Decolonizing the key issue for Mideast

Peace: Regular negotiations won't work in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute because the two have unequal status. Israel should leave West Bank and Gaza to end the state of war.

April 14, 2002|By Charles Glass | Charles Glass,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

PARIS -- The return of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to Israel has revived language that, until now, the Bush administration has avoided: peace process, peace partner and the other words that implied America would intervene in negotiations.

The United States has been forced to act, because tolerance of Israeli military assaults in the occupied territories encourages demonstrators to destabilize allied Arab regimes like those of Egypt and Jordan. This time, the Bush people should learn from the failure of the Clinton administration to bring "peace" through the "peace process."

The Israel-Palestine dispute does not pit state against state. There can be no equality of power and status between an occupying power and its occupied subjects.

State-to-state negotiations may have been appropriate for Egypt and Israel. They led to Israel's phased withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula and the removal of Egypt's army as a factor in the Arab-Israeli military equation. Negotiations produced a peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, demarcating and pacifying borders between two neighbors whose governments wanted cordial relations.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has decried the lack of a Palestinian "peace partner." He has called Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat "irrelevant" one day, an "enemy" the next. Last week in Madrid, Spain, Powell warned Sharon that Arafat remained "the partner that Israel will have to negotiate with at some point." But Arafat is not a partner. Partnership implies a degree of equality.

Israel is a state. Its army is the best equipped and deployed in the Middle East, and its institutions remain strong even during times of internal division and military conflict.

Palestine of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is a vulnerable, conquered land which Israeli forces traverse at will. Its territory is daily confiscated to provide living room for more Israeli settlements and settlers. Its roads are not under Palestinian control. Provision of electricity, water and other vital services depends on Israeli good will.

Israeli armored bulldozers rolled into Jenin, demolishing houses to clear the way for tanks, protected by helicopter gunships that fired rocket after rocket on a civilian population whose sons were defending their homes. While the siege of Jenin was under way, Israeli troops had Palestinian police and fighters pinned down in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, while the city's civilians were trapped in their homes. Palestinians have no tanks, no air force, no heavy weapons.

Israel is a member state of the United Nations, whose resolutions -- even those critical of Israeli behavior in the occupied territories -- reaffirm the right of Israel to exist within secure and recognized borders. Who calls for Palestinians to live within secure and recognized borders?

Powell's mission, like the previous interventions by Gen. Anthony C. Zinni and Vice President Dick Cheney, is doomed.

Sharon has emphasized his determination to ignore calls from Powell to "do it now," that is, to withdraw from Palestinian cities and refugee camps. Sharon had turned a deaf ear to Powell's commander in chief's wish for "a withdrawal without further delay."

Not only has Sharon delayed, but Israeli forces have placed more than 4,000 Palestinians in detention without trial, bulldozed more homes, placed more Palestinians under curfew and, as the suicide bombings Friday in Jerusalem and Wednesday in the suburbs of the mixed Jewish-Arab town of Haifa demonstrated, failed to provide Israelis with the security he promised when they elected him prime minister a year ago. The peace process is dead, as any Israeli or Palestinian will tell you. It is time for a new process, not of peace, but of decolonization.

The Western world knows what decolonizing means. It means you leave. Your settlers go home, and you do not regulate borders that are not yours. You can hold on to, as the Americans knew in the Philippines and the British discovered in Kenya, long leases on a military base or two. For Israel, that might mean bases or early warning stations in the Jordan Valley. It does not mean forcing the Palestinians to accept 400,000 settlers in areas Israel captured from Jordan and Egypt in 1967.

Decolonization ends the state of war between the occupier and the occupied. Two states recognize each other's rights and each accepts its obligations. What can follow is the real process of peace: mutual recognition, diplomatic relations, trade and meaningful discussion of differences -- differences that can be solved peacefully.

Independence can, as with Britain and India, leave the two sides on better terms than before. Negotiations -- Oslo, Wye, Sharm el Sheikh, Camp David and Taba -- do not mean peace, so long as they function only to alter the terms of occupation. To declare peace without leaving your colonies is to obfuscate.

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