June 11, 2003
The American-led summit on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on June 4 had an unfortunate whiff of familiarity about it.
Despite the rhetoric about this new "roadmap," it is in reality a replay of the failed Oslo agreements since it neglects to guarantee Palestinian sovereignty. The consequences of its certain failure, however, threaten to be even more catastrophic this time.
The parallels to the Oslo accords are striking -- and not encouraging.
Like Oslo, the roadmap follows an American-led war in Iraq that altered the political landscape in the region. Like Oslo, it seeks to halt a popular Palestinian uprising against Israel's brutal occupation. And like Oslo, it offers only vague assurances of autonomy for the Palestinians (what the roadmap, in its stubborn ambiguity, calls "attributes of sovereignty").
The fundamental flaw with the roadmap, and the reason why it is doomed to failure, is its inability to address the substantive issues required for a two-state solution to the conflict: borders, refugees, settlements, water rights and the status of Jerusalem. Under the roadmap, these issues are set to be discussed at a later date.
Oslo used the same strategy of deferment. Signed in 1993, it established a five-year timeline by which these issues were supposed to be resolved. Basing itself on key U.N. resolutions, Oslo also required that neither side alter the configurations on the ground.
Yet, in the period from 1993 to 2000, illegal Israeli settlements in territories seized during the 1967 war continued at an alarming pace. The number of settlers doubled from around 200,000 people to about 400,000 (including East Jerusalem).
Suicide bombings, which I have always abhorred and condemned, became commonplace, and the occupation's brutality continued unabated. Palestinian life in the occupied territories spiraled downwards, with frequent house demolitions, mass arrests and detentions, border closures and other forms of collective punishment.
Rather than bring peace, the Oslo agreements led to large increases in violence and poverty, even before the second intifida began in September 2000. Oslo gave limited powers to the Palestinian leadership so that it could police Israel's occupation in return for severely curtailed political autonomy.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's "generous offer" at Camp David in December 2000 repeated the same formula. According to the respected Israeli anthropologist Jeff Halper, Israel did indeed offer the Palestinians elements of control over much of the land of the West Bank, but the division of the land would have retained Israel's "matrix of control" (Halper's term) over Palestinian life, dividing the Palestinians into a patchwork of isolated cantons with no economic viability and barely any contiguity. In Halper's words, control "does not necessarily equate with sovereignty."
The current situation is no different.
Sovereignty for the Palestinians is still elusive and not clearly articulated in its phases. And the roadmap contains no new enforcement mechanisms, such as independent human-rights monitors, to ensure compliance of the terms it does set out.
Everyone has the right to a nation, a notion enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Without sovereignty, the Palestinians continue to be a people whose lives are determined not by themselves, but under another power's military occupation.
What is needed is an immediate and transparent, internationally sponsored peace conference between Israelis and Palestinians, including those in Israel and in the diaspora.
We should harbor no illusions that this will lead to an immediate cessation of all the violence. But cloaked meetings, such as those that led to the Oslo accords or that drew up the roadmap, and vague promises between a few leaders simply cannot suffice.
The fates of Israelis and Palestinians are inextricably entwined, and all must be involved in creating a resolution to the conflict, a resolution that is based on justice and equality for everyone -- Palestinian and Israeli, Christian, Jewish and Muslim alike. Only then will the road to peace be found.
Moustafa Bayoumi is a professor in the English department at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and co-editor of "The Edward Said Reader" (Vintage, 2000).