Tuesday, March 1, 2005
Karma Nabulsi - On the London Meeting
Tuesday March 1, 2005
Far from bolstering a serious peace process, Tony Blair's Middle East conference in London today could even make things worse. The "international donor" crowd, who have been invited to London to encourage the Palestinian authority to reform itself, have an expression to sum up the utter disaster of the failed project to create a state in Palestine during the Oslo process years of 1993 to 2003: "facts on theground". This is a euphemism for Israeli occupation policies that killed Oslo and have come close to destroying the possibility of a two-state solution - territorial expansion into occupied Palestine by settlement expansion, by road and infrastructure construction and, more recently, by building the separation wall inside the West Bank.
Donors (mostly European states) now pretty much accept they have done the reverse of helping the Palestinian people achieve their independence. The facts on the ground created by Israel - and the international community's refusal to tackle them politically - have turned their engagement into one of funding the occupation. The World Bank, EU, UN, international agencies and donor countries have all come to the same conclusion. Their diplomats wander around international meetings, dispirited and bullied, with a profound awareness of their complicity, but no understanding of how to get out of it - or, as in the British case, aligning themselves entirely with the US and Israeli position.
The unwillingness to tackle the facts on the ground now manifests itself in a public event that conceals the donor states' responsibility for creating and perpetuating this political disaster. The aim is to mask direct political assistance to Israel by offering economic assistance to the Palestinians. Blair's London meeting is being convened on the following premise: the lack of Palestinian democratic and institutional reform is holding back progress, and the onus is on the Palestinian leadership to develop these institutions.
The knowledge and expertise of the west can help the Palestinians acquire the skills and political culture they do not possess. A combination of lessons, benchmarks, conditions, control and economic aid are the right mechanisms of assistance to the Palestinians, who are largely or entirely responsible for the violence, squalor, unemployment and anarchy that reign in occupied Palestine today.
Some might conclude that it is far better to do nothing than to actively assist the Israelis in their current policies against the Palestinians. But if the calamitous mistakes of the Oslo process are not to berepeated, a demonstration of good governance by the international community itself would be more than welcome. Fairness and transparency in dealing with the conflict would be a good start.
There has been no partner for peace in the Middle East for years, and the absent partner is Israel, not the Palestinians. Ariel Sharon's absolute rejection of an international political process is the heart of the problem. The real question for the conference is: where is Israel? Why is it permitted to block the peace process, hold Palestinian land and relieve itself of any international obligations, while the Palestinians are scapegoated?
The insistence that Friday's suicide bomb in Tel Aviv broke the ceasefire, when 25 Palestinians had been killed by Israel since it began, means that there is no transparent benchmark for assessing who is killing the chances for peace. Good governance means applying principles that you are happy to apply to other conflicts. Citing UN security resolutions on the inadmissability of the acquisition of territory by force everywhere but occupied Palestine is not good governance. Encouraging Iraqi exiles and refugees to participate in elections while treating Palestinian refugees as pariahs is not applying democratic principles that the international community seems to want to teach the Palestinians.
We Palestinians need no lessons in democracy - in the past 10 years Palestinians have resisted concerted attempts to transform our institutions into agencies that represent Israeli occupation needs. Our reform movement is a genuine one reflecting real concerns: for representation, political freedom, fair institutions, protection from the violence of the current Israeli project. If the international community wants to practise good governance, its representatives have only to listen to the Palestinian delegations' courteously expressed requests: for application of international law, the reintroduction of multilateralism, the urgent need for an international conference that addresses the final-status issues of borders, settlements, refugees, water and Jerusalem. This is the reform that is so urgently needed - and we hope the donor community is up to the task.
* Karma Nabulsi is a research fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford, and a former PLO representative