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from issue no. 06 - 2003

ANALYSIS. The timid negotiation draft between Israelis and Palestinians at the test of

Negotiate despite the attacks

Punctual as influenza, after the improvement, modest enough, with the rapid, imperial journey/mission of President Bush to the Middle East, the kamikaze attack arrived.

by Igor Man

An israeli strike in Jerusalem's center

An israeli strike in Jerusalem's center

the timid negotiation draft went ahead. The Rabin-formula is the right one: “Negotiate despite the attacks”. A truly negative event, a gloomy novelty, accompanied this pragmatic reaction to the predictable attack. That is the alliance, let’s call it, between the more numerous and frightening Islamic radicals. The attack of Sunday 8 June 2003 at Erez, a pass on the frontier between the Gaza Strip and Israel (seven dead: four Israeli soldiers and three suicide-militiamen. Before attacking the Israeli patrol, without any hope of escape, the latter video-taped their testament as shahid [martyrs], something which presents a multiple challenge: to Bush, to Israel, and to the Palestinian Premier Abu Mazen. Even more disquieting is the fact that this challenge is a unified one, launched by Hamas, by the Islamic Jihad, by the “Brigades of martyrs”, the militia sprung from a rib of Al Fatah, the liberation movement founded by Arafat as long ago as 1958 and still, even if nominally, led by the “father of the Palestinian Homeland”, himself: Yasser Arafat.
The declaration of Abdel Aziz Rantisi, the political leader of Hamas, is significant. “The operation at Erez” - he said to the reporter from L’Unità (Umberto de Giovannangeli) – “confirms that the resistance will continue for all the period of Zionist occupation, and this to disprove the propaganda mounted at Aqaba which identified the resistance with terrorism [....]. The blood of the martyrs proves that resistance is the best way to achieve national unity”.
It’s too early to conclude that the proclaimed resistance, in the wake of the unified attack, will succeed in averting a true and proper civil war among Palestinians. That is, between those who want a guaranteed truce which will allow, under the protection of the “road map” dictated by Bush, the start of an introductory peace negotiation, and the many who want to escape from the bitterness of their lives and so want a “reasonable peace” outside the book of dreams, and as soon as possible. If it’s in fact true that Israel is going through a difficult economic situation and equally true that the Palestinians whose only sustenance comes from work in Israeli territory (now suspended) are practically on the threshold of hunger. (This generated the proposal of the Italian Government for a kind of Marshall plan which would include Bush’s promise of a free exchange zone with the United States, “within ten years”.)
The fact remains that President Bush after a long period of declared detachment from the Middle East, a detachment characterized by concise criticisms of the “maniacal fixation” of Clinton for peace in the Near East (awash with good-quality oil), succumbed to reality. The historical destiny of the Superpower is strictly tied to the so-called “Middle East problem”. The easy military victory in Iraq could easily turn into a political disaster (and also one of image) if the President does not succeed in transforming Iraq into a workshop for democracy to be exported to the whole Middle East area. We all know, by now, how Dubya Bush has many times defined himself as born again, which is to say reborn in the grace of totally unquestioning enlightenment. We know he neglects his avid reading of articles on baseball only to consult the Bible, his perennial source of information. There is much that is messianic in his dashing about the world; his recent mission to Sharm el Sheikh and to Aqaba is the proof that he feels himself anointed by God. As such, he, the new Moses, has revealed the new tables of peace probably dictated from a very exalted chair, invisible to all except to the President of the only true Superpower. The new tables can be summarised as follows. For the Israelis it is an obligatory to accept a neighboring Palestinian State, without any gaps, without any patchwork, because it will be “reclaimed” by the dismantling of the Jewish settlements. In exchange Israel will have, apart from its usual benefits, others that will help re-launch its troubled economy. Further: Israel will receive official recognition of the State of Israel by the Palestinians and by the “moderates” (Arabs) and last, but not least important, the end of suicide bombing and other forms of terrorism. With the formal courtesy that characterizes them, the Arab leaders summoned by Bush to the tourist shores of the Red Sea, responded to the diktat of the messianic President with rhetorical condemnations of terrorism (which troubles them because it threatens their survival, not only political). But some went beyond that: Abu Mazen, the premier chosen by Arafat and elected by the PLO with the go-ahead of Arafat himself, declared himself ready to turn the page, acknowledging the sufferings undergone by the Jewish people. To wish the redemption of the Jewish people means, according to Mazen, to give a similar positive response to the sacrosanct claims of the Palestinian people, who had their homeland stolen from them: politically and territorially.
The courtesy of the Arabs, as Dan Segre (one of the most enlightened experts on the Middle east) accurately observed, opened “a play”, a type of son et lumière in a historico-political key.
Evidently pleased by the success of this “play” so much wanted by him, and by the belligerent Condi Rice, on the return journey Bush confided to the journalists on board Air Force One that he felt he was the right man in the right place, the herd rider, the Good Shepherd, in other words the one who guides and goads the refractory herd on the path to the great fold of Peace. Sipping, as Vittorio Zucconi tells us in La Repubblica on 5 June 2003, a diet coke, the President confided: “Boys, it seems like a dream: I heard amazing things, I heard Palestinians talk about the sufferings of the Jews and renounce terrorism unconditionally; and I heard the Jews talk about a State of Palestine. And if they should waver, neglect their intentions, well I am there to goad them on, to control what they do, acting as a firm but good guardian (of the flock)”.
True of all comments (including our own) about such a declaration – which revealed justified satisfaction, among other things – is what Zucconi pointedly added: “Bush has made peace, between Jews and Arabs. In words. In actual fact everything has still to be seen”.
With all respect for Bush, acknowledgin his inspired fatigue, overlooking his “impatience that borders on haste” (but he and Condi improvise, “toccata and fugue”. It’s then left to others of the formidable White House staff to give form and content to the intuitions [or improvisations?] of Dubyya and Condi), there’s point in remembering here the old proverb: “It’s when the snow melts you see the garbage”.
However it must be said that Bush, realistically, has run into many a mishap along the way, though continuing to stress his desire to pursue his efforts for peace. After hesitating for a long time before confronting the insidious swamp of the Middle East (which swallowed up his father and Clinton), the young Dubyya finally crossed the Rubicon. And may God help them, him and Condi.
It’s too early to conclude that the proclaimed resistance, in the wake of the unified attack, will succeed in averting a true and proper civil war among Palestinians. That is, between those who want a guaranteed truce which will allow, under the protection of the “road map” dictated by Bush, the start of an introductory peace negotiation, and the many who want to escape from the bitterness of their lives and so want a “reasonable peace” outside the book of dreams, and as soon as possible.
America can, poor Sadat used to say: America can impose peace if it wants to. On anyone: because apart from intercontinental missiles, it has total control of the herd, it’s Bush who is master of the tap of black gold, especially now that the good light Iraqi oil is safe and under control. Certainly America can, but peace cannot be conquered by pressing a switch. Peace is a difficult, patient, intelligent political operation, whose ingredients include persuasion not necessarily moral, but especially of a measure of resignation and good sense as well as pragmatic judgement: absolutely honest and impartial. It’s allowed to make mistakes but not to exaggerate. The United States, betrayed perhaps by the (noble) impatient impetus of Bush (who, let us remember, is already on course for renewal of his mandate), has already committed its first big error.
The nomination of Abu Mazen as Palestinian Prime Minister was accepted: he’s an honest man, a good patriot, without doubt, an honorable man and a companion from way back of the unpredictable Abu Ammar (Arafat’s nom-de-guerre).
He’s a realist who has always contested the worse-the-better politics that have been the eternal temptation of Arafat. But by forcing their hand until he was in any case elected (paradoxically by those who wanted to oust Arafat himself) the Americans riddled him with shot. Thereby they have given the radicals, if the word fits the PLO Islamites, the extremists who see in “armed resistance” the only viable path to obtaining justice, the chance of blackening his name. It’s true that while Arafat is challenged at many levels no one in the Palestinian sphere would dare renounce him, humiliate him publicly. With all his contradictions he remains the symbol of a nationalist revolution, secular, aimed at the recovery of the Land, he is, still, always, for the Arab masses (they exist, they exist) al-Walid, the father: of the lost Fatherland long dreamed of, the champion of Arab honor. It was seen at Sharm el Sheikh, where Abu Mazen was ostentatiously ignored by the great and little chiefs, the honest ones and the villains. In the East politics is made up also of nods, of gestures, of attitudes. The other leaders, his “brothers” literally detested him while saving appearances. The Arab masses (they exist, they exist) immediately understood that and approved. You don’t have to be a kamikaze to see an honorable man like Abu Mazen as a quisling. If they had reflected a little, if they had informed themselves (from Lewis and Morris) about the “sense of honor” as it is perceived in that part of the world where the lion is called oil and which still breathes the mystic-nationalist air that blows inexhaustibly from Mecca, well, if they had been a little more attentive, the United States wouldn’t have thrown away such an important card of Abu Mazen. To expect that Arafat would bow out like a thief found stealing from a child, was a mistake which may well increase the temperature in the coming hot season of Middle East politics. May the reader grant an old journalist who for over fifty years has frequented that world which blends religion and superstition, gentleness and fanaticism, culture and dogma, poetry and violence, cunning and wisdom, license to conclude these notes by saying that it would be well done to save Arafat. It could be the famous card in the hole. To play with firm confidence at the peace table. At the right moment. Playing poker with death can only satisfy the eternal old duellist, Sharon, who tried to squash him like a bug in 1982 by invading Lebanon. The Arab establishment certainly doesn’t love Arafat (just as those of Piedmont and Naples did not love Garibaldi, considered by the Bourbons a damned terrorist) but it has learned in these fifty years that without him war and terrorism can be waged in the Middle East, but certainly not peace.

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