyne was the heir of the Guinness brewing empire, Hamas may even have approved of that one.)

In complete defiance of international law, let alone the Road Map, they have been busily changing the situation on the ground, expanding settlements at a breakneck speed and building the Wall in defiance of a ruling by the world's highest legal authority, the International Court of Justice. Olmert now confirms exactly the suspicions expressed by the ICJ, and wants this to be the future unilaterally decided border of Israel.

On a more contemporary note, the Israeli government continues incursions into the PA areas, with targeted killings and extensive collateral damage to ordinary civilians. Olmert proposes a pull out of civilian control, but leaving military control. In Vietnam, they had something similar. They called it a free fire zone.

The US government demanded that the PNA hand back $50 million in aid to stop it falling into the hands of a government that does not respect the Road Map. I would advise that no one hold their breath waiting for a demand from Washington for repayment by Israel of the $3 billion plus annual checks sent to an Israeli government that has effectively been ripping up the Road Map and laughing in the face of Washington's repeated, albeit progressively weakening, stipulations on settlement building.

If anyone would listen carefully, Hamas has been offering wiggle room. Both its theology and its populist politics in the refugee camps inhibit it from recognizing the 1948 boundaries as final, anymore than a theologically motivated Zionist would be prepared to abandon all claims, no matter how residual, to the whole of the Land of Israel. However Hamas is offering a long-term indefinite hudna, truce or ceasefire that in practical terms is close to recognition. The way to solidify that trend is not by refusing to talk to the new government, let alone by starving out the Palestinian electorate.

There is a firm basis of a settlement, which the Arab League has asked Hamas to subscribe to, and that is the Beirut declaration, which effectively enjoins both sides to accept the UN resolutions, the Green Line and mutual co-existence. By all means, pressure Hamas to accept it, but we have to be aware that the Israel right does not want a Palestinian negotiating partner. And its lobbying has the US back in the good old days when no one was allowed to talk to any of the Palestinians – in case they make a reasonable offer.

Olmert wants a capitulation, but the good news from the Israeli election is that a clear majority of Israelis have voted for a solution that involves abandoning settlements. Labor's Amir Peretz would rather see the poor looked after in Israel than care in the community for psychologically challenged ex-Brooklynites in the settlements. He knows that a genuine peace takes two sides, and that an imposed solution is a resented one.

If the rest of the Quartet applies some serious pressure to both governments, there is a serious prospect of removing the roadblock and the diversions that have been on the Road Map all this time.

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