premises and facts

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    The Region: The peace plan show, By Barry Rubin

    Even by Middle East standards the gap between Facts and rhetoric is exceptionally wide in the current publicity about the Performance-Based Roadmap peace plan. Articles, speeches, media coverage, the travels and meeting of leaders all seem to point to the possibility of progress or breakthroughs.

    Tens of millions of people are taking this story at face value, though it is a work of diplomatic fiction if ever there was one. The whole thing is based on expectations so thoroughly wrong and Premises so false that they can be decisively exposed by a few minutes of reflection.

    Yet the show continues because there are so many motives for staging it among the different parties involved. (No doubt we will some day be subjected to elaborate tales of how it came so close to success but failed on account of some ludicrous supposed reason.)
    Let's review some of the many contradictions between roadmap and reality:

    Premise: Abu Mazen is providing an alternative Palestinian leadership that is ready to make peace.

    Fact: While Abu Mazen's intentions are good, he is helpless. Indeed, while he would once have succeeded Arafat he is now discredited by his people though he has sacrificed himself to help them. He has no power over Fatah, the PLO, the Palestinian Authority, the security forces, or anything else.
    It is amazing how few people have followed him despite the Palestinians' disastrous situation.

    Premise: Yasser Arafat has been pushed aside.

    Fact: Arafat has employed his usual bag of tricks to subvert Abu Mazen and keep power in his own hands. Then he uses those hands to ensure that no progress is made.

    Premise: The Palestinian Authority is talking seriously about ending the violence.

    Fact: The PA, through Arafat's men, is the main sponsor, paymaster and inciter of terrorism on a daily basis.

    Premise: The PA might conceivably get Hamas to accept a cease-fire.

    Fact:The PA leadership is allied with Hamas in committing the violence. Abu Mazen can only politely ask Hamas to stop terrorism. When they refuse he can only ask them again.

    Premise: Hamas might conceivably accept a cease-fire.

    Fact: Hamas is not interested in making peace or stopping violence, not only because of its hard-line ideological stance but also because it is aware that the continuing battle is its best one might say only chance of gaining Palestinian leadership.

    Premise: Abu Mazen has some plan for transforming Hamas into a peaceful force.

    Fact: His plan is roughly the same one Arafat has been using since 1995: Offer Hamas participation in a coalition government and integration into the PA security forces.

    That would mean Hamas and Islamic Jihad people being given better guns and more training, which they would no doubt use to commit additional terrorist acts in future.

    Premise: The key problem to be resolved is to create a Palestinian state and end the Israeli presence in the West Bank and Gaza. Once Palestinians believe this will be the outcome they will be ready to make a deal.

    Fact: This is the same idea that underpinned the failed Oslo process. Palestinians should have such views but in Fact they don't, partly because their leaders have convinced them that compromise is cowardice, that Israel will never offer them anything meaningful, that the so-called right of return is more important than independence, and that they are in Fact winning the war.

    Palestinians may question some of these ideas, but not in public.

    Premise: If only Israel cooperates and makes concessions the situation will improve.

    Fact: While Palestinian leaders constantly demand concessions from Israel easing security controls, withdrawing from Palestinian-populated areas, releasing Palestinians involved in terrorism, dismantling settlements, and so on they never seem to give anything in exchange. Not a finger is lifted to stop the terrorism, much less any other compromises.

    Premise: Israeli attacks on terrorists are counterproductive.

    Fact: Given the Palestinian determination to keep fighting, Israeli actions are the only things that can effectively reduce the level of successful terrorism by weakening the terrorists, disrupting their activities and intimidating would-be participants.
    It is no instant or perfect solution, but it is the only strategy that may achieve anything.

    Premise: Saddam Hussein's overthrow has created a chance for progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front.

    Fact: The war in Iraq has had no perceptible effect on any aspect of this issue.

    Premise: The United States is in a position to advance a new peace process.

    Fact: While the US certainly has incentives to show it is trying to make progress, it exercises no useful leverage on the Palestinians. It has shown no ability to strengthen Abu Mazen or gain a cessation of terrorism. It cannot even get its European allies to stop trying to build up Arafat and unconditionally subsidize the PA.

    Premise: The road map will bring European and Arab states' policies closer to the US's.

    Fact: European and Arab states tend to view the road map as a plan that will automatically bring an independent Palestinian state in two years regardless of what the Palestinian leadership does.

    IN SHORT, this process is going nowhere and is unlikely to do better. To cite just one example: Since it is already clear that Abu Mazen is defeated, no Palestinian leaders will join him. He is not going to get any stronger than he is now.

    Of course, as noted above and in previous columns, the US, Europeans, Arab states, Abu Mazen, and Israel have an interest in continuing the process. They all want to show they are working for peace and don't want to be blamed for the failure.

    Israelis and other people have a reason to persuade themselves that the current mechanism provides some hope to escape the relentless gloominess of the situation.

    The only ones who share no interest in preserving this illusory initiative are Arafat, the Fatah militants and Hamas, those responsible for the violence. Indeed, the process gives them more incentive to attack in order to stop it.

    The real questions are:

    How long will this failed process continue?

    How will everyone find a rationale to abandon it?

    How will they explain its failure meaning, who will they blame?

    Will any action be taken against the forces that sabotaged the road map?

    The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, part of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC). His most recent book is The Tragedy of the Middle East .

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