While Bush and Blair fumble and fiddle, Beirut burns
By Chris Patten*
The Financial Times, July 20, 2006
Exactly what mission has been accomplished by George W. Bush, US president, and
his super-loyal sidekick, Tony Blair, the British prime minister?
The world is a more dangerous place than it was in 2000. Terrorism remains a
potent and undefeated enemy. American and British policy in west Asia has
acted, in the language of the British Foreign Office, as a recruiting sergeant
for jihadist terrorists. Kim Jong-il still threatens to begin a nuclear weapons
production line in North Korea. The Iranians are some way from a deal with the
rest of the world that would convince us that their nuclear ambitions are
peaceful. Afghanistan remains unfinished - in some ways unstarted - business as
the recent deaths of British servicemen attest. Iraq is a violent and bloody
mess. Success there is measured by the fact that the country has not yet fallen
apart and that Iraqis have twice gone to the polls.
So pre-emption, US unilateralism and sound-bite foreign policy have not been a
huge success. Now, on top of all that, we see the consequences of America's
unquestioning support for every twist and turn in Israeli policies that were
virtually scripted to result in the present crisis.
In 2002, the Danish presidency of the European Union led the way in crafting a
"road map" for peace in the Middle East. It demanded hands-on engagement in the
peace process by the international community led by the so-called Quartet - the
United Nations, the US, Russia and the EU.
We travelled to Washington to sell the idea to the administration there.
They were polite but suspicious. Since the failure of the Camp David and Taba
talks in the closing months of the Clinton administration they had been
reluctant to get too heavily involved in peace-making between Israel and
Palestine. Moreover, the dreadful events of September 11 2001 and the skilful
identification by the Israeli government of its policies with the "war on
terrorism" had meant, as one US senator told me in early 2002: "In Washington we
are all members of the Likud party now."
The Americans were eventually won round, albeit only after a meeting with Mr
Bush at which he signed up to "a" rather than "the" road map and after a
number of changes in the text of the document. Its essential and novel feature,
however, remained. It called for "parallelism" rather than "sequentialism".
Instead of waiting for one side - invariably the Palestinians - to act before
anything could be expected of the other, both sides should move down the road at
the same time.
Of course, nothing much happened. The White House knew why. "Arafat is the
problem," Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser, told us. Israel
had no partner for peace. Yassir Arafat, the late Palestinian leader, was
certainly part of the problem. He was a bad and untrustworthy man. But there
were other aspects of the problem such as Ariel Sharon, former Israeli prime
minister, and his commitment not to the international community's road map but
to his own.
So the proponents of the road map offered only drift and communiqués, not
day-by-day involvement and diplomacy. The EU went along with America's
uncritical support for Mr Sharon, grumbling under its breath. The Quartet became
known in the Arab world as "the Quartet sans Trois". The security fence was
built and an Israeli plan to impose a new border based on holding on to most of
the West Bank settlements was given a wink and a nudge of support in Washington.
Arafat was now dead. But nothing much changed to offer the Palestinians the
political perspective that might have given their leaders a better chance of
facing down the men of Ã?Âviolence. Elections in Palestine produced a Hamas
government and the world was shocked. What did we expect? Remove the
prospect of change through politics and people reach out for other options.
Having helped elect a Hamas government, we cut off funds to the Palestinian
authorities unless the Hamas leaders signed up to undertakings that went
well beyond what we expect of loyal western allies in the region, such as Saudi
Arabia and Morocco.
So it is back to war. Lebanon is bombed. Israel is rocketed. Gaza is shelled.
The innocent are killed. Hizbollah and Palestinian militants are strengthened,
even legitimised, in the eyes of their people, by Israel's refusal to respond
proportionately. Do these policies offer Israel the peace and security it craves
and deserves? Do they offer hope to Palestinians? Do they check the slide in
America's - and Britain's - reputations in the region?
It is not as though we are ignorant of what is required to bring peace. The
ingredients of a peace deal were set out once again in the Geneva accords.
Israel must accept a viable Palestinian state formed on the basis of the 1967
borders adjusted through negotiation and agreement. Palestinians and other Arabs
must accept Israel's right to exist as a peaceful neighbour. Palestinians will
have to give up the right of return. Both states will need to share Jerusalem as
their capital. The interÃ?Ânational community will have to take responsibility
for the holy places.
That will be the peace deal one day. When will that day come? Not, presumably,
while Mr Bush is in office. Nor do his likely Democratic successors sound much
better. In Brussels, the British and German governments stop European ministers
going beyond aimless hand-wringing. So Europe fiddles while Beirut burns.
* Lord Patten is chancellor of Oxford university and former European Union
commissioner for external affairs