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
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.