The first decade of the twenty-first century, which ended a few days ago, witnessed the undoing of all the positive milestones and achievements that had occurred in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process in the last decade of the twentieth century.
That decade started with the first international peace conference in Madrid. This was followed by the first Arab-Israel multilateral and bilateral negotiations, which ended with the signing of the first Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement, the Oslo Accords.
In that agreement, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, accepted the principle of Israel's right to exist in peace and security, and Israel accepted the principle of ending its occupation of part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, committing to future negotiations over the substantial outstanding issues, including borders, the fate of the refugees and the future of Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority was established on Palestinian soil. Despite the difficulties, there was hope and optimism on both sides.
However, as the decade wound down and another millennium started, Israel stopped the process of implementing the signed agreements, particularly its gradual withdrawal from occupied territory. Palestinians resumed their armed resistance, and Israel "reoccupied" the OPT. Peaceful relations and cooperation between the two sides were replaced by fierce and violent confrontations. The Israelis accused the Palestinians of instigating the violence that had caused the reoccupation, and the Palestinians accused Israel of continuing its settlement expansion on Palestinian land, instead of ending the occupation, thereby causing the return to violence.
The international community led by the United States, which had been active in helping the two sides in Oslo, Madrid and Washington, became much less active and refrained from any systematic engagement. It therefore failed to prevent the two parties from spiraling into the worst violence and hostility in the history of the conflict.
A radicalization process in the two respective societies accompanied this deterioration--either caused by it, resulting from it or both. In Israel, the extreme right wing leader Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister in 2001. He pursued a unilateral strategy characterized mainly by the use of force to impose Israel's will on Palestinians. In the OPT, the radical Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) won the January 2006 parliamentary elections by an overwhelming majority, forming a government that refused to recognize or adhere to previously-signed agreements with Israel.
These changes are unfortunately far-reaching and either irreversible or very difficult to reverse. They include the negative trends in public opinion, which turn very slowly by nature, and the concrete facts on the ground that the Israeli settlement expansion policy has created.
In the last few years of the decade that just ended, Palestinians have had unprecedented success in reforming their institutions, especially the financial, security and judiciary sectors. An impressive success in enforcing law and order and ensuring due process, together with improving the economy and public services, has enabled the Palestinian Authority to fulfill its obligations under the 2003 roadmap, including in the security and reform areas.
The last end-of-year report from the internal Israeli security service, the Shabak, proclaimed 2009 as the most quiet security-wise since 2000. The report said that the year witnessed a "dramatic" decline in number of attacks against Israelis. The report attributed the security improvement to the efforts of both Israeli and Palestinian security. The irony is that against these positive developments, the reports from Settlement Watch and Peace Now indicate that the last year also witnessed the most aggressive Israeli settlement expansion policy. In addition, 2009 produced the most right-wing and aggressive Israeli government coalition that we have yet witnessed.
What message will that send Palestinian public opinion?- Published 4/1/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Mostly negative events
by Yossi Alpher
A brief summation of the first decade of the millennium in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere generates a perplexing and mostly negative series of events--military, political, economic and regional.
Beginning with the military, Palestinians launched the second intifada in September 2000 and it lasted around four years. Israel fought two military campaigns: "Defensive Shield" in April 2002 against suicide bombing bases in the refugee camps of Jenin and Nablus and "Cast Lead" last January in Gaza in response to Hamas rocket attacks.
Together, Israelis and Palestinians held two sets of final status negotiations: one that culminated at Camp David in July 2000 and ended in Taba the following January and one between the Olmert and Abbas governments throughout 2008. Israel actively invoked unilateral strategies: the security fence in and around the West Bank and the 2005 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. By mid-2009, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was also invoking a unilateral strategy. And the Fateh-Hamas schism posed the specter of a three-state solution.
The decade was characterized by parallel and related events involving Israel's northern neighbors: unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, war in southern Lebanon in 2006, and brief and indirect peace negotiations with Syria in 2008.
The passing decade will also be remembered for the implementation of economic strategies: a positive one of investment in the West Bank and a negative strategy of denying goods to Gaza. Insofar as these economic strategies were backed and in part implemented by the international community, they reflect growing international involvement in an otherwise stalled and stagnant Israeli-Palestinian reality. The Goldstone report criticizing Israel's war tactics in Gaza reflects another manifestation of a growing international role.
There were important leadership changes and internal political developments on both sides, too. Yasser Arafat departed the scene, removing a divisive and combative figure but also a leader capable of making hard decisions. Something similar happened on the Israeli side with the departure from active politics of Ariel Sharon. Further, in Israel, the toxic interaction between politics and the Palestinian issue continued to hasten the end of every single governing coalition. And the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel became increasingly radicalized, to the point where their leaders' views regarding the future status of Israel have become more extreme than those expressed by the PLO. By decade's end, West Bank settlements continued to spread despite a "freeze"; the Palestinian government in the West Bank was delivering on both development and security; and Gaza remained an insolvable and seemingly untouchable obstacle to progress anywhere.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, matters clearly deteriorated over the past ten years. The Sunni Arab core proved weak and ineffective. It was incapable of preventing militant Islamist terrorism, massive American military intervention, the growth of an Iranian-led Shi'ite threat to its monopoly of power in Arab countries, or an Iranian nuclear threat to its security. Fully six members of the Arab League deteriorated during the past decade to a state of near or complete anarchy and schism: Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. Bush era intervention and "democracy promotion" clearly made matters worse. The Obama administration has equally clearly not figured out how to fix things anywhere in the region.
This multiplicity of events, nearly all negative, in both the greater Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian sphere took its toll on Israeli public attitudes toward the conflict and its solution. Here, perhaps, lies the most significant consequence of this stormy decade for Israelis.
The Israeli public has seemingly internalized the need for a Palestinian state, but only because this appears to be the only way to ensure that Israel remains both a Jewish state and an accepted member of the international community, with allies in the fight against Iran and its proxies. Yet most Israelis don't believe there is a viable Palestinian partner for a negotiated solution. Hence despite repeated failures, they continue to entertain notions of unilateralism. In parallel, they are increasingly inclined to welcome, however cautiously, the prospect of international involvement, including by neighboring Arab states like Egypt, in solving Israel's problems with the Palestinians--everything from renewing and managing negotiations with the PLO to a prisoner exchange and ceasefire with Hamas. And they are content to ignore two key obstacles to any solution, negotiated or unilateral: the Israeli electoral and coalition system, and Hamas in Gaza.
So we muddle through. The year 2010 will probably witness renewed final status negotiations. President Mahmoud Abbas and PM Binyamin Netanyahu may qualify as the new "odd couple". But in view of the experience of the past decade, don't hold your breath waiting for a breakthrough.- Published 4/1/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Jerusalem should be at the center of peace efforts
by Daoud Kuttab
The first decade of the twenty-first century has been a disastrous one for Palestinians. Negotiations efforts were dealt a dramatic blow, historic leaders and potential leaders were killed, assassinated or imprisoned and, worst of all, the scourge of internal strife returned to Palestinians in the form of the destructive Hamas-Fateh division.
If the 1980s and 1990s witnessed a relatively non-violent first Palestinian uprising and a breakthrough mutual recognition between the PLO and Israel, the first ten years of the third millennium were violent and destructive. The decades-long hard work and sacrifice of Palestinians, Israelis and international supporters of peace evaporated almost overnight.
A year before the first intifada broke out, on November 15, 1988, PLO delegates at the nineteenth session of the Palestine National Council supported Yasser Arafat's declaration of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza to live alongside Israel. Five years later Arafat shook hands with the hard-line Israeli prime minister, Yitzhaq Rabin, in a gesture that many thought was the beginning of a serious peace process.
Instead, however, US President Bill Clinton, who observed that handshake, spent the last days of his two-term presidency fruitlessly pushing for an agreement at Camp David. A final effort to reach an agreement in the Red Sea resort of Taba brought the parties closer than they have ever been but again to no avail. Violent confrontations had already erupted by then and since then, talks and negotiations have been replaced by failed attempts to resolve the conflict through violence. Perhaps the biggest failure of the politicians was that they were unable to provide hope to their people and subsequently were unable to stand up to those who tried to take violent shortcuts to resolve the conflict.
The reasons for the breakdown of the Camp David II talks have been talked about ad nauseam during this past decade. But contrary to the oft-repeated Israeli spin, Jerusalem and not the right of return was the reason for the summit's failure. Indeed, if there is one issue that has permeated and defeated all efforts to achieve peace, it is Jerusalem.
It was because of Jerusalem that then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon made his provocative visit to al-Aqsa mosque in 2000. The visit was met with angry protests but, again unlike the prevailing Israeli narrative, the intifada did not start because of this visit. The intifada broke out because of the brutality that Israeli security personnel used to quash angry demonstrators. Seven years after the famous White House handshake and 13 years after the eruption of the first intifada, Palestinians were angry at the absence of a clear path toward an end to occupation and an ever-expanding Israeli settlement effort. Then tens of Palestinian demonstrators were gunned down simply because they protested the Sharon visit.
Jerusalem continues to be a stumbling block. As this first decade of the twenty-first century comes to an end, the eastern part of the city has been surrounded by an eight-meter high concrete wall. The number of demolitions of Palestinian homes in the city has increased sharply. Over 4,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites have been denied their birthright to reside in the holy city.
Meanwhile, Israel is attempting to Judaize East Jerusalem, especially in the Sheikh Jarrah area, moving Jews in and non-Jews out. The settlement freeze issue, which has become the major impediment to the return to peace talks, is now stuck on the Israeli refusal to accept its application in occupied East Jerusalem.
The decade has certainly not been positive for Palestinians and with its violence, the absence of negotiations and the special focus on East Jerusalem, many more problems are likely to arise. This is especially unavoidable if the issue of Jerusalem is going to be swept under the carpet.
Ironically, while the issue has been the major obstacle to a breakthrough in this intractable conflict, a number of efforts have and continue to be exerted to find solutions. The latest of these efforts is led by a number of veteran Canadian diplomats and researchers who have correctly zoomed in on the need to resolve the status of the one square kilometer Old City.
Whether their hard work bears any fruit depends on the political will to find non-violent solutions to the conflict. Because whether it is borders, Jerusalem, the right of return, settlements or security arrangements, all parties to the conflict must know that there are no military or violent solutions. Non-violent solutions require empathy and sympathy as well as justice and fairness. If we have learned anything in this past bloody decade in Palestine and Israel, it is that violence only begets violence.- Published 4/1/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Daoud Kutab is a Palestinian journalist and a former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Ten years of negotiations and crisis
by Shlomo Gazit
The first decade of the twenty-first century was characterized by crisis in both Israeli-Palestinian communication and progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
A few days ago, I was interviewed by an American university student. He wanted to know the reasons for the failure of the Oslo declaration of principles. I surprised the young man by asserting that the Oslo DOP had not failed. Indeed, today virtually no one on either side calls into question the agreement's basic assumption: a political solution based on the existence of two nation-states, Jewish-Israeli and Arab-Palestinian, side by side.
Rather, it was the process that failed: the steps that were laid out for reaching this solution. Since 2000, when the Camp David talks between PM Ehud Barak and President Yasser Arafat collapsed, followed by the outbreak of the second intifada in late September, we have been stuck in the mud. Thus the process that commenced in 1994 undoubtedly failed. This has led us into repeated attempts to renew negotiations and move toward an agreed solution, along with a variety of outbreaks of politically-motivated violence.
When the young American asked me what, then, had caused the failure of the Oslo process, I had no easy reply. I explained that I couldn't decide among three possible reasons and that conceivably two or all three of them were relevant.
The first explanation links the failure to the details of the Oslo agreement itself. The method established for implementing the agreement contained a self-destruct mechanism that rendered crisis and implosion inevitable. The negotiators and drafters of Oslo were too optimistic. They believed that their shared euphoria over the breakthrough would remove the many obstacles ahead. They adopted a bottom-up approach whereby a gradual process of confidence-building would precede negotiations on the core issues and soften up the two sides so they would enter final-status negotiations in a flexible mode. Sadly, the result was the complete reverse: each side sought to gain the advantage and create facts on the ground that would improve its chances for a better deal in the final phase.
The second reason lays the blame on the implementation, policies and behavior of the two sides. We witnessed behavior that contradicted the central concept of the agreement: building mutual confidence. We still recall the optimistic images of Palestinians in the territories decorating the rifle barrels of IDF soldiers with flowers--but very quickly we returned to "business as usual". On the Palestinian side, we read and heard the incitement voiced by Arafat and others that so sorely contradicted the spirit of the agreement and the ideal of coexistence; we witnessed the minor infractions but also the frustrating terrorist attacks. And on the Israeli side, settlement spread continued as if nothing had happened. What was impossible to understand and negated all expectations was the lack of response by the Rabin government to the massacre perpetrated at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron by Baruch Goldstein. And finally, in November 1995 came the Rabin assassination, followed by the rise of a Likud government.
The third reason concerns me the most. This is the possibility that, from the very beginning, there was no real Palestinian Arab readiness to acquiesce in Israel's existence and coexist with it. At the heart of this assumption lies a Palestinian misunderstanding and refusal to acknowledge the historical-ideological underpinnings of the Zionist movement and the Jews' attachment to their ancient homeland. Without Palestinian flexibility and compromise regarding this core issue there is no prospect of an agreement.
This brings me to the past decade, wherein we can point to three important developments.
On the Palestinian side Yasser Arafat, the spiritual father of the Palestinian national movement, departed the scene. Without a charismatic and dominant leader, it is hard to envision the Palestinians making the hard political decisions required for progress. This is particularly the case in view of the schism between the radical Hamas leadership controlling the Gaza Strip and the moderate PLO leadership in the West Bank.
Meanwhile, Israeli public opinion has moved strongly toward the nationalist right. The Israeli left has almost disappeared. Over the years, Jewish settlement in the West Bank has created a reality that no conceivable Israeli government may be able to eliminate.
These two developments are confronted by a growing international involvement that seeks to present the outline of a final-status arrangement. Ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has also become a vital interest of the Arab world. This is the most optimistic news we could confront as we move from one decade to the next.- Published 4/1/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Major General (Ret.) Shlomo Gazit was head of IDF Intelligence. He was also the first IDF coordinator for the occupied territories.
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Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.