Scotland on Sunday - Sun 13 Apr 2003
US gives Israel 3 years to quit occupied Arab land
AN independent Palestine will be created as early as 2005 under a US-backed ‘roadmap to peace’ in the Middle East, full details of which emerged last night.
The ‘carrot and stick’ policy adopted by the US means the Arab world will be rewarded with a Palestinian state if it stops supporting terrorist attacks against the US, Israel and their allies.
But hawks close to the White House have made it clear that regimes which continue to assist the enemies of the US - Syria in particular - are likely to face military action.
Former Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, a barometer of opinion within the neo-conservatives at the heart of the White House, yesterday warned that Syria could be attacked if it was found to be harbouring weapons of mass destruction smuggled out of Iraq.
Despite Perle’s warning, the revelation that the US administration was prepared to back a detailed peace plan seemed likely to reduce fears that the Iraq conflict would engulf neighbouring countries.
The permanent peace deal, to be officially unveiled later this month, requires that Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian territory and withdraws from land captured since 1967.
The draft plan proposes an independent Palestine within three years.
The new Palestinian Administration would, in return, unequivocally renounce violence and agree actively to root out terrorist cells responsible for suicide bombings, helped by Israel’s security forces.
A leaked draft of the long-anticipated roadmap - devised by a ‘Quartet’ of the European Union, Russia, United Nations and United States - has been placed in the House of Commons library by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
Billed as a "performance-based and goal-driven roadmap", the document proposes a three-phase settlement whose destination is a "final and comprehensive settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict by 2005."
This deadline, it says, will be reached "sooner than indicated" if both Israelis and Palestinians co-operate.
Crucially, there is no firm demand that Palestinian suicide bombings stop before negotiations start. British officials have made clear that such a condition would give terrorist groups a veto on the peace process.
Phase One will have three components: ending terrorism; normalising Palestinian life; and rebuilding the Palestinian government institutions, including those formerly based in East Jerusalem.
It will start when Palestinians "declare an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism and undertake visible effort on the ground to arrest, disrupt and restrain individuals and groups planning attacks".
A crackdown on terrorist groups must begin, as the "rebuilt security apparatus" of the Palestinian Authority begins "targeted and effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror". This would involve "security cooperation" with Israel.
At the same time, Israel must "immediately" dismantle the watchtowers and settlements secured by military incursions since September 2000, when it moved to suppress the second Palestinian intifada.
Israeli settlements on areas conquered after 1967 would be "frozen" and any expansion forbidden.
But Israel would not be required to withdraw from these areas during Phase One.
The roadmap’s wider aim is to normalise Israel’s relationships with Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Syria, telling the Arab states that their cooperation is the price of an independent Palestine.
All Arab states would stop funding any Palestinian terrorist organisations, in public or in private. Any payment intercepted would jeopardise the entire peace process. All money intended to help Palestine should be channelled through its Ministry of Finance.
Financial reconstruction would be helped by Israel to allow a Palestinian Chamber of Commerce to reopen in East Jerusalem, a quarter of the city seen by Arabs as the rightful capital of Palestine.
An “international task force on Palestinian reform” would judge its economic and judicial progress. The aim is to hold free elections.
According to the roadmap, Phase One will only end “when the Palestinian people have a leadership acting decisively against terror, willing and able to build a practising democracy”.
This will be decided by the Quartet who, at each stage, will interpret whether the conditions are met.
An international conference, involving all Middle East states, would be called for the move to Phase Two.
The onus then switches to Syria and Lebanon, who are required to restore full diplomatic and commercial ties with Israel and open trade offices previously closed. Borders of the autonomous Palestine would be discussed.
Noticeably, there is no demand for a return to the exact 1967 boundaries as Israel has successfully settled some parts but is willing to swap it for other territory.
After the election, Palestine would be autonomous but not an independent state. Nonetheless, the Quartet would “promote international recognition of a Palestinian state, including possible UN membership”.
If the Quartet agree that the ceasefire is holding and the Arab world has become ready to accept Israel, Phase Two could last as little as six months.
Phase Three would be a final negotiation whose aim would be an “end to the occupation which began in 1967” and “the vision of two states – Israel and a sovereign, independent and viable Palestine”.
Talks on a Palestinian state would be “based on” – but not dictated by – the United Nations Security Council resolutions which demanded Israel to retreat from its 1967 conquests. If agreement on East Jerusalem and refugees is reached, Palestine would be granted independence.
But the problems facing implementation of the roadmap were already beginning to emerge last night.
The plan has already been seen by the Israeli government, which initially said it had “a hundred amendments” to put down.
Its London embassy said it has “sent several observations” to Washington and warned it will not enter Phase One without an end to the suicide bombings.
Copies of the roadmap are being kept at the European Commission in Brussels. Political advisers who have seen the draft fear the end to Palestinian violence may be the first obstacle.
Steven Everets, Middle East analyst at the Centre for European Reform in London, said Brussels is keen to start talks without a complete end to violence while Washington is still angling for a firmer commitment.
“How far do you hold the Palestinian Authority responsible for the actions of Hamas? This is a potential sticking point, and it could prove to be a big problem,” he said.
But the draft, he said, is likely to be published with its imperfections simply to break the deadlock.
The Foreign Office said the draft roadmap it laid out in the Commons is unlikely to be changed as Condoleezza Rice, the US National Security Adviser, has ruled out reopening discussion over its contents.
The dates in the draft – predicting Phase Two to start by June 2003 – were proposed in December last year, and will be pushed forward by at least six months.
Straw’s decision to publish the leaked draft is seen as part of a long-standing attempt to push Washington into releasing the roadmap. There are concerns that President Bush may delay publication, through fear that it may backfire on him during the elections.
The consequences of the failure of a move towards peace in the Middle East were spelt out yesterday by Richard Perle, the hawkish former adviser to the Pentagon.
He warned that if Syria gave shelter to former henchmen in Saddam Hussein’s regime, or helped hide weapons of mass destruction, the consequences could be disastrous.
Daniel Neep, head of the Middle East & North Africa programme at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) said the rising numbers of warnings flashing between Washington and Damascus exposed a significant change in US policy.
"Washington is laying down some very clear red lines that Syria can't cross,” he said.
The rising tensions between America and Syria have caused diplomatic problems for Blair, who has maintained cordial relations with the Middle East state, and welcomed President Bashar Assad to London in December.
The Foreign Office last night resisted suggestions of another military campaign in the region, but made it clear that Britain was unlikely to support it.
# View draft text of the roadmap, which has been placed in the House of Commons library by the Foreign Office. Officials say this will be "topped and tailed" - but not substanially altered - within the next two weeks.