THE ROVING DIPLOMAT
A conditional peace proposal continues to fail Palestinians and Israelis
The Middle East peace process continues to dominate international affairs with one body blow after another as the various peace proposals to end hostilities between Israel and Palestine continue to fail. These peace efforts are increasingly becoming a circus with their familiar pattern of high expectations followed by disasters.
A recent development was the nine day peace mission to the Middle East by US Secretary of State Colin Powell. He had a firsthand view of the bloody scene prevailing there, and held urgent talks with the Palestinian and Israeli leaderships on the subject. But it is evident that the mission was a disaster, judging by their comments after Powell returned stateside.
The reasons for this outcome aren’t hard to see.
They lie not in any limitation of Powell’s diplomacy but the sheer intractability of the problem. It’s the failure to reconcile Arab and Israeli positions – i.e. PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat’s demand for Israel to evacuate the occupied territories in the West Bank and Israel’s insistence that the attacks against it by Palestinian militants must cease.
This deadlock is one cause of the escalating violence of attacks by Palestinian suicide bombers inside Israel and terrible reprisals by the Israeli army. They use tanks and aircraft, which have led to wholesale massacres such as the slaughter of refugees in the Palestinian camp at Jenin.
Finding a solution to this deadlock should be through direct dialogue between the two leaders but this option has been ruled out by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He refuses to negotiate directly with Arafat who is currently confined to Ramallah by Israeli security. Sharon has tabled an alternative proposal instead, to hold a regional peace conference under US auspices, and invite a number of countries such as Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Palestine to attend.
It appears that Powell had supported the proposal and Arafat accepted it subject to an immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank. But Sharon is adamant that Arafat must be excluded from the conference and has blamed America for recognising him as a leader.
Meanwhile, the Arabs view Sharon’s proposal as a red herring to divert Washington’s attention. US President George W. Bush is under pressure from Congress to support Sharon. Part of the reason for this could be the expectation of Israeli support for America in the event of confrontations with Iraq and Iran.
Israel’s own international image is also suffering due to the measures taken against it by a number of countries and international communities. These include the demand by the EU and the UN for an Israeli withdrawal – viz. the resolution passed in the European Parliament for the suspension of preferential treatment to Israeli exports into Europe and the two resolutions adopted by the United Nations Security Council demanding Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories.
In Asia, several countries continue to face political unrest. India’s parliament has been at a standstill over the opposition’s demand for action against the state of Gujarat – in particular, its Chief Minister Narendra Modi – over the recent communal violence in that state.
This violence, which has claimed the lives of over 800 Muslims, was committed by Hindus in retaliation against an attack by Muslims on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. The government has opposed this demand partly because Gujarat is one of its few supporters and also since state elections are around the corner. As violence continues, parts of Ahmedabad have been placed under military control.
India’s Minister of Finance is also under attack for his package of economic reforms to cope with the current fiscal deficit. These measures are causing anger among Indian trade unions and even BJP leaders have opposed his proposed reforms.
Recently, India concluded an arms deal with the US for the purchase of eight American Firefinder counterbattery fire artillery radars at an estimated cost of US$ 146 million. It’s clear that despite its domestic problems, the BJP government is focussed on the assertion of India’s military dominance.
Nepal is still in the throes of its war against Maoist guerrillas, which has escalated in recent times with increasing casualties on both sides. In March, over 65 rebels were killed by the army in an offensive to crush the rebellion. Nepal’s parliament declared a state of emergency and gave sweeping powers to the army. The rebels retaliated with bomb blasts in Kathmandu.
The rebels are willing to consider a truce but this has been dismissed by the government as being meaningless without the surrender of arms.