Palestine: No Sign of Justice Yet

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Has US victory in Iraq set the scene for a revival of the misnamed Middle East 'peace process'? Although both Israeli and Palestinian governments have agreed to abide by the 'road map' peace plan, the chances of this latest round of negotiations producing lasting peace are very slim.

Many of the reasons lie in the 'road map' itself. The document sets out a three-phase plan for achieving 'a permanent two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict'. May 2003 was the target date for the completion of the first stage, which envisaged sweeping reforms of the Palestinian authority, including the appointment of a Palestinian prime minister for the first time, the dismantlement of all Israeli settlement outposts erected since May 2001, and an 'end to violence and terrorism'. Naturally the last condition is directed only at the Palestinian Authority, which is meant to confiscate 'illegal weapons' and destroy the 'terrorist infrastructure'.

Phase two, expected to run from June to December 2003, includes an international peace conference, Palestinian elections and the restoration of Arab states' trade links and diplomatic ties with Israel. The final stage runs from January 2004 to 2005. Another international conference is planned which will tie up small loose ends such as 'borders, refugees, Jerusalem, settlements' in order to realise 'the vision of two states, Israel and sovereign, independent, democratic and viable Palestine, living side by side in peace and security'.

The 'road map' offers little to the Palestinians. Once again the Palestinian Authority is expected to end the intifada. Meanwhile the Israelis are only committed to dismantling settlements erected since May 2001, a small fraction of the total.

The 'road map's' talk of reform also misleads - Arafat's administration may well be corrupt and violent but it is not the same as the occupation. And as for the big issues, it is here that the 'road map' is most vague. It skates over the right of return for the millions of Palestinian refugees in the camps of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

While the Israeli side was supposed to have been implementing 'confidence building measures' it was instead targeting unarmed international peace activists and demolishing Palestinian homes. Far from ending attacks on civilians, Israeli forces continued to attack Palestinian leaders and in early June decided to declare war on Hamas, by attempting to assassinate the group's spokesman Dr Abdul Aziz Rantisi. Israel has also continued work on the 'Separation Wall', a concrete fence on the scale of the Berlin Wall which cuts like a wound through the West Bank. According to a UN report published in May more than 10,000 Palestinians have already been trapped between the wall and the Green Line, Israel's pre-1967 border. Israeli human rights organisation, B'tselem, says that the wall will harm Palestinian agriculture and cut off access to hospitals and schools. The UN report warns that the effective annexation of large parts of the West Bank puts Israel in breach of the 1995 interim agreement, one of the centrepieces of the previous round of negotiations.

So if the Israeli government can flout past agreements with impunity, what hope is there that the 'road map' will be any different? These negotiations may deliver a stunted bantustan, but neither justice nor peace.