The Palestine Liberation Organisation has, since the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000, called for international intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Usually they have talked of the deployment of United Nations peacekeeping troops. This has reflected their understanding that the Palestinians could not hope alone to prevail against the militarily superior Israelis.
Now international intervention has been initiated by the USA. The USA has published a "roadmap" for peace, proposing a resolution of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict by way of establishing what they call a "sovereign, independent and viable" Palestinian state alongside Israel. The roadmap is scheduled to lead to an independent Palestinian state by 2005, in three stages. Advance from one stage to another will depend on real progress in the earlier stages. It is, says the preamble, a "performance- based and goal-driven roadmap".
By "viable" the USA primarily means a Palestinian state able to control the people in its territory, a state which will not collapse in the face of internal opposition - immediately, opposition to a settlement in which the Palestinians and the surrounding Arab states recognise Israel and in which the Palestinian demand for the "right of return" will remain unsatisfied. There is likely to be Palestinian opposition beyond that of the Islamic chauvinists of Hamas. The Israeli-Palestinian "peace process" is to be actively supervised by a "quartet" consisting of the USA, the European Union, Russia, and the UN.
Palestinian Authority accepts roadmap
The Palestinian Authority immediately accepted the roadmap "in full", insisting that the Israelis do likewise. The Israeli cabinet "accepted" the roadmap subject to conditions and by a minority vote. Those voting against and the abstainers made up the majority. It is certain that when he says he subscribes to "an independent Palestinian state", Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon does not mean by it what the Palestinians mean. Sharon is manoeuvring with the Americans. The day the Israeli government "accepted" the roadmap, which requires a freeze on new Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, it simultaneously awarded a contract for the construction of another new settlement. Real acceptance of the roadmap proposals would probably require a prior political upheaval in Israel, and the election of a government genuinely committed to it. A precondition for that political upheaval - the reverse of the rightward spiral since the previous "peace process" collapsed in September 2000 - is the production by this initiative of a credible prospect of peace.
But the roadmap is silent on such questions as Israeli control of Israeli military roads and garrisons that partition Palestinian territory into bantustans. Its talk of a "sovereign, independent, viable" Palestinian state should, in any normal understanding of the words, rule out the bantustan version, which is what Sharon probably means when he says he accepts an independent Palestinian state. All such questions will be the subject of negotiations and manoeuvres. In those negotiations the Palestinians will be the weaker side, confronted by Israeli "facts" and US favouritism towards Israel.
This is a decisive test for those around George Bush who said they intended the recent war against Iraq to be the beginning of a democratisation and stabilisation of the Middle East. As regards the Palestinians, it is also a test of the USA's ability at "nation-building" and state-creation where no effective state exists. 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. Are they likely to? One of two things. Either this is a serious attempt to "sort out" the Israeli- Palestinian problem, motivated by the USA's interest in stabilising the region. Or it is Bush going through the motions to placate the Europeans, and will soon run out of steam.
Viable Palestine or Bantustans?
It is in the USA's interest to find a viable solution. Contrary to pseudo-left mythology, Israel is not a prop of US interests in the area but a major liability to the USA in securing pliant and friendly regimes in the oil-rich countries. The Americans may, therefore, be serious in this attempt. If they are, they will have to insist with Israel on a settlement which Palestinians will think "viable" and acceptable. And a really "sovereign, independent and viable Palestinian state" could not be a collection of bantustans.
Socialists should give no credence or political support to Bush or the "Quartet", or have any confidence in their will or ability to carry through a between Israel and the Palestinians and between Israel and the Arab states. If they do something approximating to what we want, it will be done in their own way, not ours, and for their reasons, to serve their interests. But on paper, the proposals could, if implemented, lead to a Jewish- Palestinian and wider Jewish-Arab settlement.
The document defines itself as "a performance-based and goal driven roadmap, with clear phases, timelines, target dates, and benchmarks aiming at progress through reciprocal steps by the two parties in the political, security, economic, humanitarian, and institution- building fields, under the auspices of the Quartet... " A two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will only be achieved through an end to violence and terrorism, when the Palestinian people have a leadership acting decisively against terror and willing and able to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty, and through Israel's readiness to do what is necessary for a democratic Palestinian state to be established, and a clear, unambiguous acceptance by both parties of the goal of a negotiated settlement as described below".
This plan, it says, demands peace between Israel and Syria and between Israel and Lebanon. "A settlement, negotiated between the parties, will result in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors. The settlement will resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and end the occupation that began in 1967". The roadmap requires, first, the creation of an effective Palestinian state, and one with democratic institutions, able to enforce agreements between that state and Israel. It calls for a "rebuilt and refocused Palestinian Authority security apparatus [which] begins sustained, aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure. This includes commencing confiscation of illegal weapons and consolidation of security authority, free of association with terror and corruption".
Settlements must go
Of Israel it demands that it " freezes all settlement activity" ("including natural growth of settlements") and: "takes no actions undermining trust, including deportations, attacks on civilians; confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and property, as a punitive measure or to facilitate Israeli construction; destruction of Palestinian institutions and infrastructure..." "As comprehensive security performance moves forward, [Israeli army] withdraws progressively from areas occupied since September 28, 2000..."
The "map" is already behind schedule, as it proposed its "first phase" to end in May 2003. In the " second phase" (June-Dec ember 2003: "efforts are [to be] focused on the option of creating an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and attributes of sovereignty, based on [a] new constitution, as a way station to a permanent status settlement. As has been noted, this goal can be achieved when the Palestinian people have a leadership acting decisively against terror, willing and able to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty".
Of Israel it demands that it: "facilitates Task Force election assistance, registration of voters, movement of candidates and voting officials... reopens the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce and other closed Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem based on a commitment that these institutions operate strictly in accordance with prior agreements between the parties", and, after the establishment of the new Palestinian regime, "immediately dismantles settlement outposts The process would culminate in 2004/5 with an: " international conference, convened by the Quartet, in consultation with the parties, immediately after the successful conclusion of Palestinian elections, to support Palestinian economic recovery and launch a process, leading to establishment of an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders. Such a meeting would be inclusive, based on the goal of a comprehensive Middle East peace (including between Israel and Syria, and Israel and Lebanon)".
Israel out of the Occupied Territories
Socialists cannot but view this initiative with suspicion and distrust. We cannot trust even the proclaimed good intentions of those who made it and the Quartet that will supervise it. Many important things go without mention, crucially the territory over which the Palestinian government will be sovereign, though there is repeated use of the term "provisional borders". Much will be concretised in negotiations - in which, as we have already said, the Palestinians will be the weaker party. We should distrust the roadmap, and refuse to believe any of its promises until its words lead to consonant deeds. But in the name of what should socialists oppose it? In the name of the sacred right of an oppressed people to liberate themselves by force, including suicide bombs against Israeli civilians, and not by an internationally sponsored agreement?
On the recent anti-war Demonstrations we saw slogans on banners such as "Freedom for Palestine". This slogan was supported by some leftists such as the ISO as well as by Islamists. The only rational "freedom for Palestine" is the setting up of a sovereign Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories. The only other "freedom for Palestine", the one "from the river to the sea", is the Arab and Islamic chauvinist goal of conquering and destroying Israel and its Jewish people. That is a thoroughly reactionary idea.
"Two states", a Palestinian state alongside Israel, will give both Jews and Arabs in the region the rights to which they are entitled. Once more, we cannot trust Bush to bring about a two-states solution, or to give to the Palestinians the full measure of justice to which they are entitled. But our criticism of them should be specific criticism of their deeds within their proclaimed general aim of a two-states solution to the Jewish-Palestinian conflict - and, more fundamentally, within the main concern of Marxist socialists, to find ways to unite the Jewish and Arab working classes against their rulers and exploiters. Only on the basis of a consistently democratic two-states settlement of the Jewish-Arab conflict can Jewish- Arab working-class unity be created.