Al-Ahram Weekly Online   10 -16 April 2003
Issue No. 633
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Roadmaps to devastation

The only discernible roadmap is that linking the aggression in Iraq with that in Palestine, writes Azmi Bishara*

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair hopes that the US administration would publish its roadmap for resolving the Palestinian issue before the end of the war on Iraq. Perhaps, he reckons, the roadmap would alleviate some of the horror bound to take place during the siege of Baghdad. The roadmap, Blair hopes, would calm the world conscience and pacify the Arabs. Blair wants to deliver something that may restore him to the European fold and hopes the roadmap would do the trick.

Some Arabs agree. They are mostly Anglophiles, people who are accustomed to the British colonial ways, people who can express admiration for Prince Charles -- who can be just as silly as they are -- and for Tony Blair, his politics notwithstanding. These people speak endlessly of the roadmap. They have turned it into a mantra, just as "implementing Resolution 242" used to be, and just as after the 1967 war, when everyone spoke about "removing the effects of the aggression". To this day, mind you, the effects of the 1967 aggression have not been removed.

The US administration, now in a grumpy mood, is reluctant to give the Arabs even the most evasive of sugar-coated promises. Denied their daily palliatives, the Arabs are now beholden to those moments in which the roadmap is mentioned, even in passing, even senselessly. The Arab media monitors George W Bush's statements in search of a sign. Arab journalists keep track of Bush's every stutter. Each time he takes the helicopter to Camp David, and each time he addresses the coast guards in Philadelphia, the Arab press is there, trying to read his lips. Will he just threaten Iraq and commend the troops for their valiant advance on Baghdad and their imminent liberation of the Iraqi people? Or will he add the magic word -- the roadmap? And if the magic word is uttered, God help us. Torrents of analyses, cascades of questions would follow. What does Bush mean by this particular phrasing? Why at this time in particular? Will the US publish the roadmap? Or will it succumb to Israeli pressure and keep it under its hat a bit longer? And, if Bush were to publish the roadmap, what would Israel do?

Then -- God help us again -- the answers begin to trickle, guilt-ridden and ambiguous, stammered and truncated, from those who support the aggression in the depth of their hearts but wish the war to be quick. The answers we get would start tentatively with "I think ...," and "actually, I think" before completely losing the train of thought.

The war against Iraq cannot end fast -- too late for that. It only shortened, or at least shattered, many lives. The death toll and the horror of physical and psychological wounds of this "liberation" will last for years.

I couldn't care less how the leaders of this invasion feel about it, how their conscience functions or fails to do so. I just hope they stop talking about the roadmap. Nobody finds any consolation in this roadmap. And nobody seeks consolation to start with. Right now, we are just beginning to grasp the political meaning of the stiff resistance put up by the Iraqis, including regular and irregular forces, in the war. This resistance has successfully dashed the expectations of Israeli experts and commentators. Nations -- and dictatorial regimes -- are not flies waiting for the Americans to squash them. The political consequences of Iraqi resistance outweigh the roadmap.

For the moment, the only discernible roadmap is that linking the aggression in Iraq with that in Palestine. The resemblance is striking. Soldiers kicking down doors in Basra suburbs, citizens made to kneel down, hands tied with plastic cords. These are scenes long known to the Palestinians, scenes the Palestinians still refuse to accept or get used to. Other similarities exist, starting with the charge that Palestinians, or Iraqis, are placing "terrorists" in the midst of civilians. Iraq is being maligned for keeping troops inside Baghdad to defend the city. What was it supposed to do? Get the troops out of the city, or get the population out, so as to make things easy for the invaders? The United States and Israel give themselves the right to conduct aggression and maintain occupation, and the rest of us are supposed to acquiesce?

The comparisons never end. Before long US spokesmen may declare that the Americans would never forgive the Arabs for forcing them to kill their children. Israeli officials and writers and poets made such claims in the past. They blamed the Palestinians for disturbing their sense of integrity, for forcing them to commit morally abhorrent deeds. It is all the Palestinians' fault, they said.

How disturbing, and yet how predictable? Roadblocks manned by soldiers fearful for their own safety, by men apprehensive of martyrdom operations, who would fire at innocent civilians if they suspect foul play. Fire first and apologise later. Innocent lives are bound to be lost. Women and children are bound to die. So, please, save us the apology, save us the rhetoric about terror and guilt. Let the souls of the fallen rest in peace.

If terror is the act in which an Iraqi soldier dies while trying to kill as many invading troops as possible, then what is war? If the soldier in question is a terrorist, then who is to be considered a soldier? The charge of terrorism, when levelled on a regular army trying to defend its sovereign homeland, only enhances the similarities between Iraq and Palestine.

The only roadmap on the mind of US administration is that leading from Baghdad to Jerusalem, through Damascus and Beirut, through every city and town that opposes US dictates. Well done, butchers of Palestinian children. Well done, butchers of the Iraqi children. Well done, friends and abettors of the butchers of Iraqi children. Well done, conquerors of Tulkarm. Am I being too emotional? Perhaps. But how can one be otherwise? Are we supposed to rejoice in the destruction of Iraq and the slaughter of its people, or hope that the mission will be conducted as quickly as possible?

Interest and material gain are, undoubtedly, an integral part of the ongoing saga, but whose? I see no Palestinian or Arab profiting from the mere publication of the roadmap. I expect every item on the roadmap to be hotly debated by the Israelis and every phrase to give rise to intense haggling. What may look tangible in words is bound to dissipate in deeds. The Palestinian state -- or Bush's version thereof -- will be anything but a state. Israel will not withdraw to pre-1967 borders or remove the settlements. Those who rejoice in the publication of the roadmap are simply interested in appeasing public opinion, in relieving the pressure created by the aggression against Iraq. This is the extent of Arab interest in the roadmap.

Why have the US neo-conservatives waged the war against Iraq? Is it because they want to solve the Palestinian problem? These neo- conservatives, one may recall, did not even approve of the Oslo accords or of the principles underlying these accords. Their position, and that of Israel's right-wing, is that the Oslo -- or any -- accords are doomed to fail so long as the Arabs have not recognised not only Israel but the premises of Zionism. For this to happen, the Arabs must acknowledge the depth of their own defeat, must not forget the taste of brute force or lose sight of the military and technological superiority of their adversaries. The strike against Iraq is a strike against Iraq and Syria -- the hints are not all too subtle. The victory against Iraq would be a victory for US policies, in oil as well as peace. Getting rid of Saddam is an allegory for getting rid of Arafat. None of this is a victory for democracy but for US and Israeli hegemony.

The new regime in Baghdad will be mirrored in a new regime in the West Bank and Gaza, one that would accept US and Israeli dictates and "respect its commitments". Once the new regime in Palestine accepts Israel's reservations about the roadmap, it would be allowed to have a state on part of the territories. But first, the Palestinian regime will have to give up the right of return for refugees and accept the Jewishness, not just the existence, of Israel. (The recognition of the Jewishness of Israel is the condition for joining the Knesset, a price one has to pay, willy-nilly, for the privilege of being a Knesset member. In a sense, the Arabs making peace with Israel would be forced to accept the same conditions as those running for the Israeli Knesset.) In addition, the Palestinian regime will also have to fight terror.

These are the tasks of the Palestinian state, according to Bush and Sharon. This is the whole point of the roadmap, published or unpublished. Are we not, then, right to side with the children of Iraq and Palestine and curse their butchers? The loss of life in Palestine and Iraq is not predestined and the murderers have no higher cause. Their motives, however, are clear. They want our land and are grabbing it in broad daylight.

* The writer is a leading Palestinian political activist and member of the Knesset.

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