Levelling the Playing Field

Article excerpt

MIDDLE EAST

Israel is a nation that needs to be saved from itself. Its war against the Palestinians has brought not only unspeakable horrors to Palestinian civilians but death and destruction to Israeli citizens as well. The damage to the institutions of the Palestinian Authority and the isolation of its president, Yasser Arafat, have strengthened militancy and radicalised Palestinian public opinion. Israel has never been more isolated, with even reliable American support beginning to wear thin. And still the leadership resorts to military force when force offers no solutions. The international community urgently needs to level the' playing field in the cause of peace.

ISRAEL'S CRISIS HAS POLITICAL ROOTS. THE LIKUD-LED coalition does not face the democratic constraints of a credible opposition. The Labour Party is implicated in the policies of a radical right-wing government by its continued participation. The standard checks and balances of opposition politics have been neutralised and no alternate vision or leadership offered to voters.

Unchecked by domestic opposition, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government faces few external constraints. The American administration of George Bush has accepted Israel's claims that its war against the Palestinians is part of America's own 'war' on terror. President Bush has placed disproportionate blame on Yasser Arafat, and legitimated Israeli isolation of the Palestinian Authority's president by refusing to meet him. The European Union (EU), while critical of Israeli actions, has been unwilling to break ranks with America. For-failing to raise an amber or red light, the west has effectively given Israel a green light to prosecute its war.

PARIAH STATE

The Israeli Operation `Defensive Shield' has elevated the level of violence and wanton destruction against Palestinian civilians to an unprecedented extent. In ajoint statement issued on April 4, UN Special Coordinator, Terje Roed Larsen, and World Bank Director for the West Bank and Gaza, Nigel Roberts, deplored that the `infrastructure of peace -- roads, water systems, electricity networks, schools and hospitals; built with $4.5 billion of donor nation assistance, was `now being damaged or destroyed' by Israel. Far from resolving the security issue, the violence seems only to beget further violence, while tarring the Jewish state with atrocities that undermine its democratic ideals and reduce its standing in the international community to a pariah state.

As intractable as the differences between Israelis and Palestinians have become since the outbreak of the second Intifada in September 2000, few have any doubts about the endgame. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, it has been clear that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would conclude with a two-state solution. There would be a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank with its capital in East Jerusalem, and Arab recognition of Israel within its June 4 1967 boundaries.

The final settlement needed to address the legitimate national aspirations and property rights of Palestinian refugees dispossessed in 1948 and 1967 as well. These points were set out in the Clinton proposals in December 2000 and were endorsed most recently by the Arab summit in Beirut reaffirming Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's peace plan.

Ariel Sharon for one does not seem to subscribe to this vision. He rejected the Saudi peace proposal before the Arab summit had a chance to endorse it. Since coming to power, he has sought a military solution to his country's security situation and has steadfastly refused to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority and its president, Arafat. It is clear that Sharon has no vision for a political settlement Rather, he has emphasised the need to beat the Palestinians - a metaphor he uses with vigorous frequency - presumably to impose a victor's terns on the defeated.

What is more, it is clear that Sharon, his Likud Party, and the extreme right wing of his government hold territorial ambitions in those parts of occupied Palestine they like to refer to as Judea and Samaria, which are not compatible with the two-state solution. …