Middle East: A dream of peace is dead

Clinton's silence seals the fate of a troubled process
Click to follow
The Middle East peace process is dead. Its defining moment came when President Clinton emerged from his talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday night and failed to condemn the new Jewish settlement on occupied land.

Israelis will no doubt claim that terrorism destroyed the Oslo accords. Historians are likely to record that the peace was stillborn the moment the folly of the Oslo agreement - with too much trust and too few guarantees - became known.

But dead it is. It is a service to the truth to say so - a pleasure only for those who believe that history is written in blood. For the West, the peace process has become the despair of its friends and the delight of its enemies. If the Koran had permitted alcohol, the mullahs of Iran would be drinking champagne tonight - toasting Mr Netanyahu and his new Jewish settlement with each glass.

For everything that we were told would follow Oslo - a Palestinian state, a joint capital in Jerusalem, an end to a hundred years of Middle East war - has turned to dust. And it is a lamentable fact that, once the Palestinians arrive in Washington to hear their fate, they are likely to be presented by Mr Clinton with Israel's conditions for future peace, including the continued construction of Jewish settlements. If they accept this, Yasser Arafat's men are politically finished. If they reject it, they will be blamed for the death of peace. Thus has Washington's Middle East policy become Israel's.

For just as the settlement at Har Homa was the sword in the corpse of the peace process - because it destroyed the land-for-peace foundation of 1991 - so America's two vetoes of UN condemnation of the settlement marks the end of US credibility in the region. The final Jewish encirclement of Jerusalem which this represents - which denies any hope of talks on the "final status" of the city - cuts off the head of the corpse of "peace".

The reality is now on the streets of Tel Aviv - where a Palestinian bomber murdered three Israeli women - and in Gaza and the West Bank, where another three Palestinians were killed yesterday. There will be no future for the Americans here unless they place their national interests above Israel's. And they will not do that.

People may say that Arafat promised his people a state and gave them a Bantustan. They may say that Mr Netanyahu pro- mised his people security and presented them with war. The coming days will be a calamity for the brave Palestinians and Israelis who tried to make the flawed agreement work.

Fortune-tellers cut a poor trade in the Middle East, but the nightmare of the future must include all-out war between Palestinians and Israelis, rioting in the streets of Arab nations who are supposed to be our friends and perhaps - through a glass very darkly - a US military intervention. Not to encourage peace but to maintain a ceasefire.

Is all this just a journalist's professional cynicism? I fear not. It is already possible to ask the price of each Jewish house at Har Homa - not in cash but in blood. No doubt the ghosts of rulers past will watch this tragedy: Lawrence of Arabia; Balfour; the founders of Zionism and Arab nationalism, Sadat and Begin; and the dead of four Middle East wars. Winston Churchill, a fervent Zionist in his early years, came to regard Palestine in the dying days of empire as a "hell disaster". His shade may soon repeat these terrible words.