Colin Powell has said that he can see signs of progress over the Middle East road-map. Israel, he noted, had taken measures which 'constitute the beginning of the road-map process'. Well, that's just terrific, Mr US Secretary of State, because we all know that the big issue is that Israel has not accepted the road-map, which all right-thinking people praise, and is therefore the main obstacle to peace.
So what were these Israeli measures? They released 180 Palestinian prisoners and opened up Gaza and the West Bank (closed to keep in mass murderers) as goodwill gestures. And what were the Palestinian goodwill gestures in return? They killed an Israeli gardener in the West Bank, fired rockets from Gaza into the Israeli town of Sderot, and sent a human bomb on his way into Israel from Nablus, with more to follow. Israel promptly sealed off Gaza again. But, of course, Israel is being oppressive and inflammatory and needs to be pressured into line. Does not the BBC tell us this, repeatedly?
Certainly, Israel sometimes does things that are bad, and it should be censured. But, on the big picture, it is having to perform to a script penned by Kafka. It extends a tentative hand to people who persistently murder its citizens. As a result, still more Israelis get murdered. The international community fails to hold the Palestinian perpetrators to account and instead blames Israel for not accepting the road-map.
Er ...isn't the road-map's very first requirement that the Palestinians 'immediately undertake an unconditional cessation of violence'? Didn't Colin Powell accordingly tell the new Palestinian prime minister Abu Mazen to dismantle the Palestinian Authority's terrorist infrastructure? And what was the 'reformed' PA's response? Colonel Rahid Abu Shbak, head of the PA's Preventive Security Service in Gaza, said that he had no intention of disarming any Palestinian, who had the right to continue to try to end the occupation of the territories.
Hasn't the basic premise behind the road-map – that Yasser Arafat had to be taken out of the equation altogether – also been destroyed by the fact that he is still very much in the equation, having just appointed some 58 of his henchmen to PA posts, thus making a mockery of Abu Mazen's authority? But of course it is the Israelis who are creating the barriers to peace by refusing to accept the road-map. Well, give that cartographer his cards; we've travelled to this place many times. It is a well-known neighbourhood called Appeasement Avenue.
The road-map will fail because it assumes that the conflict is a territorial boundary dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. It is not. It is rather a continuation of the 55-year-old Arab war of extermination against Israel. People in Britain – including the road-map's principal backer, Tony Blair – believe that the root problem is the West Bank and Gaza. If only Israel would get out and let the Palestinians have their state, they think, the problem would be solved.
Get real. The Arabs were offered a state in part of Palestine in 1948. They could have had it between 1948 and 1967, when the territories that so many wrongly imagine were stolen by Israel from the Palestinians were in fact illegally occupied by Jordan and Egypt. They could have had it after the 1967 war, when Israel offered the territories back in exchange for peace. And they could have had it – including half of Jerusalem – when Israel offered it in 2000 at Tabah.
But they didn't want a separate Palestinian state. They wanted the end of the Jewish one instead. That remains their agenda. The Palestinians regard the whole of Israel as occupied territory to be liberated. Their maps, their schoolbooks, their insignia – from flags to lapel buttons – draw the whole of Israel as Palestine. They want the Jews out.
The give-away is that even the 'reformist' Abu Mazen wants the 'right of return', so that all Arabs who claim to have originated in Palestine can go and live in Israel. He says that he wants a Palestinian state – but he also wants the Palestinians to be given an absolute right to live in someone else's country. So what's the point of having their own? Anyway, what does this 'right of return' mean? No UN resolution has ever given the Arabs any such right. And who is to return? Those whose families fled in 1948 form only a tiny fraction of the four million Arabs in the disputed territories. Many of these originated in other Arab countries altogether.
Hundreds of thousands of Jews were driven out of Arab lands as a result of pogroms and persecution before and after Israel was created. They are not sitting in refugee camps as helpless, cruelly manipulated weapons of a propaganda war; they have long been settled in Israel and elsewhere. But does anyone say these victims of Arab persecution should have their homes back as a quid pro quo?
The Arab demand to resettle in Israel is patently a device to eradicate the Jewish state. Yet to Colin Powell Israel's insistence that this demand must be renounced before negotiations can start serves merely to 'complicate the issue'.
Oh, so sorry to bring up the inconvenient little matter that the Palestinians want to wipe Israel off the map. But, if we're talking complications here, isn't it a shade convoluted to expect Israel to discuss the contours of a Palestinian state with people who are talking instead about destroying the Jewish one? After all, Abu Mazen's much-vaunted opposition to terror is purely tactical. His remarks indicate that he thinks murdering Jews is merely counterproductive and will set back realisation of the real ultimate goal – the resettlement of Israel as an Arab state.
In these circumstances, the road-map actively undermines the war on terror. By presuming a moral equivalence between annihilatory terrorism and the state that it targets, it puts pressure on Israel and thus encourages terrorists to persist with a tactic that produces such prodigious appeasement.
The West should end this charade. It is not enough to tell the Palestinians to rein in their mass murderers. If terror is to be defeated, the West has to show that it will no longer be strung along and taken for a bunch of suckers.
Few in Britain now grasp the true Arab agenda towards Israel. General ignorance of Middle Eastern history has allowed Palestinian propaganda to invert both past and present realities, resulting in the progressive delegitimisation of Israel.
The outcome is that Israeli conquest is seen as the problem, when in fact it is the Arabs' pathological inability to tolerate the legitimate sovereignty of Jews in a small part of the land to which the Jewish people lays the more ancient claim. If the Arabs really were to accept Israel's existence, then – Sharon or no Sharon – there could be a Palestinian state tomorrow.
Only when these truths start being told will peace be possible. The road-map, by contrast, is merely yet another signal that terror pays.
Melanie Phillips is a Daily Mail columnist.