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Date: Tue, 9 Sep 97 09:39:53 CDT
From: Tim Bishopric <tbishopric@igc.org>
Subject: New Mideast policy? - feature artice in Salam Review

Washington's new initiative that isn't

By Phyllis Bennis, in Salam Review, September 1997

U.S. envoy Dennis Ross' recent trip to the region does not, contrary to many overheated press reports, inaugurate a new U.S. initiative in the Middle East. Instead, it reflects a newly-overt endorsement by the Clinton administration of the initially-ignored April 1997 call by right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to abandon the Oslo Accords' interim negotiations and move instead directly to the final status talks.

This time, it is clear that Washington has finally come to recognize what much of the world, and certainly the key players in the Middle East (Netanyahu with a certain relief, Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat with despair), have known for a while: Oslo, in its current incarnation, has failed. It has failed even to achieve the very modest goals the U.S. had in mind: to keep talks in motion, to keep the process alive whether or not there was any real hope of real peace resulting.

What is not acknowledged, is that the failure of Oslo had little to do with violations or failures of implementation on either side. Certainly the failures were legion—but they are not the point. The real failure of Oslo was its failure from the beginning to challenge the disparity of power that lay at the heart of Israel's occupation of Palestinian land.

The only hope now, for a Ross-Albright initiative, would be if the U.S. were prepared to offer a significantly different approach to final status issues, while continuing the Israeli military redeployments mandated under Oslo's interim phase. And so far, there's little reason to think the U.S. has any such intention. The overwhelming focus on Palestinian violence allows the Clinton administration's embrace of Israel to remain intact.

Albright's allegedly groundbreaking speech mentioned Israeli settlements only by brief, indirect, and cautiously critical reference, referring to them only as unhelpful in the search for peace. The one-time U.S. position that settlements were a violation of international law has long been abandoned; even the modest obstacle to peace has been watered down.

Instead, the demand that the Palestinians make a 100% effort towards rooting out terrorism is limited to the call for the Palestinian Authority to round up and arrest anyone thought to sympathize with Islamist organizations, whether or not they have any sympathy for, let alone indications of involvement in, military attacks. We shouldn't be surprised—it's the same method sequential U.S. administrations starting with Ronald Reagan have used against the Palestinians facing deportation in the Los Angeles 8 case: here we call it guilt by association. And here federal courts have already called it illegal. Israeli military courts have done it for years in the West Bank and Gaza—they're still doing it now, with Palestinians never charged with a crime languishing for years under sequential six-month terms of administrative detention. And it never did work to stop all military attacks.

Fighting suicide bombings—and they must be fought, because they are terrorist attacks, targeting random civilian victims—is a major challenge. But it has to be recognized that police deterrents don't work. If the perpetrator of such an attack not only is willing to risk, but actually plans on dying, deterrents are not the answer. Fear of death or arrest will not stop these attacks. So we need to look at the root causes that lead young people to believe that the desperation of their lives is not only degrading, but that it will never change, that there is no reasonable hope of it improving.

The only thing new in Secretary Albright's speech was her brief reassertion of UN resolution 242 and the exchange of land for peace as the basis for a future settlement. This was interesting precisely because the U.S. has largely abandoned 242, and certainly abandoned a land for peace formula, throughout the Oslo process. Oslo never called for an exchange of land for peace—rather it was a call for an exchange of limited municipal authority in exchange for peace. Not exactly the same thing. But there was no indication that Washington has changed in its understanding of what a REAL land for peace exchange would look like.

In fact the question of land lies at the heart of the continuing crisis in Palestine and Israel. A Washington Post columnist the other morning wrote that the crisis is not about occupation but he was wrong. It's EXACTLY about occupation, since all the land, including that designated Area A to be under autonomous Palestinian authority, is ultimately still under Israeli control. (It was telling that in the debate among Israeli officials about whether their troops should enter the self-rule areas to arrest alleged Islamists, there was only tactical disagreement on whether the timing was right, there was no principled disagreement on Israel's right to enter.)

Unless there is a new focus on land—meaning U.S. support for an end to Israeli settlements, creation of a real Palestinian state rather than the truncated Bantustan of autonomy currently contemplated, right of return for Palestinian refugees, and a sharing of Jerusalem between the two states—it's hard to imagine that the new Oslo Albright, Ross and Clinton have in mind will get any further than the old Oslo.

The U.S. is the key backer of Israel—financially ($4 billion/year in aid, meaning $1000+ per Israeli), politically (in continuing to veto UN Security Council votes), strategically (by maintaining Israel's conventional military superiority over all combinations of Arab states, as well as through condoning Tel Aviv's extensive nuclear arsenal). So how can Washington expect to be viewed as an honest broker?

It's time to recognize that U.S. domination of Middle East diplomacy has failed. We need to support a more significant role for Europe, the UN, and the rest of the international community. An enhanced role for European special envoy Miguel Angel Moratinos would be a good start. The recent UN special session of the General Assembly passed an important resolution (despite U.S. opposition) calling on Israel to identify goods produced on settlements in the occupied territories so they can be excluded from the special trade privileges accorded to goods made inside Israel itself. That same idea is being discussed in a number of European capitals too. It could be a good next step. It can be implemented despite U.S. opposition—it doesn't require a veto-vulnerable Security Council vote, and every country as well as the European Union can implement it on its own.

The U.S.-backed Oslo process has failed. It's time for Washington to step aside and allow Europe and others in the world to take a real new initiative that might bring about a chance for real peace—a peace with justice—in the troubled Middle East.