Vol. 5 Num 215 Fri. December 31, 2004  

Spotlight On Middle East
Tony Blair visits the Middle East to revive peace talks

9/11 and the subsequent military attacks on Iraq by Bush-Blair on false grounds have changed the world greatly and indeed all to the detriment of the congenial relationship that existed among the people of the world. The clash of religion is too apparent now. Unless immediate political moves are taken by the leaders who are conscious of the welfare of the people of the world, the situation may soon spin out of control. The only word that people hear now from the Bush administration is military actions against the terrorists. Yes, there are terrorists around the world and war against them is in order, but there are also people who have been fighting occupation of their motherlands by foreign states which they consider as occupying terrorists. Israel is number one on that list. What can the world do about that?

Sharon-Bush said Arafat was an "obstacle" to peace. But the world knows Sharon has been the biggest obstacle to peace. Washington forgets that it was Arafat who indeed, by agreeing to Oslo Peace Accord, virtually gave away 78 percent of the land of Palestine to Israel. Otherwise, if it were to be one Palestine with both Jews and non-Jews as South Africa is today with whites and blacks, the Jews would have missed their chance of establishing a Jewish state. Scripturally, the Israelites were shown the "promised land" -- the land of Caanan -- where they were to live with the Caananites already living there. They were not promised a separate state only for the Jews.

Indeed, a large group among the Orthodox Jews still oppose the state of Israel as they believe that Torah never gave them a state of their own; they were to live with others in the land of Palestine (old land of Caanan). The world, however, fell into the Zionist trap and established the Jewish state in Palestine in 1948. The worst part is that even after that Washington did not stick to the international commitment and that of its own to establish the state of Palestine side by side with Israel. Bush has, indeed, moved out of his earlier commitment of establishing a Palestinian state in 2005. Now he is talking about the same within his second term.

Therefore, noting hopeful can be expected from President Bush and his associates. As it seems, the only hope is Bush's closest friend Tony Blair who is intelligent and conscience enough to fathom the danger that lies ahead. Domestic considerations apart, Prime Minister Tony Blair appeared convinced that serious efforts must be made to help restart the Middle East peace process, leading to the implementation of the Road Map without further delay, and this may somewhat lighten his Iraqi blunder both domestically and internationally. And hence he went to Washington and reportedly suggested a full peace conference involving negotiations, but Washington apparently put a damper on his proposal as it thinks that the road to peace in Middle East goes through Baghdad. This apparently has been the position of Bush Administration, but became firmer since Sharon became Prime Minister. The world saw Sharon's repeated visits to Washington before Iraq invasion; since the invasion, Sharon hardly made any visit to Washington.

Because of Washington's apparent refusal to give green signal for a full peace conference, Prime Minister Blair evidently decided to go for a shorter conference to help Palestinians to at least build their institutions after election. This, he apparently thought, could be a stepping stone to engaging in full negotiations at a later stage. But if the road to peace in the Middle East goes though Baghdad, the hope of anything in terms of peace diminishes quickly. The worst that is likely to happen is that the world would soon drift into the real clash of religion which Washington would term as eruption of Islamic terrorism that the rest of the world would be asked to fight and win. The signs are ominous.

Any way, the good thing is that Blair thought of at least initiating the work and hence his quick visit to the Middle East. Though earlier suggestion was that he might not visit Arafat's grave, he did go there and paid his respects to the legendary leader of the Palestinian people. This must have made the Palestinians happy and thus made his visit at least partly meaningful.

In the press conference with Chairman Mahmud Abbas he appeared to have shown genuine desire to help restart the peace process that has been dormant for nearly four years. He formally proposed the above mentioned conference to be held in London in February 2005 after the Palestinian election. As expected, Israel will not participate as a partner as it is known that it does not trust anyone except America in the matter of peace process. It would, however, send an Observer Delegation to the conference. Apparently, this conference would try to help the Palestinian Authority to establish its administration, security, and financial institutions on firmer basis, with a view to creating confidence among the donors. This would also hopefully encourage America to have some confidence in the Palestinian institutions.

The other component of the exercise will be to create an administrative structure that could easily take over Gaza administration if and when Israel leaves that part of the occupied territories. At present the situation in Gaza is terrible. Hamas and Israel together messed up things in Gaza. Hamas sends a rockets into Israeli settlements which causes hardly any damage, but that invites Israel to send missiles and bulldozers, thus creating deaths and destructions in Gaza. Both sides should be persuaded to stop attacking each other, otherwise the situation would continue to deteriorate.

It was quite clear from the statements of the Palestinian leadership that Gaza withdrawal should be part of the Road Map. This seemed to be the position of Prime Minister Blair too. But Prime Minister Ariel Sharon imposed certain conditions while he was speaking in the press conference in Israel with Prime Minister Blair. The conditions include total cessation of Hamas attacks against Israel, which the new Palestinian Authority (PA) is expected to bring about, otherwise, further steps towards Road Map could not be ensured.

This is undoubtedly a tall order. Though Hamas has joined the political process by officially joining the recent municipal election in the Palestinian territories, which is undoubtedly a good sign, one can not be sure whether Hamas would stop the attacks as its demand is that Israel must withdraw to 1967 border. This is basically the demand of all Palestinians, but the situation on the ground is different and the interests of the other parties -- Israel and the US -- towards negotiations are practically non-existent.

However, for the sake of the Palestinian people, the international community must work out a package deal with all parties including Hamas with a view to having a temporary halt in the attacks till the peace process moves forward. Such a deal should include withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Palestinian towns and cities to a reasonable distance that could make Palestinians lives less miserable. Indeed, posting of the UN forces would be necessary to implement and supervise such a deal. The world should, however, note very carefully the real intention of Sharon. Is it that he is disengaging voluntarily with a view to making only Gaza the Palestinian state and nothing else during his life time?

Muslehuddin Ahmad is a former Secretary and Ambassador, and the founder VC of North South University and Presidency University.