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If Bush is having `visions`, America must need Arab support for another war

16. March 2002

By Robert Fisk, Middle East Correspondent

It is the “vision” thing again. When President George Bush wanted Arab support for the US bombing of Afghanistan in September, he suddenly announced he had a “vision” of a Palestinian state. Then it disappeared off his radar screen.

Yet now it`s back in a watered-down, US-framed UN resolution that affirms “a vision of a region where two states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side…” Could it be that Mr Bush has another war in mind for the region, that perhaps Vice-President Dick Cheney, now touring the Arab world and Israel, wants Arab support for an attack on Iraq?

UN resolutions don`t disappear as fast as presidential “visions” and the world now has the idea …­ and it`s only an idea …­ embedded in a serious UN document. Indeed, it`s probably the first time the UN has had a “vision” about anything. But it fails to address the far more important point of UN Security Council resolution 242 of 1967, upon which the Oslo agreement was supposed to have been founded. It calls for Israeli withdrawal from territories it occupied in the Six Day War. Yesterday`s UN resolution makes no reference to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza (nor to the occupied Syrian Golan Heights) and thus presents the world with an image, or “vision”, of two sides fighting on level ground.

When it “demands immediate cessation of all acts of violence, including all acts of terror, provocation, incitement and destruction…”, it is unclear whether the Security Council believes Israel is occupying Palestinian land or whether it thinks that the Palestinian Authority is occupying Israel. Which is why the original Syrian draft resolution, which specifically talked about Israel as the “occupying power”, was withdrawn …­ along with its call to Israel to respect the Geneva Conventions protecting civilians under occupation. Syria abstained from the vote. Israel`s UN ambassador called the latest resolution “balanced”.

The only verbal connection between the new resolution and the all-important 35-year-old 242, which specifically refers to occupation, is the vaguely worded call for the states to live “within secure and recognised borders”. No mention of Jewish settlements for Jews and Jews only on Arab land, no mention of east Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital, or a right of return for any refugees. Like the Oslo agreement, this latest resolution leaves these critical issues out of the “vision”, as presumably something to be resolved later.

It was left to the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, to express his revulsion at the current level of violence, to refer specifically to Israel`s “illegal occupation” and to “morally repugnant” Palestinian suicide bombings. This is better than nothing but Mr Annan`s words are not written into any resolution. The Security Council, now that the US has weakened its new resolution, makes no moral judgements at all, even though the illegality of Israel`s occupation partly hinges on the Council`s own 242 resolution calling upon Israel to withdraw.

As always, the Arabs …­ anxious not to alienate the Americans …­ had to clap their hands at the “vision” bit, as if it contained the seeds of Palestinian sovereignty. Yasser Abed Rabbo, the so-called Palestinian Information Minister, said it represented a “defeat” for the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon …­ which is nonsense because the US would not have proposed the text unless it met with Israel`s approval …­ and called for “direct international intervention to implement this resolution through ending the Israeli occupation and evacuating all the Israeli settlements” from Palestinian land. But there`s nothing about international intervention in the UN text, nor about settlements.

All in all, then, a pretty vision, to run alongside Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah`s own watered-down version of resolution 242. Let`s see how much it helps Mr Cheney as he seeks approval for yet another Middle East war.