The UN cavalry has arrived, but is it too late

                                 to save the peace process?


                                 'The Oslo agreement is dead. That is what

                                 this latest Middle East crisis is about'


                                 By Robert Fisk


                                 10 October 2000


                                 When the old United Nations donkey comes stumbling into

                                 town, you know things are bad. And when Kofi Annan is riding

                                 the elderly beast, you know that the world is spinning out of

                                 control, that the Americans have thrown up their hands and that

                                 even their allies are feeling the ground shaking beneath their

                                 feet. Back in 1998, Annan was dispatched to Baghdad to save

                                 the peace when American threats against Saddam no longer

                                 produced results. When Nato's bombing of Serbia failed to

                                 produce a swift surrender last year, the much-maligned UN

                                 was asked to pass resolutions that would give Milosevic a

                                 face-saving defeat. And now – a devastating symbol, if ever

                                 there was one, of America's political defeat in the Middle East –

                                 that ancient quadruped, the UN donkey, is clip-clopping

                                 through the very streets of Jerusalem.


                                 The symbolism of Mr Annan's arrival in the Middle East

                                 yesterday cannot be exaggerated. Remember that it was the

                                 United States that was supposed to be running the so-called

                                 "peace process", with the Europeans paying for it (providing

                                 they didn't interfere in the details), while the Palestinians were

                                 supposed to make the necessary "concessions" (ie

                                 capitulation) for the "two sides" – Israel and "Palestine" – to

                                 sign their "peace of the brave". Note those quotation marks. For

                                 the whole sorry story of the Oslo agreement – perhaps the

                                 most flawed treaty ever negotiated for the Middle East – has to

                                 be put in parenthesis, its lies and clichιs carefully defined to

                                 remind one of reality. For Oslo is dead. That is what this latest

                                 Middle East crisis is about. The killings are not endangering

                                 the "peace process" – as the Americans would have us believe

                                 – but proof that the "peace process" is already dead.


                                 Mr Annan's visit thus symbolises not just the failure of the 1993

                                 Oslo accord. It also reminds the Middle East that the original

                                 peace process – the one that doesn't need quotation marks –

                                 was a UN affair: UN Security Council resolution 242 of 1967 to

                                 be precise, the very foundation – according to then President

                                 George Bush and his secretary of state, James Baker – of the

                                 post-Gulf War Middle East peace. Baker specifically cited 242

                                 when he invited Arab and Israeli leaders to the Madrid summit

                                 in 1991. Since then, we – with the help of the State Department,

                                 Israel and a very large number of journalists – have been

                                 encouraged to forget what 242 actually said.


                                 Its contents are simple. It emphasised "the inadmissability of

                                 the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just

                                 and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in

                                 security" and demanded the "withdrawal of Israel's armed

                                 forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict". It insisted

                                 upon the termination of war and "respect for the sovereignty,

                                 territorial integrity and political independence of every State in

                                 the area".


                                 Now this is pretty strong stuff. Israel, like the Arab states, will be

                                 secure within its frontiers, although its forces must withdraw

                                 from the land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war: the

                                 occupied West Bank, the Gaza strip, Golan and Arab east

                                 Jerusalem. Only, of course, that didn't happen. Instead, we got

                                 the secretly negotiated Oslo agreement of 1993, which allowed

                                 Israel to renegotiate 242: henceforth, Israel would decide from

                                 which "territories occupied in the (1967) conflict" it would

                                 withdraw and from which occupied territories it would choose

                                 not to withdraw. The massive Jewish settlements, built illegally

                                 on Arab land, would not be abandoned. The frontiers of

                                 occupied Palestinian land would remain in Israeli hands. And

                                 so would Arab east Jerusalem, with its Islamic holy sites.

                                 Jerusalem would be the "eternal and unified capital" of Israel.


                                 The Americans, preposterously claiming to be "honest brokers"

                                 in the negotiations between their closest Middle East ally and

                                 the forgiven "terrorist" Arafat, went along with Israel's ambitions.

                                 And when at last, after the predictable collapse of the Camp

                                 David talks in July, Arafat baulked at the "sort of sovereignty"

                                 (this imperishable phrase courtesy of US Secretary of State,

                                 Madeleine Albright) he might be allowed in Jerusalem,

                                 President Clinton appeared on Israeli television to threaten him

                                 into submission, warning that the US embassy might be

                                 moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem if he didn't fall into line,

                                 adding that Arafat was to blame for the Camp David dιbβcle.


                                 And now, so great is the sense of political collapse and

                                 danger, so impotent the United States, so hopeless the Oslo

                                 agreement, that the UN – derided by Israel, humiliated and

                                 almost bankrupted by the United States' failure to pay its dues,

                                 distrusted by almost all the western powers – is called upon to

                                 save us all from war. Can Mr Annan succeed? Not with the

                                 Oslo agreement. For the Palestinian uprising represents its

                                 hollowness, its lack of fairness, its injustice towards the

                                 weaker party, the Palestinians.


                                 And how typical that journalists, with so short an institutional

                                 memory of past threats, have allowed the Israelis to set the

                                 news agenda over the past 11 days and thus obscure the truth.

                                 Listening to Israel's spokesmen on radio and television, you'd

                                 think it was the Israelis who were under Palestinian

                                 occupation, rather than the other way round.


                                 Arafat has failed to control the violence, Mr Barak announces.

                                 And the press dutifully ask if this is true. Arafat doesn't want

                                 peace. Reporters ask if he doesn't want peace. Mr Barak says

                                 that the "peace process" is over – how the Palestinians must

                                 have loved this one – if Arafat does not call off his men. And we

                                 journalists ask if this means the end.


                                 Surely the truth is that the Palestinians want Oslo to end, that it

                                 is time that it did end, that all the bits of paper signed by Arafat

                                 have produced an animal even more pathetic than the UN

                                 donkey, an abortion of a "state" that will forever harbour the

                                 resentment and fury of a people who have been cheated of a

                                 real nation with a real capital. And in the end, both sides may

                                 have to reconsider – as an alternative to war – a return to the

                                 original peace proposal: the implementation of UN Security

                                 Council resolution 242.


                                 If Israel gives up the land it occupied in 1967 – all of the land,

                                 not bits of it – and if all the nations of the area are secure, then

                                 there is, perhaps, a chance of a real settlement in the Middle

                                 East. The Arabs – all of the Arabs, not just our friendly dictators

                                 – must accept Israel's existence within its international borders

                                 and the Arabs must get back the land that they lost in 1967.

                                 Yes, it's a boring old formula. We've almost grown tired of it.

                                 Oslo sounded so romantic at the time. But 242, in the end, is

                                 probably the only show in town. Enter Kofi Annan.