Our summer of decadence

The history of proposals to settle the Palestinian issue is littered with brand names. None is more deceptive or less apt than the latest of these — the so-called “roadmap”, which interestingly the Israelis refer to in the plural, as the “roads-map”. The Arabs have accepted this roadmap unconditionally and with disturbing rapidity. This can only be a sign of their sense of powerlessness and capitulation, their eagerness to grasp at any straw offered by the US. And indeed, the roadmap emerged following a long hiatus in Western peace initiatives, as Washington kept quiet, unwilling to imitate Clinton’s verbosity. In the aftermath of the events of 11 September, the US has consistently preferred action to words, using the latter only for dubious propaganda purposes.

When Bush did finally say something on the Palestinian issue, the Arabs welcomed his remarks, despite all their misgivings, and called for a mechanism to implement them. This is how the roadmap was born — as a guidebook for the desperate. How many remember now that the roadmap was brought on in the wake of the first ever cohesive and consensual Arab peace plan? Thus the first achievement of the roadmap was to completely sideline this historic Arab peace initiative, reducing it to the initiative of a single individual (Prince Abdullah), and treating it as merely one among many of the document’s purported sources. The roadmap did not act on the Arab plan or call for its implementation; yet simply mentioning it now appeared to be enough to placate the Arabs.

The second achievement of the roadmap was to go beyond disarming overt Arab resistance, and gain their unconditional acceptance. In the hope that Israel would reciprocate, the Arabs deliberately lowered their “ceiling of expectations”, as the current political jargon has it. As a result, for Israel to accept the roadmap now, miraculously, has become an urgent Arab demand — a historic achievement waiting to happen.

And so, the Arabs are left patiently awaiting Sharon’s consent. Should the Israeli prime minister grant his approval, then the Arabs would be able to move on and wait for Israel to agree to interpret the roadmap, after which they could then proceed to wait for them to implement it — just as they waited in the past for them to implement Resolutions 242 and 338, and for the implementation of Mitchell’s report and of Tenet’s plan. Arab waiting has a long, though not a glorious history.

The third achievement of the roadmap was to ensure a certain form of Palestinian reform, which consists simply in distancing Yasser Arafat from the decision- making process. This is clearly a preliminary step, meant to pave the way for more Palestinian concessions. The Western and Israeli media consistently, and deliberately, talk about the “new Palestinian leadership” to refer to the new Palestinian government, a government that has been born out of one of the articles of the roadmap. Without more ado, it has already been forgotten that the “new leadership” was in fact created by the official authorisation of the elected Palestinian president (elected according to the strict American definition of the concept) and that it was thanks to Arafat’s support that this leadership received the approval of the Legislative Council. To all intents and purposes, it would seem that Arafat has been kept politically alive merely so that he can grant approval to those destined to serve as his own surrogates.

Should Israel accept the roadmap, should the Palestinians implement the detailed security measures the roadmap requires, and should Israel acknowledge that they have done so, then Israel would withdraw to the pre-Intifada lines of 27 September. With that, the roadmap would have added two further achievements to the previous three.

The fourth achievement would be that it is no longer enough to offer Israel a cease- fire or a domestic Palestinian consensus in order to obtain calm and avert escalation. Israel wants to completely dismantle and disarm the Palestinian resistance (the so- called “terrorist” groups). Only when this has been done will Israel return to negotiations with the Palestinians: first on a Palestinian state with temporary borders in zones A and B, then on the same final settlement issues which were already discussed at Camp David. The only difference will be that this time Israel’s position on these issues will have hardened, and that the talks will be sponsored by a US administration even less sympathetic to the Palestinians.

The fifth achievement would be that Israel is no longer prepared to discuss the issue of the refugees. It wants the Palestinians to abandon the right to return as a condition for negotiations. No one has accepted this condition yet, but Israel has finally had the nerve to make the demand, thanks to the new political climate surrounding the roadmap.

So far, the roadmap looks like a list of US-Israeli public relations successes, even though Israel has not yet granted the document its stamp of approval. And America is sure to lend Israel a compassionate ear when Sharon finally meets Bush in Washington. Even if they do not change the letter of the document, the two countries are likely to agree on some interpretation of the text that works in Israel’s favour. For the time being, Sharon has cancelled his visit to Washington to discuss with his cabinet the ramifications of a Palestinian attack on a bus in Jerusalem. When was the last time an Arab leader cancelled or even postponed a meeting with an American president?

The Arabs, meanwhile, are in a double state of decay that boggles the minds even of those who expected a hot summer of post-war decadence. There are two self- destructive streaks at work here. The first manifests as an instinctive vindictiveness against America and the West, in murderous attacks of incredible randomness, of blinding violence with no rhythm or rhyme, of random hatred that is inimical to everything moral and meaningful. The best this wave of destructiveness can do is turn Arab governments into policemen obsessed with protecting US interests. The second self-destructive streak is that which persuades the Arabs to accept whatever map America may care to draw up for the road ahead. Random violence, empty of any goal or liberation scheme, of the kind we have witnessed lately in Saudi Arabia and Morocco, is just as unhelpful as the Arab tendency to automatically acquiesce to US dictates.

Israel and the United States have strategies and visions out of which their wars and roadmaps are born. The Arabs, in contrast, have nothing but disorderly obsequiousness and chaotic violence. To top it all, the other face of decadence — the summertime variety — is about to descend upon us any time now. With politics having shed its last veil of decency, only the beaches and the discotheques will be able to provide a haven for our elites this summer. The nation will be split between those who dance to the beat of scandal and defeat, and those who blow themselves up in what is turning into a deafening religious ritual.

The writer is a Palestinian Israeli and member of the Knesset.