Where Will USA 'Roadmap'
on the US 'Roadmap' and recent developments in the Israel- Palestine conflict
WPI Briefing interview with Fateh Sheikh
WPI Briefing: The last week is being characterised as the bloodiest in recent years of the Israel-Palestine conflict with sixty dead and hundreds injured. This is while the Aqaba summit held the week before and the US 'Roadmap' was proclaimed to be the start of a new march to peace. Please comment.
Fateh Sheikh: Public opinion all over the world voiced serious pessimism towards the peace plan started by George Bush at the Aqaba summit. They were right. How can one believe that Bush - the world's symbol of warmongering and jingoism - has become a peace-maker overnight? Or how is it possible to imagine Sharon - the man responsible for stifling the past peace process and imposing a new cycle of killing and misery upon Palestinians - extending an olive branch? The week after the summit and the grim reality of the bloody race between Israel's state terrorism and Hamas' Islamic terrorism once again displayed the reality behind Bush - Sharon's 'sacred alliance' against peace in Palestine and the region. The question on everyone's minds is: why must this spiral of terror go on at the price of the lives of generations of people?
Israel has no intention of establishing any real and viable peace (which equates to accepting a Palestinian sovereign state) since the extreme-right Sharon has taken over and given the US' extreme-right president Bush's almost unconditional support. Only the pressure of a strong public opinion all over the world for the Palestinian people, combined with the challenging force of the EU and Russia especially in Middle East politics, can make them take some small steps, if any at all, in this direction. But the appalling Islamic terrorism of September 11 has given the USA the 'legitimacy' to ignore these pressures for a while and totally back Sharon's hard line against the Palestinian people. So the decade-long attempts for peace under the Oslo accord have been derailed.
Moreover, the US war against Iraq has strengthened political Islam in the entire region and, of course, Islamic groups in Palestine. They have found themselves in a 'legitimate' position to continue their terrorism, their atrocious attacks on Israeli civilians, justifying them as the 'right of defence'! In such a deteriorated situation, the newly-appointed Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmood Abbas, whose coming to the fore was a reluctant compromise between the Palestinian authorities and the USA and Israel, can by no means bring the Islamic groups behind him. The already complicated Palestinian question has become so complex that the prospect of peace looks vague and far from everyone's reach.
WPI Briefing: What is the 'Road Map' about? Is it a repeated game, a piece in the vicious cycle in which the Palestinian question has become trapped, or can it finally lead to a Palestinian state?
Fateh Sheikh: Obviously it has nothing to do with helping Palestinians get rid of their long-time suffering. But neither is it a repeated game. It is an attempt by the USA and Israel to exploit the momentum of the US military victory in Iraq to impose a system of state relations in the Middle East in which both the US' political grip (hegemony) on the Middle East and Israel's strong position vis-à-vis Palestine and other states in the region are guaranteed. The two objectives are intertwined. But not only the hegemony, even the very progress of any US policy in the Middle East, cannot be achieved without having a role in the solution of the Palestinian question, i.e. a definite role in the establishment of a Palestinian state.
In the first place, the roadmap is assumed to give the USA the opportunity to take hold of the whole peace process, expelling the EU and Russia from any intervention and maintaining its hegemony over the Middle East which is a key zone in its dream for a 'New World Order'. In the second place, it may ensure that Israel keeps its dominant position against the future Palestinian state and keep the population there in poverty and rightlessness. The roadmap is a map for the USA and Israel to go ahead with their objectives despite disagreement over some minor details.
WPI Briefing: Is there any 'link' between the US occupying presence in Iraq and its attempts to feign and play 'peace maker' in the Middle East? What is its aim in this regard?
Fateh Sheikh: There is of course real links. First, the US reckons it has a strong position after it has gained military victory and the UN's okay to stay in Iraq as an occupying power as long as possible. Second, it knows it needs to do something for the 'peace' and 'stability' of the region to justify its military presence and occupation. But it seems that the US has no reasonable strategy or plan except the logic of force and bullying. The 'logic' of military bullying has to meet its logical consequences and that has already begun (look at Iraq and Afghanistan). Now they admit they had underestimated the problems both in Iraq and in the region. Indeed the extreme-right wing of the US establishment with its lack of strategic vision cannot help falling into the bully logic of militarism. That was the case with G. Bush Sr.'s Gulf War in 1991 too. But every military engagement has its political aftermath which must be managed, and that is the actual meaning of any 'link'. Now the fact is that the USA may suffer a political defeat in the Middle East despite its military victory. Post-Saddam Iraq, the Palestinian issue and political Islam are the key issues in this challenge.
WPI Briefing: What kind of role will Mahmood Abbas play in the coming political developments as distinct from Arafat?
Fateh Sheikh: His role is totally bound to a balance between forcing Hamas and other Islamic groups to a ceasefire, as the first step to neutralising and marginalising them, and getting concessions from the Israeli side, both of which are now far from his reach. He is not stronger nor a more influential or authoritative personality than Arafat, but he has the opportunity for some manoeuvres in the narrow gap between Israel and the US caused by latter's need to play 'peace-maker' in that part of the world at this juncture of time.
WPI Briefing: What is the position of Islamic groups like Hamas in the current situation? What can they do for or against this process?
Fateh Sheikh: Political Islam is benefiting from the US war against Iraq for the time being. The disorder and dark scenario, i.e. a society ripped apart by war, skirmishes and misery resulted by this war has provided an environment in which Islamic groups can grow and recruit more people to be brain-washed and used as actors to implement their terrorist plans. That is the case of Hamas in Palestine nowadays. Hamas is now in the spotlight of politics but it cannot play a durable role; it exploits terrorism to gain a place in the plan and finally, if not smashed at all, it may adjust itself to the USA policy to get a chance of survival and a segment of power in a possible compromise scenario. Hamas is a terrorist Islamic group but, in the final analysis, it is an extreme-right anti-freedom wing in Palestinian politics. The contradiction for Hamas as other branches of political Islam lies in that they can only survive in the crisis and by means of terror; in all political processes they will be losers. Finally I think that it is our task, the socialist trend's task to help people of the region get rid of political Islam and groups like Hamas.
WPI Briefing: How can the spiralling terrorist race against the Palestinian people and Israeli citizens be broken?
Fateh Sheikh: As I said before, to break the vicious cycle of the terrorist race is our task. It depends on the socialist movement's growth in both Israeli and Palestinian societies and in the whole region. It depends as well on how strong the support of civilised humanity to the Palestinian people's cause is. The Palestinian people's struggle to get rid of rightlessness, reoccupation and misery imposed by Israel with the US' backing, deserve the most fervent support. The daily killings and reoccupation raids must immediately and unconditionally end. Israel must recognise a sovereign Palestinian state possessing and practising equal rights to the Israeli state. This is the only human and just solution for the Palestine question which can restore a civil life there and give the people in both societies the opportunity to decide their lives free from current nationalist and religious provocations. The end of the suffering of the people in that part of the world can be achieved, not by Bush and Sharon's policies, but by the strong pressure of freedom-loving humanity.