Debate and discussion: The road map to peace

Submitted by Anon on 18 August, 2003 - 6:41
  • Against the road map
  • We can't just denounce it
  • Peace but not democracy?

Against the road map

Sean Matgamna (letter Solidarity 3/34) writes: "Mark Osborn insists: '[The US does] not intend to use a great deal of force against Israel'. I agree. But where does the idea that they might 'use a great deal of force against Israel' come from? He implies: from the Solidarity editorial. Nothing like that is in the editorial."

Unfortunately for Sean, there is. The editorial in Solidarity 3/31 states:
"If the Americans do not force the Israeli government genuinely to accept a 'sovereign, independent and viable' Palestinian state, then they will fail, as Bill Clinton failed two and a half years ago."

Sean looks daft, but things get worse for him because (bizarrely) he's just stripped out a central part of his own argument. Without the expectation of meaningful US pressure, his case collapses. If the US won't use serious pressure against the Israeli government how can there be the Israeli-Palestinian settlement that Sean believes can "approximate what we want"? Sean was concerned to be as rude as possible to me, and in the process lost the thread of his own argument.

Do I think the "road map counts for nothing", as Sean claims in his letter? No, of course not. Clearly there is the possibility of a deal at the end of the "road map process". The question is - what sort of deal?

The original editorial sees opposition to a road map deal from Islamic chauvinists, from those who object to Israeli-Arab peace and from those who want a complete "right of Palestinian return", which will remain unfulfilled after a deal. In other words the editorial sees all opposition to a road map-based settlement as essentially unreasonable.

The editorial went on: "In the name of what should socialists oppose [the road map]? In the name of the sacred right of an oppressed people to liberate themselves by force, including suicide bombs against Israeli civiliansÂ…?"

There is a perfectly reasonable democratic case - which has nothing to do with support for Islamic bombers or the SWP's policies - to oppose both the text of the road map as a whole, and where this process could end up (a bantustan). Socialists should counterpose a Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories with the same rights as Israel, to the road map (which is not a peace agreement but an often vague and contradictory document, weighted against the Palestinians).

Sean's contention that the road map cannot lead to a bantustan because the road map promises a contiguous territory is politically illiterate. Contiguousness is a necessary but hardly sufficient condition for a Palestinian state with the same rights as Israel. And it seems Sean's ruled out the possibility of Bush lying, or bending the truth, in an official document. (It's in the road map, it must be true).

So the editorial and Sean's letter raise a more general issue: our role. Our role is not to paint up the democratic possibilities, and downplay the pitfalls (and real intentions of many of the players) in these diplomatic manoeuvres. Our job is not to give Bush the benefit of the doubt.

Our job is not only to de-bunk the idiot SWP-type left, but also to warn those with illusions in this "peace process".

Mark Osborn

We can't just denounce it

It is not in question, among us at any rate, that things look bad for progress with the current "roadmap" for achieving two states in Israel-Palestine by diplomatic means; and that we should have no confidence at all in the USA.

Yet groups in Israel and Palestine like the new "Joint Action Group for Israeli-Palestinian Peace" (reported in an item from Gush Shalom in a recent Solidarity) want to push for "the actual implementation of the roadmap [to] see to it that it does get to its official stated purpose". Should they be denounced outright?

For those who want to condemn the "roadmap" root-and-branch as "the imperialist roadmap" (as most of the left around us do), logically, those Israeli and Palestinian leftists are worse than Bush - who announces the odious "roadmap" but has the redeeming virtue that he will not push to implement it.

Or maybe the Israeli and Palestinian leftists are right. The broad outline of the "roadmap" - rapid progress to two states - is a positive move. The USA should be criticised and denounced primarily not for "the official stated purpose", but for its inadequacies in pursuing that "purpose".

A root-and-branch denunciation of the "roadmap" would be correct on the basis of "two states" politics, if the "roadmap" represented the US intervening to impose a worse settlement when powerful Palestinian insurgency was near the point of driving Israel out of the Occupied Territories and establishing a fully independent and democratic Palestinian state.

Not so. To counterpose Palestinian insurgency as our alternative to the "roadmap" is unreal. On all accounts, the actual state of things is that the secular and democratic forces among the Palestinians have suffered severely from the pauperisation and atomisation imposed on them by Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories. External intervention which even promises or makes gestures towards restraining the Israeli government and putting Palestinian independence once again on the agenda is more likely to revive those secular and democratic forces than to suppress them.

Of course, when the secular and democratic forces become strong enough to go far beyond the muddy phrases of the "roadmap", then they will clash with the USA, and Palestinian Authority forces trained and pressurised by the USA. We should not trust or give credit to the USA.

Maybe the "roadmap" is no more than diplomatic bluff by the USA. Maybe the USA does have designs to remodel the Middle East, but they will peter out in chaos and conflict. Maybe.

But it would be foolish to underestimate our enemies. Foolish to assume that they are capable of nothing beyond crude military suppression. To assume that would be as disorienting as insisting that it is absolutely ruled out that the USA will patch together some sort of quasi-workable quasi-democratic capitalist regime in Iraq.

Sharon will obstruct the "roadmap" as much as he can. But Israel is not just a collection of little and big Sharons. A large section of the Israeli people is willing to abandon most of the settlements and negotiate some form of "two states". Sharon will not be prime minister of Israel for ever. He may cease to be prime minister earlier if even very limited, utterly inadequate progress on the "roadmap" takes away from him his major political asset, the conviction among Israelis that there is no realistic negotiated option and so they must support a "hard line" to stop the suicide bombers.

Equally, the USA, even the US ruling class, is not just a collection of little and big Richard Perles.

It is not true that the US ruling class believes, as maybe it once did, that military suppression of the militants (today: the Islamists) among the Palestinians is all you need for peace.

However battered and shattered the Palestinians have been, they have been able to resist hard enough to convince even the US ruling class of that.

If the USA cannot secure fully friendly regimes in the Arab states, a workable second-best for it is to ensure that it has ones which are fearful and willing to do deals. It can get that second-best by being the intermediary with which the Arab states have to deal in order to get concessions or respite from their well-armed neighbour Israel.

The USA's Iraq war marked a new turn. This war, unlike Vietnam or even Afghanistan, Kosova or the 1991 Gulf war, was not an exercise in "containment". It was gratuituous, aggressive, unprovoked. It aimed not to restore a status quo but to create something in Iraq which has never existed there before. It aimed to gain leverage for a different order of things in the Middle East, one that would give the USA much more secure hegemony by way of reshaping the whole Middle East on free-trade, pluto-democratic lines.

The US ruling class knows that in order to push that through to the end, it has to lever a reshaping of Israel-Palestine with some form or another of "two states".

Its efforts may peter out in sham and failure. It will not push for a form that we would endorse. But if it is confident enough to pursue its large aims, the USA has to try to engineer a "two states" policy which can gain at least a certain minimum of Arab acceptance and consent.

What happens in Israel-Palestine probably depends to a significant degree on what happens in Iraq. The more the USA's political project in Iraq achieves success, the more the USA's ruling circles will feel confident enough to put vigour into acting on the "roadmap". Even in continued difficulties, also, the USA may calculate that it must put energy into the "roadmap" in order to secure Arab cooperation in fixing up Iraq.

We should not place any trust in that possibility. But we should not write our analysis "backwards", starting from a desire for anti-US agitational hoopla and fitting the analysis to that.

Martin Thomas

Peace but not democracy?

It is possible that the US will prove able to impose some kind of "permanent settlement" which satisfies the Arab states, the majority of war-weary Palestinians (and provides a framework for controlling the rest), and Israel; which results in peace treaties between Israel and Lebanon, Syria, etc; and in which Palestine is formally independent. We should not simply "oppose" it, in the sense of advocating or supporting actions (demonstrations and more) to disrupt or prevent it. And we should oppose those who are against it because it includes a version of two states.

There is a history of the bourgeoisie being rather better at sorting out intractable problems when it puts its mind to it than the left tends to allow. Given both the need to sort out this problem in the interests of a more secure Middle East within which profit can be made, and the evident determination of the "neo-cons" to do what they say, some serious shift in the Israel/Palestine conflict is possible.

If this is what the debate on the road map is about, I agree with Martin.

But even if the road map is implemented, and even if its implementation results in "peace", would this be democracy? Our programme is for the fullest, most consistent democracy. For the Palestinians, this means, minimally: full Israeli withdrawal; the dismantling of most of the settlements, certainly all of them populated by militant nutters; the right of the Palestinians to choose their own president, and elect whoever else they like; Palestinian control over their own security; no "right" of Israel to re-occupy whenever it sees the need; contiguous territory in the 67 borders; no wall separating the nations inside Palestinian territory*; some kind of settlement on the refugees; and on East Jerusalem.

Most of these-minimal-requirements for democracy are outside the terms of the road map altogether. It proposes an utterly impoverished conception of peace founded on the acceptance by the Palestinians that this is all they can hope for. Maybe it is. But it is a million miles from our programme. We can't "oppose" it. But in the sense of general opposition to the ruling class, we should be "opposed" to it-in the sense, for instance, that we opposed the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland-not in the name of the resumption of embittered conflict, or some ultra-nationalist programme, but in the name of democracy.

Many in the Israeli peace camp, I think, accept this impoverished conception of peace. Martin refers approvingly to how "Â…Warshawski, Gush Shalom, and the Joint Action Group see itÂ…[that] the broad outlines of the 'roadmap' are a positive move, and Â… the USA should be criticised and denounced for its failures to pursue the 'official stated purpose'Â…". This seems to me an attitude of critical support, and we should not take it. It is not true, as Martin argues, that to reject critical support means that the "Joint Action Group for Israeli-Palestinian PeaceÂ… who want to push for 'the actual implementation of the roadmap [to] see to it that it does get to its official stated purposeÂ… should be denounced outright', only that we should argue that its officially stated purpose is a meagre goal, whose acceptance as a goal is defined by despair. Of course we should not "denounce" the Israeli peace movement.

You might define the "line" I am arguing as "neither support not opposition" to the road map-except this sounds too neutral, too indifferent. The road map is a miserable affair. Our programme, fundamentally, is counterposed to it.

What we mean by two states is a democratic agreement between the two peoples, "from below". We do not advocate two states as the work of a mass, popular movement out of some dogmatic inanity, but because it is the only solution which will work-that is, bring lasting peace which genuinely begins to heal the wounds and create the basis for working class unity. The "road map" can neither be expected to deliver democracy in the sense that we mean it, nor to activate and mobilise the agency to which we look.

  • To see what the wall is about, and how much Palestinian territory it annexes or is planned to annexe, go to the Gush Shalom site

Clive Bradley

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