Leading Article: Another Palestine in the making

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The Independent Online
THE DISMAY, even shame, aroused by the Western plan for Muslim 'safe areas' in Bosnia was well reflected in the Commons yesterday. MPs' fears that the new strategy amounts to a freezing of the gains of the Serbs and Croats at the expense of the Muslims are unlikely to have been allayed by assurances to the contrary from the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, and the Foreign Office minister Douglas Hogg. Mr Hurd saw the safe areas as a prelude to the implementation of the Vance-Owen peace plan, not a replacement, while Mr Hogg spoke of 'building on the Vance-Owen process', and would not accept that the land seized by Serbs and Croats would remain theirs.

If they are wrong, the Washington agreement may come to be seen in the same baneful light as the first Arab- Israel war of 1948. That resulted in some 700,000 Palestinians fleeing or being driven from their homes, creating a legacy of bitterness that has poisoned not just the region but international relations ever since.

For the world to accept the designated safe areas in Bosnia as the sole and permanent home of the majority population would be not just a betrayal but very short-sighted, not least in the message it sends to other potential regional bullies. Few things could be more certain than that the Bosnian Muslims' pathetically inadequate enclaves will become radicalised and, eventually, pressure-cookers destined to explode.

There will be grounds enough for acute bitterness. Children whose fathers were wounded or killed and mothers raped by Serbs or Croats will learn how the Western world failed to protect the integrity of a state it had recently recognised, and how their Muslim community was abandoned by democracies afraid to risk any of their own sons in the name of a just settlement.

Five of the six safe areas are simply towns whose populations have been more or less doubled by refugees. The sixth, focused on Tuzla, is also grossly over-populated. In no way will these Muslim zones be able to feed themselves. So, like those in Palestinian camps, they will suffer the humiliation of aimless joblessness and dependence on aid dispensed by UN agencies.

One of the saddest and most dangerous aspects of the entire tragedy is that these victims of Serbian and Croatian aggression and Western indecision have long provided a model of a modern, secular and tolerant Muslim society. Having been failed by the forces of Western democracy, they will now be seen as fertile soil for radicalisation by the forces of fundamentalist Islam, whether Iranian or Saudi Arabian. The Saudis will no doubt help them to build schools and universities as well as mosques - with religious strings attached; and there will be no shortage of arms slipping through hostile surrounding areas. It would be surprising if they are not used either to wreak vengeance or to extend the borders of the safe areas. Of course, if the two Douglases, Hurd and Hogg, were correct yesterday, all these fears may be in vain. If they are proved wrong, history will be harsh in its judgement of all those responsible.