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WHAT WE THINK
Bush's Middle East road map will help Israel tighten its grip
No "peace" without justice

June 13, 2003 | Page 3

THE U.S. media hailed Bush the conqueror as a "peacemaker" last week--for presiding over a Middle East summit with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Never mind that the next day, he was headed to Qatar to whoop it up with U.S. troops--and as one American officer put it, "tell us what a great job we did destroying those heathen up in northern Iraq."

Instead, the toothless U.S. press stuck to the White House script in describing the summit, held at the sun-drenched seaside resort of Aqaba, Jordan. "What may set the current peace effort apart from previous failed attempts," declared a fawning New York Times editorial, "is the insistence that each leader face the concerns of the other by coming to terms with his own peace spoilers."

But Bush's so-called "road map" for peace doesn't "face the concerns" of Palestinians for justice--and as a result, it won't produce a lasting peace.

Under the first stage of the road map, Israel is required to dismantle its illegal settlements, while Palestinians must renounce violence. And at the beginning of this week, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made headlines when he ordered a single uninhabited settlement outpost dismantled.

A few days earlier, 20,000 settlers took to the streets to protest Sharon's acceptance of the road map--and issued what amounted to a threat on Sharon's life by comparing him to former Labor Party Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a right-wing settler for making "too many compromises." But the truth is that Sharon, the architect of the settler movement, has no serious plans to uproot older, established settlements--or even to freeze their growth, as called for in the road map.

He plans to dismantle only a small fraction of Israel's "settlement outposts"--tiny installations that sprang up in an attempt by settlers to seize militarily important areas or occupy land near or between existing settlements. In other words, Israel's established settlements--with their 200,000 inhabitants--will remain intact.

In return for these "concessions," Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas agreed to renounce all armed resistance, including resistance against Israeli soldiers in the Occupied Territories--areas that are supposed to be under full Palestinian control, but were reoccupied by Israel since the beginning of the new Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, in 2000.

Bush's road map focuses on Palestinian violence without any mention of Israel's assassinations of Palestinian leaders, armed attacks on Palestinians by settlers or the crushing violence of poverty felt by millions of Palestinians. And though the agreement calls on Israel to loosen the state of siege it has imposed on Palestinian population centers, there has been little change on the ground.

"I do not have any trust for this summit in Aqaba," said Mohammad Rada, who lives in the West Bank city of Nablus. Nablus descended into chaos at the very moment that the summit took place, as Israeli soldiers rumbled through the streets in military vehicles, firing tear gas and rubber bullets at stone-throwing Palestinians. "[The summit] was convened at the expense of the Palestinian people and the expense of our president, Yasser Arafat. They are trying to provoke us so that they can says that we are the terrorists. I have just seen them shoot a little girl in the street."

Ultimately, the problem with the road map--as well as the idea that progress will come when each side confronts "its own extremists"--is that there can be no equation of what faces Israelis and Palestinians. Palestinians suffer daily oppression as second-class citizens in their own land, and they are engaged in a struggle to return to homes that were stolen from them. Israeli soldiers and settlers are trying to crush that struggle and protect colonial rule.

For its part, the U.S. government isn't a passive bystander. It has been Israel's main ally in the war of terror on Palestinians. Without $5 billion a year from the U.S., Israel could never maintain its colonial rule.

Until the right of Palestinians to return to their homes is guaranteed, there will always be Palestinian resistance. There can be no peace without justice--a free and democratic Palestine where Palestinians and Jews have equal rights.

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