Palestinians struggling to meet demands of a road map to nowhere

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Crescent International

Safar 14, 1424 2003-04-16

Occupied Arab World

by Crescent International (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 32, No. 4, Safar, 1424)

As the end of the Iraq war draws near, attention is turning back to Palestine for a number of reasons. One is the zionists’ hope of exploiting the Iraq situation for their own ends. Israel has already offered to send ‘aid’ to rebuild Iraq, and expressed the hope than an old oil-pipeline from Basra to Haifa can be reopened.

More immediate, however, is the question of the ‘peace process’, which the US and other Western states have promised to prioritise once the Iraq war is over. Simplistic Western analyses have long regarded Palestine as the main grievance Muslims have against the West; their hope is that a settlement would help subdue anti-Western anger elsewhere.

Washington has promised to formally publish its ‘road map’ to peace after new Palestinian prime minister Mahmood Abbas (Abu-Mazen) announces an cabinet. It had earlier promised it once a prime minister was appointed, but changed its plans once that condition had been met. The broad outline of the map is known, however.

The ‘road map’ is a three phase diplomatic plan drawn up by the Americans, Europeans, Russians, and United Nations (the so-called quartet) meant to lead to a full Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty in three years. The first phase focuses on ending the intifada. The Palestinians are supposed to declare (and keep) a ceasefire and reform their institutions. The Israelis are supposed to withdraw from Palestinian cities and freeze the building of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.

Phase two establishes a provisional Palestinian state by the end of this year. Phase three involves a final agreement by the end of 2005 dealing with the thorny issues of Jerusalem, borders, settlements and refugees.

In essence, the plan is a version of the Oslo Plan, rewritten to Israeli specifications, giving Israel an even greater dominance and offering even less to the Palestinians. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have promised to consider the plan when it is published. The Israelis have already said that they have a list of demands they want incorporated. The Palestinians, knowing that they are in a position of weakness, are struggling to meet the demands it already makes on them.

The restructuring of the Palestinian Authority in line with Israeli conditions is among these demands. Abu-Mazen has been consulting with representatives of Palestinian political groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, with the aim of putting together a new government.

The most important talks have perhaps been those he has had with Hamas leaders in Ghazzah, including Abdel-Aziz al-Rantisi, the group’s chief spokesman in the area. Al-Rantisi described the discussion as "positive", denying reports that Abu-Mazen had asked Hamas to halt attacks against Israel, at least during the Anglo-American war on Iraq. According to some sources, Abu-Mazen proposed that Hamas be represented in his government, either directly by the inclusion of some the movement’s leaders in the government, or indirectly by nominating independent Islamists to assume certain portfolios.

However, Hamas has always refused to join any PA government, saying that no government formed under the Oslo framework could serve the interests of the Palestinians. "Before any meaningful government can function properly, it has to enjoy a semblance of freedom and authority; in our case there is neither freedom or authority, so why deceive ourselves and the world?" said Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahhar.

Like Fatah, Hamas has generally refrained from carrying out serious guerrilla attacks, including suicide bombings, against Israel since the outbreak of the Anglo-American war on Iraq. Islamic Jihad also seems uninterested in burning its bridges with the PA, despite the operation on March 30 in Netanya, in which about 25 Israelis were injured.

The PA strongly condemned the bombing, castigating "whoever stood behind this act". A PA statement, apparently endorsed by Abu-Mazen himself, accused Islamic Jihad of giving Sharon a pretext to "carry out his diabolic designs against our people".

Although the Iraq war did not see an escalation of Israeli actions, as had been feared, probably because of American pressure not to increase Arab anger at a difficult time, the Israeli army continued to kill an average of two Palestinians a day, in addition to demolishing homes and arresting dozens of Palestinians every day.

As the Iraq war approached an end, however, 10 Palestinians were killed on April 8 and 9, and nearly 30 Palestinians were injured in an Israeli bomb-attack on a high school in Jabaa, near Jenin, on April 9. An Israeli settler group claimed responsibility. While events may move fast elsewhere, some things do not change.

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