Debate on the "roadmap": Learn from our errors of the 1970s

Submitted by Anon on 1 October, 2003 - 5:39

The flat facts of 1967 are that on 19 June the Israeli cabinet decided to propose peace with Arab states on the basis of guarantees for Israel's security and withdrawal from the Golan Heights and West Bank (or most of it). On 28 August-2 September 1967 a summit of Arab states adopted a policy of "no recognition, no negotiation and no peace with Israel".

Some of the Arab leaders actually wanted to negotiate. The Israeli government wanted to keep East Jerusalem and Gaza. That Israel has shown much obduracy over the years, and that we should consider the rights of the Palestinians indefeasible, is obviously true.
Nonetheless, when we (adhering to the "secular democratic Palestine" theory at the time) reacted with denunciation to the first proposals from Palestinian leftists in the early 1970s that a "Palestinian mini-state" in the West Bank might be at least a step forward, we were wrong.

When we went along with the growing left orthodoxy of denouncing the Arab states primarily for being too ready to do deals with Israel, we were wrong.

Of course we should not have endorsed or put our faith in bourgeois diplomacy, Israeli, Arab, US, or other. We approach all these questions from another angle, that of advocating those principles of consistent democracy that can permit working-class unity.

Nevertheless, that we were for the independence of the colonies from the old European empires, on principle, didn't make us oppose treaties or negotiations between the old colonial powers and representatives of the oppressed peoples on how to manage independence.

The same basic approach applies to the US-EU-Russia-UN "roadmap" for two states in Israel-Palestine published in May.

Let's get some things clear straight away. Things never looked good for the roadmap. They couldn't even begin to look much good without a change of government in Israel. Even if things looked better, the outcome would depend on negotiations in which the Palestinians would be the weaker side, confronted by Israeli "facts" and US favouritism towards Israel.

All that was said in the Solidarity 31 editorial which has excited so much polemic.

Today, the roadmap is near collapse. The Palestinians risk being pulverised and herded into Bantustans.

You would think, from some of the polemics, that the Solidarity 31 editorial had reassured readers that the Bantustan danger (a theme of Solidarity's agitation for years now) was now past; we could be confident that the USA would use whatever force necessary to make sure the Palestinians got a fully independent state. Or, at least, that we could now shift our efforts to demanding that the USA keep its promises.

The editorial said nothing like that!

It did ask what was new about the roadmap.

What was new was not that the Palestinians faced terrible adverse odds; not the danger of a Bantustan outcome; not the brutality of Sharon's policies; not US complaisance towards Sharon; and not US hostility to Arafat. None of that was new. None of that would have been stopped if the roadmap had not been published.

What was new? That the USA, for the first time, was proposing a relatively short-term diplomatic process towards a "sovereign, independent, and viable" Palestinian state.

So we noted that. It opened the possibility of some US pressure on Israel for concessions (pressure like the financial sanctions the USA is talking about now though only talking).

The USA had not done what an ideal benevolent world overlord would do - but what would be the sense of measuring George W Bush's actions by that standard? The USA had made a shift, possibly - only possibly, not in any way reliably - significant. That might open up space which would help the Israeli peace movement and the secular and democratic forces among the Palestinians to revive. (Has the collapse, or near-collapse, of the roadmap, helped those progressive forces? No).

A lot of the debate misses the point or curses entirely imaginary demons. One real issue worth teasing out, perhaps, is expressed in Clive Bradley's contribution.

Most of it I agree with, but Clive concludes askew. "Our programme, fundamentally, is counterposed to [the roadmap]".

Our programme and the roadmap operate on different levels, refer to different agencies. The sentence would make sense only if we could "counterpose" a different programme for the big powers to the roadmap - if we thought that our job was to "counterpose" a better diplomatic scheme for the big powers to the existing poor one. I'm sure Clive doesn't mean that.

Clive compares the roadmap to the Good Friday Agreement for Ireland. But we never "counterposed" our programme for Ireland to general declarations by the British government, for example, when it shifted from its historic insistence that the Union of Northern Ireland with Britain was sacrosanct to a position that it was willing to negotiate for some form of united Ireland. We preached distrust, but not opposition.

Those of us who were anti-GFA (the AWL had a dispute among ourselves on this) didn't advocate voting no to the Good Friday Agreement, or propose agitation to disrupt it. We did advocate distrust, and we did think it wrong to vote credence to it. We did "counterpose" alternative ideas to vast amounts of detail in it (its intricately balanced institutionalised sectarianism), detail of an order which is not in the roadmap. (One reason for distrusting the roadmap, in fact, was that it lacks detail, on the settlements, territory, and so on).

The Irish analogy speaks against the imprecise idea of "counterposing", not for it.

We could say that the roadmap was "counterposed" to our programme, I suppose, if we saw an immediate prospect of mass struggle winning a better solution, and the roadmap's diplomacy signified a rearguard action to sell the masses short. Unless you think that the Islamists' suicide bombing campaign is on the verge of winning a just settlement in Israel-Palestine - and in fact Clive opposes that campaign! - that makes no sense.

And to insist that consideration of what was new, or possibly new, in the roadmap be drowned by repetition of what was not new - that would disable us from serious monitoring of reality, and take us back towards the sort of error we made in the 1970s.

Martin Thomas

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