Sunday, 1 June 2003

This road map leads nowhere

Bush's plan fudges on too many problems to have a chance to succeed

by Eric Margolis


Call me cynical, but the latest flurry of summit meetings on the proposed road-map for Mideast peace looks like another dead end.

I have been steeped in Mideast affairs since the early 1950s, when my late mother, Nexhmie Zaimi, was one of the first female American journalists to cover the Arab world, interviewing Egyptian presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat, Jordan's King Hussein and Iraq's strongman, Nuri as-Said. She began reporting the plight of 750,000 Palestinian refugees driven from their homes by the newly created state of Israel.

Few Americans had ever heard of Palestinians. They were told Israel was "a land without people for a people without land." My mother's newspaper articles and lectures brought her constant death threats and attacks on our New York home. The newspapers for whom she wrote were pressured by major advertisers to drop her columns. A courageous, outspoken woman, she continued public speaking until she was finally silenced by threats to throw acid into my face.

Fifty years later, after living in Egypt and a lifetime travelling across the Arab world and Israel, I am an ingrained pessimist. I would like nothing better than to see an end to Palestinian's suffering, and see Israelis secure and living in productive peace with Palestinians, their spiritual first cousins.

But President George Bush's "vision" for Mideast peace, backed by Europe, Russia, the UN, and the PLO, and accepted by Israel with undisclosed key reservations, appears unlikely to succeed because it fudges so many major problems.

Under the plan, the U.S.-installed and financed Palestinian government of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas must first end attacks on Israelis and shut down the extremist movements Hamas and Islamic Jihad, then renounce the right of return of 1.5 million Arab refugees. The democratically elected PLO leader, Yasser Arafat, is to be sidelined. Then Israel will consider withdrawing troops from some areas, and accept within three years the "concept" of a provisional state of Palestine with provisional borders. The most thorny issues - Jerusalem, water rights, final borders, Arab and Jewish refugees - will be decided "in the future."

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