The seminar titled: “The Road Map after Sharm El-Shiekh and Al-Aqaba Summits” held by Cairo institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Ibn Roshd’s Salon, on 17 June 2003 witnessed a great controversy concerning the impacts of the Road map on the Palestinian issue. The divergence was over the possibility of achieving positive results, on the one hand, or reservations over the map and the achievements it could bring about in light of the previous experience of Oslo and Madrid.
At the beginning of the seminar, Magdi El-Na’eem, the Executive Director of CIHRS, stated that the Arab role is becoming increasingly important particularly that the road map did not address important Palestinian issues. Among the most important issues not tackled were those of the refugees, the liquidation of the illegal Israeli settlements, and the accountability of Israelis committing violations against the Palestinians. Added to these issues is the complexity of the Arab scene, especially after the invasion of Iraq and the Israeli attempts to resort to the method of assassination, and in light of the violations and threats posed by the road map – according to Na’eem – due to its strong focus on security issues.
In the beginning of his talk, Dr. Samir Ghattas, the Director of Al-Maqdis Center for Political Studies in Gaza (Palestine), maintained that the main approach to the road map must be dealing with methodological problematic issues relating to Arab readings thereof. To him, these readings showed a negative impression on the road map due to the fact that the Arab mind usually places political issues in contrasting duals: peace is the contrary to war and resistance, and settlement is related to compromises.
Ghattas believes that tackling the road map must be done through main axes. Thus, in addition to the methodological problematic relating to the reading of the map, there is also the wider perspective of it and deeming it a political variable on both the regional and the international levels. It is also important to read the main features of this map as well as the reactions and standpoints of the main players to know where would it lead and the Israeli objectives.
Ghattas expressed his belief that the road map is accommodating enough with respect to three questions: it is the first plan of kind, since 55 years, that restores the principle of division as a governing basis for peaceful settlement, because as of 1947 the issue had not undergone any plan, nor agreement focused on division. He added that the Palestinian issue between 1947 and 1973 had passed through what is called the humanitarian perspective, after 1973 two documents by Sanders and the Brooklyns Center were issued wherein the first reference to the Palestinian issue as a political subject appeared, these documents were followed by President Regan’s initiative dealing with the self-rule by the Palestinians, then President Bush’s initiative that pursued the same goal however pending negotiations.
Furthermore, he said the road map for the first time rearranged the political parties, which contrasted that of 1947. The Palestinians now are in the same position that the Israelis had occupied then. Abu Mazen – according to Ghattas – is in the same position of Ben Gorion, while Sharon is in the position of Hajj Amin El-Husseini. In this new position, the Palestinians possess an internal attacking dynamicity, which contrasts that of the defensive Israeli one.
The third question, on the other hand, is that for the first time, a settlement plan is approved under an international umbrella (where the European Union, the Russian Federation, and the United Nations participate) after reality had proved the failure of individual attempts at led by the former Soviet Union and the British Mandate.
Ghattas confirmed that the road map targets reaching a permanent solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that started in 1967. He illustrated his argument by saying that the map had stated the term “Palestinian State” more than 17 times. Moreover, it is a plan that is predicated on the principle of “Land for Peace”, in addition to incorporating the initiative of Prince Abdullah adopted by the Beirut Summit, and in addition to the fact that the mechanism of execution is based on negotiation and parallelism.
Ghattas addressed the standpoint of different parties to the roadmap, pointing to the fact that the Palestinian government expressed its acceptance thereof on two conditions: first not to introduce any amendments to the map, and second, to put the road map for execution and not negotiation. On the other hand, the Palestinian opposition announced their rejection of the map for two reasons as well: first, in their opinion, it means ceasing legitimate resistance, and the second relates to fears concerning the issues subject to negotiation in the final stage (the right of return, the borders, the area, and the independence of the state). Such were the concerns expressed by opposition especially after Bush’s reference during Al-Aqaba Summit to the establishment of a Jewish state. The Israeli side, however, started by rejecting the plan altogether, stating almost 100 objects, summarized into 14, which in turn postponed the execution of the first stage that should have been completed at the end of this June.
Ghattas mentioned that despite the positive nature of the map, it has two loopholes: the first is material, represented by the separating wall, the idea adopted by the Israeli Left and initially refused by Shaorn – who has later accepted it after one billion Sheqels – because this wall shall represent a material reality such as the settlements. The second loophole, on the other hand, is represented in the basic stage that would lead to negotiations, because it addresses a permanent and just solution for the issues of Jerusalem and the refugees while ignoring the form and idea of the Palestinian state. This means that the roadmap, at best, can only reach the second stage which is based on the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders, the stage that agrees with Sharon’s plan.
The speaker reiterated the importance for the Palestinian side to evaluate its objectives and determine its priorities at this stage, while at the same time identifying the risks threatening its cause and focusing on the goals that serve it.
Magdi El-Na’eem in turn wondered whether the Quartet supervision of the road map represent enough guarantee for rewarding the Palestinian side as a return for the security and other safeguards binding thereto. He also questioned the degree of credibility of the Israeli standpoint and the capability of the Palestinian Authority to run matters in a way that does not lead to an internal national crisis.
Another speculation was added related to the Palestinian opposition and the limits of politics and violence. He maintained that the performance of some Palestinian organization does not show their aptitude to enter the political game, although it is well-known that any war ultimately aims at arriving at a political process.
Eng. Ahmad Bahaa’ El-Din Sha’ban, the leader in popular committees for supporting the Intifada, started his talk by maintaining that the situation is so complex that no party can claim to have a real answer to all the challenges posed.
He stated that those rejecting settlement did not take this standpoint out of obduracy, their attitudes are rather built on objective facts and a historical experience in dealing with previous settlements. He illustrated his argument by referring to the most recent settlement, i.e. that of Oslo, which went in vicious circles, despite the international and US support it was surrounded with. He reminded the audience with the inauguration party of this Agreement in the White House and the accompanying events, which were followed by speedy sweeping of the Palestinian Authority territories by the Israelis without any inkling of remorse.
Sha’ban stated that Dr. Ghattas had mentioned reference to the Palestinian state 17 times, without saying that this same road map included 30 or more references to security duties on the Palestinians, or that almost half of the agreement speaks about the tasks of the Palestinian Authority. He pointed to these facts and to the fact that the road map stipulates that the Palestinians are demanded to announce unequivocally a cease of violence and terrorism, and “to exert visible efforts to arrest or detain the persons or the groups that make attacks against Israel.”
Sha’ban believes that the duty of the Palestinian state or authority that arises as per this agreement is in the first place meant to liquidate the Palestinian resistance and destroy the Palestinian infrastructure forever. He pointed to the fact that every sub-clause of the Agreement links the success of the security plan with the liquidation of the Intifada, comparing the position of the Palestinians in this Agreement to that of the dog in the circus who is rewarded by a piece of meat from its trainer every time it performs a move.
To him this view is emphasized by the announced role of Abu Mazen – even personally acknowledged – who says in one of his speeches that he supports the visions for putting an end to the Intifada and its militarization. Accordingly, Sha’ban believes that Arafat was pressurized to appoint both Abu Mazen and Dahlan within the framework of a plan for the liquidation of the liquidation of the Intifada and eternally ending resistance while turning the Palestinians into an easy prey for the Israelis.
Sha’ban wondered whether it is the duty of the Arabs to rush towards achieving settlement, merely because it is offered by the American President Bush, although he represents the strongest blocks of the Right American Zionism. He added that Bush had not offered this settlement except after his occupation of Iraq in order to put an end to the reason of hatred of the US by the Arabs and the Muslims. He has done that upon recommendations from within America to Washington to offer a scenario for a solution of the Palestinian case, so that this charge of Arab hatred to America would be released, and the large Iraqi bite is swallowed at the least cost.
Sha’ban reaffirmed that Bush is defending the strategic interests of his country; one of the means he follows is to drag the Arab region to a new dilemma of settlements under the pretext of resolving the conflict, while at the end such settlements wind up – as Oslo did – in history’s dustbin. He also stated that when the Israeli Prime Minister, Sharon, was asked in a newspaper interview about the reasons of refusing to present the road map for vote in the Knesset, he replied saying, “The road map is not a peace agreement that necessitates approval, it is a framework that assumes further peace agreements upon the complete cessation of Palestinian terrorism.” He added, “Israel insists on its right to live securely and calmly, and will never relinquish it. Peace, on the other hand, will not be achieved except through a real move lead by the Authority against terrorist organizations and against its infrastructure.”
Sha’ban concluded that there is a common goal shared by Sharon, Abu Mazen and Bush – i.e. putting an end to the Palestinian Intifada.
He maintained that Sharon only aims at aborting the Intifada and the resistance, which the unprecedented force had failed in overcoming it, and that the Authority is required to replace Israel in repressing the Intifada and striking the Palestinian infrastructure.
Furthermore, international guarantees do not induce settlement, because to Israel such guarantees are but some papers that can be discarded any time. He illustrated this by the hundreds of international resolutions guaranteed by big powers but still leaving Israel untouched.
Sha’ban reaffirmed that it is already difficult enough for a Palestinian leader to sign a historical compromise by accepting a scattered state on 10% of the area of historical Palestine. He pointed to the fact that if such a state were to arise, it will be very fragile and a follower of Israel and it shall be disarmed without the corners of a state thus prone to being invaded any time.
Undoubtedly, the end of any conflict is negotiations, when there is no chance of exterminating the opponent or eliminating its racial ideology, as was the case with South Africa. However, Sha’ban wondered whether such was an appropriate time for negotiation, pointing to the difficulties faced at the moment. Such difficulties are represented in America’s determination of the world’s destiny single-handedly in pursuit of establishing an empire in light of the weakness of international institutions; and represented in America’s occupation of Baghdad while announcing a plan to change the region’s map with hidden threats to both Iran and Syria and implicit threats to countries such as Egypt and Saudi. He concluded that the present time lacks many conditions prerequisite for entering into the experience of fruitful negotiations, even if in a limited manner by achieving the ambitions of the Palestinians.
The right to return
The real road map to Palestine
Civil society organizations and institutions of Palestine in Lebanon declared their rejection of any suspect attempt that targets reducing the right of Palestinian refugees to return. They pointed in this context to fact that what is called the road map follows the Oslo path in dealing with the refugees’ issue, and to the Palestinian and Arab compromises given during Sharm El-Shiekh and Al-Aqaba summits with respect to the Palestinian issue in general and the rights of refugees in particular.
This came through the statement signed by 72 Palestinian NGOs acting among Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. The statement emphasized upholding the right to return as a historical and basic human right, and reiterated that it is neither negotiable nor dispensable because it is basically personal while being collective at the same time linked to the right of self-determination. The statement added that the attempt at eliminating this right is a grave violation of the Palestinian National Charter, and a violation of the principles of international law and the decisions of international legitimacy. The statement deemed any agreement, treaty, or map, not committed to the right to return will be stillborn and invalid, thus emphasizing the right to return is the real road map for Palestine.
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