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Talking for talking's sake.

A PEACE PROCESS without an end, a shepherd without a flock and a country without a people," is how one Arab cynic mockingly summed up the almost two year old Middle East attempt at peace between Arabs and Israelis.

Very few observers in the region would disagree that the peace process has been at a standstill for the past year. But with the beginning of the Clinton era, and the almost unprecedented presence of supporters of the Israeli Likud party formulating US Middle East policies (mainly the likes of people such as Martin Indyk, President Clinton's special assistant for Near East and South Asian Affairs), the chance that even an acceptable peace, not to mention a just peace, can possibly be accomplished has evaporated.

Consequently, there is a peace process but no chance for real peace. The inability of the "honest broker", the United States, actively to push for the implementation of international law and pertinent UN resolutions (194, 338, 242) has created a lucid process which is ad hoc in nature and has ignored the very "terms of reference" from which the Madrid conference was born and which was considered sacrosanct until the end of the Bush era by both the United States and Israel.

Now many Arab observers have concluded the Clinton administration has no foresight, knowledge or policy vis-a-vis the Arabs and that the US's sole aim, in the form of visits by special envoys like Denis Ross (Clinton's supervisor of Middle East negotiations), Martin Indyk and the secretary of state, Warren Christopher, is to keep the "process" alive.

"The main concern of the Americans appears to be the process and not the outcome," a sceptical Jordanian politician who calls the peace process "futile" told The Middle East. "The fact that the process is not moving forward yet buying time for Israelis to expand settlements and thus create facts on the ground does not bother the American administration at all," said Asma Khader, a human rights activist who may run for Jordanian parliament in a predominantly Palestinian district this autumn.

It has become so much more difficult to distinguish between American and Israeli policies any more," claims a Palestinian negotiator who, like most of the negotiating team, has become completely disenchanted with the talks.

The peace talks have been held by the Arab parties on the premise that a "comprehensive" peace between Arabs and Israelis win the the outcome.

This has been the Arab's preferred resolution to the conflict since the countries involved in the bilateral talks are all intricately intertwined with one another in a way perhaps incomprehensible to the West. Lebanon and Syria have a linkage which is only marginally less close than that of Jordan and Palestine.

If one party makes peace without one of the other parties, conflict (both internal and against Israel) is likely to occur. Wanting to avoid infighting between Arabs for the sake of peace with Israel, the Arab countries are likely to hold out for at least the appearance of a comprehensive peace.

But as the bargaining position of the Palestinians in particular shrinks in size even the appearance of a peace is quickly fading away.

The Palestinians

The Palestinians may be in the weakest position among the negotiators, but their demands lie at the heart of the problem. They can assert that without the occupation of Palestinian land since 1947 there would be no Israel and no conflict. By the same token, however, if the Palestinians were to disappear by being "dissolved" into the Arab World, as Israel suggested for years before the "process" began, there would be no peace.

Over the years, the Arabs (including the PLO) have publicly ceeded lands to Israel. The land which Israel captured from the Palestinians during the 1948 war was, under international law, to have been part of the Arab state and thus could be considered "occupied territory".

However, the Arab regimes conceded these lands to Israel without much ado. In fact, they have never been mentioned since Yasser Arafat, the PLO chairman, called for the creation of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in 1988.

By doing so the Palestinians conceded to negotiated over 30% of Palestine as was under the British mandate before they even went to the initial peace conference in Madrid in 1991.

While the Bush administration was adamant about referring to this 30% as technically occupied territory and openly pointing out the illegal occupation of East Jerusalem by the Israelis, the Clinton administration is doing almost the opposite.

After fighting for statehood for 40 years, the Palestinians now find themselves being offered a maximum of 10% of their land in which they may have. This consist of four areas - Nablus, Ramallah, Hebro and Gaza. There they may administer their local affairs such as health, education, municipal affairs and even police each other. All this will be under the watchful eye of the Israeli authorities.

Israel has indicated that it would be willing to be the senior administrator of such cantons of Palestinians. If that does not work, Jordan is welcome to take on the job.

The notion of a Palestinian-Jordania confederation has been fielded before and details are now being discussed. Palestinians complain the United States and Israel are forgetting that confederation (the term usually employed) has to be between states rather than regions. Otherwise it amounts to no more than a federation between the East and West Banks-a return, in effect, to the situation prevailing before the 1967 war.

In the eyes of many Palestinians, the American and Israeli governments also overlook the fact that, while the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are tired of conflict, the mentality born out of lack of schooling and general chaos of the intifada has given birth to a generation of vigilantes and street fighters which could be driven to wage an uncomfortable guerilla war against Israel.

In other words, Palestinians still want their state and - regardless of what the increasingly toothless leadership in Tunis decides - the youth of the Occupied Territories is likely to continue waging stone-throwing war against the Israel army. Israel will not of course be militarily defeated by such tactics, but neither will it be able to live in peace.

Unless the Palestinians and the Israelis find common ground, the Palestinian-Israeli track in the peace negotiations is now likely to proceed no further. Even if the PLO leadership makes concessions such as agreement to "Palestinian empowerment in Gaza" as a way of keeping the concept of statehood alive, Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are extremely unlikely to follow the orders of Tunis.

Palestinians under occupation are determined to resist any a division of the territories under Israeli control, including East Jerusalem. "No Palestinian who wants to be a leader or stay alive can sign or even make a public verbal agreement to allow for the cantonisation of the Occupied Territories and the exclusion of Jerusalem - that's the bottom line," one-senior Palestinian negotiator told The Middle East".

Just as important over the short term, Palestinians are convinced that if they agree to a broadening of the administrative responsibilities (described by the United States as "early empowerment") the end result will only be the same.

Palestinians still retain the right to run their municipal affairs with the exception of control over natural resources and security. The early empowerment offer is a slightly advanced version of what they have now, but would make Palestinians servants in a greater state under Israeli control.


Unlike the Palestinians, the Jordanians have relatively limited differences with Israel, confined to border issues, security, water rights and economic arrangements. Were it not for the presence of almost two million Palestinians in a Jordan of some 3.9 million people, there could be peace between the two countries whose borders are divided only by the Palestinian territories.

Unlike with the Palestinians as well, Jordan is not actively at war with Israel. It cannot however make a peace agreement without the satisfactory resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. King Hussein is the most popular supporter of the "comprehensive peace" resolution. He also remains willing to consider a confederal relationship with the Palestinians, but only if invited to do so.

However, internal pressure both from Islamic radicals and nationalist Jordanians will not allow him to do one or the other without the support of at least one group. The Islamists are averse to peace with Israel, but are unlikely to oppose it violently. The nationalists, on the other hand, want a separation between Palestine and Jordan to avoid being swallowed by a Palestinian majority. So long as Israel insists on carving up and settling the West Bank, the Jordanian kingdom will have little with which to attempt a confederation. Furthermore, accepting what would be perceived as an unfair deal for the Palestinians would put Jordan in precarious position.

It is likely that the Jordanians will push for broader Palestinian rights to self-government, but without military power or economic clout. Jordan is likely to remain the most peaceable of all the players in the peace process. But chances for formal agreement between Israel and Jordan will be slim unless the Palestinians sign up alongside them.

Lebanon and Syria

With Syria influencing so much of internal Lebanese politics, it is difficult to separate the two countries, even at the negotiating table. To observers of the ten rounds of talks that have taken place so far, it is clear that the Syrian delegation conflating both its own views and those of the Lebanese in talks with the Israelis. Lebanon is widely regarded by many as a trump card for Syria against Israel.

There is an overall consensus among both Arabs and the Israelis that the militarily active presence of Hizbollah fighters in southern Lebanon has been used by the Syrians to pressure Israel into leaving the occupied Golan Heights.

Financed and armed by Iran, Hizbollah has to receive its money and weaponry through Damascus with Syrian consent. If Israel offers Syria a staged withdrawal from the Golan, Damascus may be less complacent about its territory being used as a conduit for Shia fighters in the Beqaa Valley.

"Hizbollah was a bargaining chip for the Syrians, and Damascus used Hizbollah as such," an unusually emboldened Tunis-based PLO official told The Middle East. "Had Damascus been genuine in its support, it would have done more than make whimpering statements during the recent invasion.".

The Israeli invasion of south Lebanon will push aside the Palestinian-Israeli track in the peace talks for the foreseeable future. Indeed, since the deportation of over 400 alleged supporters of Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian movement, last December, the Syrian-Israeli track has moved to the top of the negotiating agenda as the least unpromising approach to agreement.

A trade off between the Syrian and Lebanese governments on one side and the Israeli government on the other is possible if the Israelis agree to withdraw from the security zone it still controls through its Lebanese militia surrogates. Rafiq Hariri, Lebanon's prime minister, has said that if the Israelis withdraw he would disarm Hizbollah completely, but will not sanctions any moves to do so otherwise. Israel, meanwhile, is unlikely to withdraw, mistrustful of the Lebanese and fearing for its own security. Thus Hizballah attacks are likely to recommence despite any agreement made.

Fighters based in South Lebanon and the Beqaa Valley in particular believe Israel's strategy of shelling civilian targets in order to turn the population against Hizbollah could fail and create a massive backlash.

"This could be the end of the peace talks and not another step to facilitate it as was planned by the Israelis and the Americans," says a Hizbollah military commander in the Beqaa valley. "The population will back Hizbollah and support retaliation against the Israelis. This war has only just begun."

Independent observers of the the events in south Lebanon agree that many civilians in the area directed their anger at Israel rather than Hizbollah and other guerrillas who had fought Israeli occupation forces.

Any degree of support for Hizbollah in south Lebanon win suffice to encourage the Shia resistance fighters to maintain their attacks on Israel.

The issue must remain in some doubt, however. The US secretary of state, Warren Christopher, said the events in south Lebanon could serve people in the region as a reminder of what war was about-just in case they were against peace. His remarks may have seemed unduly cynical, but Israel's military superiority will weigh heavily against Hizbollah's chances of staging a comeback.

No war, no peace - just a process

What most observers in the region predict is that all sides, including the Arab oil states, will push for a preliminary agreement in order to save face. Such a preliminary agreement will be officially described as a "stage".

But in the long term an interim agreement will be unlikely to lead anywhere if Israel refuses to withdraw from the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and southern Lebanon. The impetus to the preliminary agreement may however, be a partial withdrawal or the symbolic dismemberment of a settlement on the Golan by the Israelis.

"They will make a theatrical performance and then settle the settlers in the West Bank," said one Palestinian observer, drawing up a scenario of events. This will protract peace talks well into 1994 or maybe even 1995. By then the process will be established and minor concessions made. It win stay alive, simply for its own sake.
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Title Annotation:Israel's unscrupulous attacks on south Lebanon criticized; the Middlle East peace talks has become futile
Author:Shahin, Mariam
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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