Symbol of a peace in danger of collapse

Is today's Mideast summit in Egypt a crusade against terrorism or elaborate window-dressing, asks Robert Fisk

Tehran - Today's "summit of the peace-makers" in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh is supposed to show us that the nations of the world are united in opposing "terrorism", and still stand four- square behind the Middle East peace process. It is also intended to assist the re-election of two leaders - those of Israel and the United States. Which is the more important priority?

The US President Bill Clinton, President Boris Yeltsin of Russia, John Major, President Jacques Chirac of France, Helmut Kohl of Germany, the Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, the PLO leader Yasser Arafat, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and probably King Hussein of Jordan will end the day shaking hands, publicly renewing their faith in a peace so deeply flawed that, even without the slaughter in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv which brought them together, was in danger of collapse.

For the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, far from being a new milestone on the road to an inevitable peace, is the most potent symbol to date of the imminent catastrophe that threatens to overwhelm the men who signed up for the American-Israeli peace. When even the participants cannot decide if the meeting should call for a crusade against "world terrorism" or demand further concessions from Arabs and Israelis, can the "peace process" be saved?

The 1991 Madrid summit promised the Arabs a peace based on UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 which call for total Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory in return for security for all states in the area. But the secret Oslo talks between the PLO and Israel allowed the promise of a settlement based on UN demands to be watered down to a peace in which 120,000 Israeli settlers remained on Arab land, in which Jewish settlements continued to be built on Arab property outside east Jerusalem, in which Mr Arafat received neither the promise of statehood nor a capital in east Jerusalem, and in which the 3.5 million Palestinian diaspora was abandoned.

Secret talks on the status of Jerusalem were half-heartedly under way when the first of the suicide bombers blew himself up last month. But Israeli troops were still billeted across the West Bank and inside the Gaza Strip, were still able to seal off "liberated" Palestinian towns from each other - as they have now done - and still controlled the frontiers of what Mr Arafat calls Palestine.

The Syrians, who will not attend today's summit, are asking for a repeat of the Madrid conference. They, of course, stand to benefit at once from such a project since they demand, in line with UN resolutions, the return of all occupied Golan for "total peace" with Israel. And however prejudiced the compassion of world leaders - they have not rushed to summits after Arab deaths - some of the Sharm el-Sheikh "peace-makers" understand that the unfairness of the Oslo agreement needs to be rectified if there is to be any chance of recovery.

Hamas was able to find the men to strike at Israel not because it was inspired by Iran but because it could point to the flaws in the Oslo accord and present them as proof of a betrayal of all Palestinian rights. How happy Hamas must have been to hear Martin Indyck, the US ambassador to Israel and a former supporter of Israel's cause in America, announcing in Jerusalem that "what we [sic] want from Arafat is more stick and less carrot". To crush Hamas politically Mr Arafat's authority needs to be shored up. That authority will continue to dribble away as long as tens of thousands of armed Israeli settlers live, against all international law, on Arab land, and as long as Israelis insist that Jerusalem must be "the eternal and unified capital" of only Israel.

But this summit, of course, is less about Mr Arafat's authority than Mr Peres's re-election. It was Israel that suffered the Hamas massacres, not Mr Arafat. Without Mr Peres's re-election, there will be no more peace - or so goes the common wisdom. And if Mr Peres is to be re-elected, there can be no immediate concessions to Mr Arafat; thus the PLO-Israeli peace must suffer in order to win an election that will guarantee the peace.

But the summit, under American-Israeli pressure, may demand support for Israel's crusade against "international terrorism" or - more specifically - "Islamic terrorism", since the variety of "terrorism" represented by Mr Rabin's assassin and by the Israeli settler who massacred Palestinians in Hebron is not quite what Messrs Clinton and Peres have in mind. Threats may be made against Iran, which the Europeans refuse to isolate, and against Libya, which has as much influence over events in "Palestine" as over Peru.

All this would ignore a few facts which are well known to the Europeans, the Russians and those Arab Gulf states which will also be represented at the Egyptian summit: that Hamas, barring its most radical members, privately accepts the partition of Palestine and Israel's existence. It is the Oslo accord itself that fuels the resentment among men who were so accommodating in the early days of the movement that Israeli officials, including Mr Peres, personally met them.

Even in Tehran, where the anti-Zionist rhetoric is both loudest and emptiest, President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said this week that Iran does not regard the "peace process" as its business, referring to Palestine as "another country's affairs".

European diplomats in Tehran, aware of Iran's financial support for dissident Palestinian movements, have found not a scrap of evidence linking Iran to the recent bombings. Attempting to overthrow the regime in Iran - whose radicals have been largely excluded from political power and whose more moderate Islamists increased their support in last week's parliamentary elections - would be a very bloody affair.

Yet time is running out for the "peace-makers"; the results of their failure would be explosive. Mr Arafat is a marked man; his decision to allow joint searches with Israeli troops for Hamas members has proved to the satisfaction of his detractors that the "puppet" label is true. President Mubarak and King Hussein, who have cajoled and often intimidated their populations into accepting the American-Israeli peace process, will be fatally undermined. The Europeans, despite the need for US support in Bosnia, will have to seek new relationships with potentially radicalised Arab states who areEurope's neighbours. Israel will despair.

In the United States, too, there may be a detonation. Not only will Mr Clinton's re-election be called into doubt. But a deep concern that can be heard privately among American foreign service officers may also come to the surface - that America's tiny but influential Jewish community has been playing too powerful a pro-Israeli role in the formulation of US Middle East policy. How, Americans may begin to ask, did the US come to lock itself so tightly to Israel, to align its policy so closely to Israel that the two are almost indistinguishable? The anti-semitism of Pat Buchanan typifies a dangerous mood among Americans; not least, as some Israelis themselves admit, because Mr Buchanan's unpleasant and exaggerated taunt that Congress is "an Israeli-occupied area" contains a powerful resonance.

So today's summit is going to move across very fragile ground. Since a real rejuvenation of the "peace process" is electorally impossible for Mr Peres, most Arabs - and Europeans - would prefer window dressing: an image of resolution propped up by photo-opportunities and honeyed words of world unity. A crusade against "terrorism", however, could have very different results. Fighting for peace is one thing; going to war for peace is quite another.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux / Redhat / Solaris / Puppet / SAN

£65000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape