Friday 6 June 2003

In Cliche Land

by Robert Fisk

click here to visit his website It was all about cliches. No longer a "peace process" - which, like a disobedient railway loco, constantly had to be put back on track - it's now a "road-map".

Settlements built for Jews and Jews only on Arab land are now divided into "established settlements", the illegal kind Ariel Sharon does not intend to dismantle, and "unauthorised outposts", the equally illegal "caravanserais" that Israeli extremists have set up and that can be torn down in front of the television cameras as a demonstration of goodwill.

On the Palestinian side, there was Abu Mazen, America's choice of successor to the failed colonial governor Yasser Arafat, promising that he would use "every means available" to end the intifada. "Every means" is almost UN-speak; it means Hamas and Islamic Jihad may have to be put down with gunfire - which in the real world could mean a Palestinian civil war. There was talk of a "restructured" Palestinian "security service". "Restructured" means "purged", something that Mr Arafat would understand at first hand.

Then we had that old friend, the "viable sic Palestinian state", a cliche that the Quartet of the US, the EU, the UN and Russia has generously passed on to the Israelis. Mr Sharon didn't take too well to the "sovereign independent" state that the Quartet dreamt up. But since it was an internationally supported plan, it was "the only game in town", a cliche previously reserved for David Owen's gloomy map of Bosnia, which had the Serbs and Muslims at each other's throats in hours.

But even President George Bush couldn't quite make it out of cliche land.

Israel, he said before the Aqaba summit, had to "deal" (sic again) with settlements - no mention, of course, that these colonies are built against all international law on Arab land. Mr Bush talked about "contiguous territories" in Palestine without defining which bits of land had to be "contiguous". Did he mean adjacent, perhaps? Or adjoining? And there was much talk of "terror" - the Palestinian kind, of course, not the Israeli version.

But still the cliches fell upon the Middle East. Ehud Barak, the former Israeli Labour prime minister who once told us during negotiations that "it takes two to tango", said of the Aqaba agreement that "the proof of the pudding is in the eating" and "it's time to call a spade a spade".

Unless, presumably, we're talking about "unauthorised outposts" rather than settlements. For his part, Mr Bush joined the ranks of every Western leader since the British mandate in announcing "the Holy Land must be shared between Israel and Palestine".

I once had a discussion with the late British colonial secretary Malcolm MacDonald - he of the notorious 1936 White Paper restricting the immigration of European Jews to Palestine - on this subject, and he closed his eyes in weariness at the aspiration.

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