Arial Sharon has just spoken a word publicly for the first time: “occupation.” That was his reference to his nation’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And he has indicated that, under the right conditions, Israel is now ready to terminate that presence.
Is this good or bad news for Israel -- and for the rest of the region? Does it increase the chances of peace - or will it simply make Israel more vulnerable to terrorism? How exactly does it fit with the U.S.-backed "Road Map"? Is this new “Road Map” the ticket to Israeli security and to a genuine Palestinian state? What vital lessons must be taken into account for this “Road Map” to achieve justice and security for all sides?
Frontpage Symposium has invited a panel of experts to deal with these questions. In this two-part series (CLICK HERE to see Part II), we have the pleasure to be joined by Norman Spector, former Chief of Staff to former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, former Publisher of the Jerusalem Post and former Ambassador of Canada to Israel. He is currently a columnist for The Globe and Mail and Le Devoir; Bassam Haddad, an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University and Editor of the Arab Studies Journal; Stephen Plaut, a professor at the University of Haifa and the author of The Scout (Gefen Publishing House); and Khalid Turaani, executive director of American Muslims for Jerusalem.
Interlocutor: Gentlemen, welcome to Frontpage Symposium. Let’s begin with a general question and we'll see where our discussion goes. What lessons do you think the drafters of the new “Road Map” learned from the failure of Oslo? Do you think that, with these lessons in mind, the new drafters have paved the foundation for success?
Spector: The roadmap is the proverbial camel; drafted by a committee (the Quartet), it reflects compromises among parties that are at odds over basic questions, including why Oslo failed and how to avoid a repeat.
All parties rightly agree on the need to define the end goal (a two-state solution), and to replace the vicious cycle of violence with a virtuous cycle of confidence building. However, we are already seeing differences over Arafat’s continuing role, and about whether the roadmap is prescriptive (and ultimately to be imposed if necessary), or a framework within Israelis and Palestinians must negotiate an agreement.
Neither Israelis or Palestinians were involved in its drafting, and neither party is making haste in getting the car out of the garage. Sharon is balking at “accepting” the roadmap, partly because he does not accept the end goal, partly because he correctly notes that the document is less than clear about Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, in light of demands for the return of refugees. Though the PA states it has “accepted” the roadmap, its actions to date do not match the rhetoric.
Turaani: Thank you, Jamie, for giving us the chance to discuss this issue.
Judging by how the road map fails to make possible the conditions that would allow for a viable Palestinian state, the drafters of the road map learned very little from Oslo. What the road map failed to do is acknowledge the major asymmetry of power between Palestinians and Israelis - the occupied and the occupiers. This, coupled with American declarations that supporting Israel is the bedrock of American policy in the Middle East, has resulted in a road map that demands of the occupied Palestinians something Israel itself hasn't been able to do since its illegal military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, reign in militant groups.
One lesson that may have been learned in the road map is the description of the end result, the establishment of a Palestinian state. By declaring in the road map that the end result should be an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state, the road map provides for something neglected in Oslo. But that emphasis is almost stripped of meaning when the conditions that would make the emergence of a viable Palestinian state possible are lacking.
The road map demands that the Palestinians develop a new leadership, declare Israel's right to exist, establish a ceasefire and dismantle militant groups, confiscate weapons, end incitement, consolidate all Palestinian security organizations into three services, resume security cooperation with Israel, and that Arab countries block any funding for militant organizations. Israel is called on to accept the two-state solution of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, end incitement against Palestinians, stop attacking civilians and demolishing Palestinian homes, pull back from areas reoccupied from September 28, 2000, and freeze settlements.
The road map doesn't even take us back to the situation of Oslo. It accommodates Israeli demands for the final Palestinian state to be much smaller than the West Bank and Gaza - which is 22 percent of historic Palestine. And this is very dangerous, since Sharon's idea of a Palestinian
state is disconnected Bantustans in no more than 42 percent of the West Bank and Gaza. The road map does not provide at all for reversing Israeli policy of a frenzied settlement drive during Oslo. During the Oslo process, Israel doubled its settler population in the occupied territories and the rate of settlement building increased by over 50 percent, all while Israel was engaged in peace talks with the Palestinians. This dramatic increase in settlements didn't emerge because of an increase in settler real estate demand. It increased because of an Israeli policy designed to hinder any possibility of the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.
While the drafters of the road map talk about an economically and politically viable Palestinian state, one of the major problems is that they provide very little to make that viability possible. What is actually happening is that Palestinians are being further constricted to a system of Bantustans. Israel is also arresting its own non-Jewish citizens who are critical of its illegal occupation and who have been working to protect the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem that fanatical Israeli groups have openly vowed to destroy. Just last week, Israel arrested Ra'ad Salah, the head of the "Al Quds Committee" to protect Islamic holy sites, and just yesterday it arrested Dr. Sulieman Agbariya, the mayor of the town of Umm al-Fahm.
One other issue that needs to be resolved if there is going to be peace between Israelis and Palestinians is the issue of the refugees. Over half of the Palestinian population are refugees and any peace agreement would need their approval to survive, but Israel continues to refuse to allow refugees the legal right to return to their homes. So, while Palestinian refugees watch as Jews from all over the world immigrate to Israel and become citizens despite never having set foot on the land, Palestinians who were born and raised there are denied the right to return simply because they are not Jewish. It is only reasonable that Palestinians who were driven from their homes be allowed to return. If the Quartet wants to see real peace between Palestinians and Israelis, they should allow international law and human rights to play a bigger role in peace negotiations. Israel's "might is right" attitude is too destructive.
Plaut: Thanks Jamie, for the invitation to participate. Frankly I do not think the designers of the Road Map learned anything at all from the demise of the Oslo "peace process". They make all of the every same errors. The 'Road Map' rewards the PLO for its savagery and terrorism. It is based on Oslo-like denial of reality and wishful thinking.
There are no conditionality tests at all for the PLO. Under the 'Road Map' the PLO does not have to comply with any of its past commitments and it does not have to comply with any new things before being rained down upon with largesse and new "goodwill gestures". It reinforces the PLO's understanding of the problem, namely that the "peace process" is nothing more than a US-supervised process of unilateral Israeli dismembership and self-destruction. The PLO's understanding of its role in "peace" is to continue mass murdering Jews while the Jews offer concession after concession under US pressure. In short, the formula is for the Jews to make peace with the Arabs while the Arabs continue to war against the Jews.
The motivation behind the sudden fetish with a "Road Map" is that the US for some reason that is not clear thinks it needs to "reward" the Arab fascist countries with new appeasements at Israel's expense for supposed Arab support for the US against Iraq. What Arab support was that, exactly?
The Oslo process was a result of impatience and desire for an instant magical end to the Middle East conflict. A leap to an ultimate comprehensive resolution of the conflict with no irritating in-between stages, no testing period. Israel itself is responsible for that. Israeli leaders sensed the country was exhausted and wanted instant gratification. Shimon Peres insisted there was no need for any period in which PLO intentions would be put to the test, to make sure Israeli concessions were really buying Palestinian good-behavior and renunciation of their genocidal aims against Israel.
Peres was so sure his "understanding" of the PLO was correct that he ruled out any testing and even all quid pro quos from the Palestinians. Israel would just make concessions regardless of the fact that the PLO was violating every punctuation mark in the accords it had signed, because these concessions were the right thing to do and would ultimately produce peace. The result of the astronomical stupidity of Peres and his leftist comrades has been 1300 murdered Israelis, killed by the Oslo "peace process". Oslo was based on the idea that no act of Palestinian violence should go unrewarded.
The Road Map is a similar boondoggle and will produce a similar debacle. It starts out by spelling out what the Palestinians GET, and maybe later at some point we will get around to hearing exactly what the PLO has to concede and offer in exchange. Actually it is pretty clear the PLO will not have to do anything at all, just sit back and collect its bribes. No testing of its intentions. Just some cosmetic "reforms", such as appointing a Holocaust Denying pro-nazi terrorist as its new "Prime Minister". It is as if the world is trying to repeat the Munich appeasements and all of their delusions from the late 1930s.
Haddad: Thanks Jamie for giving me and others the opportunity to address this issue.
Let me start by saying that polemics and name-calling are neither productive nor persuasive. Blaming the victim—in a situation where a 36-year old Israeli military occupation persists in its apartheid-like policies of land confiscation, illegal settlements, home demolitions, collective punishment, the killing of civilians, daily humiliation, and a host of (infra)structural terrorism inflicted on a largely defensive and impoverished population—remains a preposterous argument, especially when levelled on behalf of the fourth strongest military on earth (that of Israel) that in possession of more than 200 nuclear warheads.
Everyone reports, even CNN and Fox News, that manifold more Palestinian civilians have been killed since the beginning of the Intifada in September, 2000, and more than 40 Palestinians were killed since the Road Map was issued (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3035875.stm). The numbers “route” to a convincing argument is inappropriate, and certainly a poor argument on behalf of the state of Israel, so let us get to the core issues.
Despite the fact that the Palestinian Authority has all but accepted it, I do agree that the road map is unlikely to yield any success, not only because neither the Palestinians nor the Israeli government find it satisfactory (in its current form), but also because of its source. For the past three decades, the U.S. Administration attempted to broker a peace of sorts between the Palestinians and the Israelis, but to no avail. The simple fact is that the U.S. cannot possibly be an honest broker and will be hard pressed to apply real pressure on its closest ally in the Middle East, Israel, who keeps receiving higher and higher levels of aid funded by U.S. tax payers to fund policies that consistently violate human rights and international law. That does not mean that the U.S. Cannot play a constructive role, it simply means that the task would require a U.S. administration that is willing to take as serious risks to achieve peace, just as the current administration did to wage war this Spring. Unfortunately, the costs of applying pressure on the stronger party (Israel) far outweigh the political benefits for the current administration.
As for the road-map, it is indeed a road-map, but not for peace. Rather it is a road-map that will likely legitimate the current state of Palestinian subjugation and dependency in return for a Palestinian renouncement of otherwise unalienable rights, such as the right of dispossessed Palestinians to return to their homes. The Road Map also compels Palestinians into accepting a bantustan-like non-sovereign existence barely fit for animals in non-contiguous spots of land, crisscrossed by Israeli settlements, walls, and roads connecting them. No people will accept such suffocating and humiliating existence. The Israelis wouldn’t, why should any other people?
The lessons learned from Oslo are multiple, but I’ll start with one: the Palestinians have learned (through official Israeli statistics and other Israeli human rights organizations like B’tselem) that the rate of building illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank since the 1993 signing of the Oslo accord has increased by 52%, hardly an indication of the Israeli government’s will to make peace. Why should the Palestinians trust that the Israeli government would reverse such colonial policies under any circumstances without sufficient U.S. pressure? It is time we ask our government in the U.S. to uphold the principles we claim to value, even when it comes to close allies like Israel.
Sure, the Palestinians have to do their part, but we neglect that the entire Palestinian population has been living under the devastating conditions of a brutal military occupation: we can’t assume that a people should give up their unalienable right to resist occupation while both under collective siege and subject to the daily assault of Apache helicopters and tank fire. The Sharon government wants the Palestinians to give up that right to resist while it is stepping on their throats. This is unacceptable from any moral, political, or legal point of view. The dilemma continues and it is self-perpetuating.
Plaut: Well, Haddad does provide us with one useful service, namely illustrating for us all the real nature of Islamofascism and its propagandists. He begins by renouncing “name-calling” and before he even takes a breath, he is repeating the absurd Islamofascist argument that Israel is an “apartheid” country. One is reminded of the Bad Old Days when the Soviets would denounce the US for stifling freedoms and being characterized by ethnic-racial inequality, without allowing anyone to discuss ethic inequality in the Soviet world. Haddad is a similar pot calling the pan dark names. Guess he never heard anything about Arabs mistreated by Arab regimes, let alone how the non-Arab minorities are treated there. Can Haddad give us a list of Arab countries where civil rights are better protected than in Israel?
Haddad then goes on to justify Arab mass atrocities against Jews (which he regards as “legitimate defense”) and the Arab world’s ambitions to perpetrate genocide against the Jews and destroy Israel. I have no doubt that Haddad also considers the September 11 attacks a legitimate act of defense by the poor mistreated Arab world, oppressed by the racist United States!
It is amusing to see how such people never tire of their nonsensical propaganda.
The Arabs conduct a hundred years of terror and savagery against the Jews, but their propagandists whine that Arabs are mistreated and brutalized “victims” by bad little Israel. Tell me, were the Germans in the 1940s also the victims of evil Jewish occupiers?
The Arabs control a land mass from the Atlas mountains to Central Asia, yet they are suffering because Israel holds a tiny sliver a few miles wide. And Haddad’s “proof” that it is really the Israelis who are beating up on the poor mistreated Arabs? Answer: More Arabs have been killed by Israel than the other way around. Such logic might earn him a degree in deconstructionism from certain American universities. Let me guess his next claim will be that Arabs cannot be anti-Semites because they are themselves Semites?
Now it is very likely that the Americans killed far more Taliban fighters than the number of Americans murdered on Sept. 11,and the US certainly killed far more Germans and Japanese in the 1940s than the numbers of Americans they killed. So by Haddad’s “logic” this proves the US was the aggressor against the Nazis and the Taliban. Suddenly Israel must never kill a number of terrorists that exceeds the number of Jewish victims those terrorists kill, else it risks morphing from defender of its children into “aggressor” status. Everyone on earth knows that if the Arabs stopped shooting and bombing, there would be peace, whereas if Israel stopped firing back, there would be genocide of Jews.
“Apartheid”, huh? Where the only Arabs in the Middle East with any freedoms and civil rights are those living under Israeli rule? Well, how is this for a solution to the poor suffering Arabs living under Israeli “apartheid” rule? Offer each poor Arab who feels unhappy living as a political minority under Israeli rule his choice of 22 sovereign Arab countries to move to, many of whom epitomize Haddad’s notions of freedom and democracy.
And for the record, can Haddad clarify for us - just suppose Israel were to be stupid enough to submit to pressures and return to its 1949 boundaries, would he then be willing to accept Israel as a legitimate sovereign state with rights to self-defense? Would Israel THEN be justified in killing Arab terrorists and making reprisals, or of seizing Arab territory in self-defense if it is attacked? Or would those Arab terrorists still attacking Israel ALSO be resisting “occupation” and engaging in legitimate “self-defense”? Enquiring minds want to know!
Spector: Let me say a few things in point form:
 There are “victims” on both sides of the Green Line, and they do not include Hamas or Islamic Jihad homicide bombers—whom both the US and Canadian governments classify as terrorists. The “inalienable right to resist occupation” does not include blowing up mothers and babies in pizzerias. Human Rights Watch says such actions are “crimes against humanity,” and that nothing justifies them.
 The century-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict pre-dates settlements which, therefore, are not its root. Nor did the Oslo agreement prohibit settlement construction, as Arafat’s partner in the peace of the brave made clear from the outset.
 It’s the Palestinians and Arab countries, not Israel, who regard the US role as indispensable. It’s an illusion to believe that any US government will impose a terrorist-harbouring state beside Israel in a territory that’s 2/3 the size of Vancouver Island.
 Sari Nusseibeh has correctly noted that, if they truly believe in a two-state solution, Palestinians will have to give up the demand (what you call an “unalienable right”) that refugees and their descendants return to the Jewish state.
Bottom line? The root of the conflict is Palestinian/Arab non-acceptance of the legitimacy of a Jewish state between the river and the sea. That land must be partitioned into two states, as the UN voted in 1947, because it is the ancestral homeland of two peoples. Peace will come when both peoples accept the legitimacy of the other’s aboriginal claim to the land. And it will come through negotiations, not violence. The onus is on the Palestinians to stop the violence, because theirs is offensive while Israel’s is defensive.
Turaani: Mr. Plaut is spewing racism and worn-out anti-Palestinian rhetoric by right-wing Israelis. Blaming victims for their own suffering is the oldest trick in the book. These are the facts. Israel's illegal military occupation of Palestine affects every part of daily Palestinian life in a dreadful way, and it simply needs to end. Palestinians living under Israel's occupation are treated as bad as or worse than South Africans under apartheid. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said in 1989, "I am a black South African, and if I were to change the names, a description of what is happening in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank could describe events in South Africa." Since then, it has gotten worse. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli colonists have settled on Palestinian land - which international law and a long line of UN resolutions have clearly said is illegal. It is not the Palestinians who are militarily occupying Israel. It is Israel that is illegally occupying Palestine. Israel has a powerful navy, air force, army, and over 200 nuclear warheads. Palestinians have no navy, no air force, no army, and no nuclear weapons.
We in America would not tolerate a foreign military occupation which stripped us of our basic rights - and then blamed us for it! - for three months. Palestinians have lived this day in and day out for decades. Even Israel's own non-Jewish citizens are not accepted as equals. 53 percent of Jewish Israelis, more than half the Jewish population, does not believe that Muslim and Christian Arabs in Israel should be granted equal rights! This, according to the Israel Democracy Institute (Ha'aretz, May 19) Instead of denouncing this outright racism from a country that flaunts itself as "the only democracy in the Middle East," Mr. Plaut says that if the Arabs don't like this racism in their own country, they can leave! Sharon's ruling coalition is made up of parties who campaigned and won elections on a platform of ethnically cleansing three million Palestinians from their homes, so there is good reason why Palestinians fear for their survival in what is left of their land.
The prevalent Israeli attitude of "blame the victim" and the dangerous certainty with which Israeli leaders believe they can discard international law is destructive for everyone. This has allowed Israel to sabotage every chance for a peaceful settlement, while crying out fowl and victimhood.
Israel's public relations machine cannot hide what is happening forever.
What is happening reeks of racism and a "might is right" mentality that has caused so much suffering for the Palestinian people. Besides the fact that Palestinians are being killed casually on almost a daily basis, there are many less visible examples of Israel's institutionalized racism. Just two examples: In Jerusalem, there are 59 libraries. 56 of them are located in the almost exclusively Jewish West Jerusalem. Only 3 are located in Arab East Jerusalem. Former Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert is on record stating that 96 percent of Jerusalem's public parks are in the Jewish part of the city. What is making peace difficult to achieve is that Israel's illegal military occupation and the discrimination that drives it affect every part of Palestinian life. Israel continues to bet that the world, and especially our government, does not have the political will to stop it.
Interlocutor: Gentlemen, forgive me, we are out of time for this first part of our dialogue on the Road Map. Let's continue this discussion tomorrow. Norman Spector, Bassam Haddad, Steven Plaut and Khalid Turaani, please join us again tomorrow. We'll see you then. Take care for now.
CLICK HERE to see Part II.
What Happened to the Left? Guests: Frank Gaffney, Paul Hollander, Stanley Aronowitz and Ted Glick.
Did the Left Go Too Far on Iraq? Guests: Jeffrey Herf, Thomas Spencer, Judith Klinghoffer and Ted Glick.
The Fall of Saddam: What We Learned About Ourselves and Our Enemy. Guests: As'ad AbuKhalil, Daniel Brumberg, Jonathan V. Last and Stanley Kurtz.
Stalin and Saddam. Guests: Vladimir Bukovsky, Yuri Yarim-Agaev, Mary Habeck, Louis Menashe and Jonathan Brent.