Beyond the ceasefire there may lie nothing at all: no peace process, not even an interim process or agreement. If that is the case, then the ceasefire itself will not last long.
On the Palestinian side, President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) appears to have given up on the project of forming a unity government and is casting about for alternatives that may include elections. This could mean postponement for months, if not more, of a prisoner exchange and formation of a new Palestinian government--the missing components of the package needed to launch new Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Meanwhile, at Sde Boker last week, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert set out a fairly reasonable set of conditions for renewing negotiations designed to lead to a far-reaching process of additional Israeli territorial concessions. Yet the situation is not ripe for renewing negotiations, and in any case it is doubtful that Olmert has the political support to make good on his offer to cede additional West Bank territory and remove settlements.
So much for expanding the ceasefire into a peace process. That leaves the ceasefire itself. It will soon dissolve into renewed violence unless the Hamas government in Gaza can completely and unequivocally stop the firing of Qassam rockets and cease the smuggling of arms and ordnance across, or under, the Philadelphi corridor separating Gaza from Sinai. Nor, without these measures, is there any hope to stabilize the ceasefire by extending it to the West Bank. Without a ceasefire there, too, any violent West Bank incident is liable to end the lull in Gaza.
In this sense, Olmert's "vision speech" last week was premature. The political peace process he described cannot begin to be contemplated until the ceasefire is stabilized and expanded, prisoners are exchanged and a Palestinian political dynamic takes place that strengthens Abu Mazen's hand and creates a more respectable PA government.
Moreover, beyond all these "local" considerations the ceasefire must be understood as but one aspect of a complex and interactive regional reality--a chain inexorably linking local and regional issues.
First, for the ceasefire to be enhanced requires that Hamas signal clearly that it does not intend to exploit the relative quiet and absence of Israeli military pressure in Gaza in order to build up its own military potential there, as Israel suspects.
This in turn requires that Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and his Syrian backers, whose "green light" made the ceasefire possible, resolve to accept realities on the ground. They must concede a measure of their power in Palestine and enter into a process whose only natural outcome is a two-state solution, de jure or de facto, that falls short even of what Abu Mazen dreams of achieving (no right of return, less than 100 percent of the West Bank, Israeli forces remaining in the Jordan Valley). But Syrian decision-making regarding Hamas and the Palestinian issue is itself linked to the conflicts in neighboring Iraq and Lebanon, the wishes of Syria's patron Iran and the possibility of changes in Washington's Middle East policies.
In other words, any positive follow-up to the ceasefire is linked, like the ceasefire itself, not only to daily Israeli-Palestinian realities, but also to the broader regional conflict scenario dominated by the United States' disastrous occupation of Iraq and Iran's growing success in projecting its hegemonic ambitions. Even the modest goal of a more stable and comprehensive ceasefire depends on the external Palestinian leadership, its regional state supporters and their confrontation with the United States.
In this regard, perhaps the most significant parts of Olmert's Sde Boker speech last week--beyond his readiness to free prisoners with blood on their hands and the promise of a Palestinian state with "contiguous territory. . . full sovereignty and defined borders"--were the Israeli prime minister's partial recognition of the 2002 Saudi peace plan and his call for closer cooperation with the moderate Arab states. Implicit here is the acceptance of the new and expanded regional context of any Israeli-Palestinian dynamic that might emerge from the ceasefire.
While the prognosis for this particular ceasefire is not encouraging, the regional interlock that links the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the crises in Iraq and Lebanon and the threats emanating from Iran, Syria, Hizballah and jihadi terrorism bespeaks a broad new geo-strategic arena that offers both opportunities and dangers. Yet here Iran and its clients have thus far displayed a far more coordinated strategy than have Israel, the West and the moderate Arabs. - Published 4/12/2006 © bitterlemons.org
The recently declared ceasefire between the Palestinians and Israelis was different and came in a different context from the too many ceasefires declared in the last six years of fierce confrontations between the two sides.
Unfortunately, what it has in common with these other ceasefires is that it is fragile and does not look as if it will last long.
When it was declared, the ceasefire was greeted with optimism not only by Palestinians and Israelis but by the outside world. The main concern was that it came against a backdrop of no political process to sustain and carry it forward.
That was always going to be a problem. It has been shown through long and bitter experience that there can be no vacuum in Palestinian-Israeli relations. Either there is confrontation or there is negotiation. The reason is both sides have firm objectives that they work toward regardless of the context.
Palestinians want an end to occupation by hook or by crook. Sometimes they pursue this objective through armed resistance and sometimes through a political process. Either way, Palestinians will not be dissuaded from seeking their independence and freedom.
Israelis, on the other hand, want to consolidate the occupation and exert different levels of control over the Palestinians. This is either done directly through the army or, preferably, whenever it is possible to do so, while a political process is underway.
For these reasons, many politicians and analysts worried that if this ceasefire came without a political context that might persuade the parties of the viability of negotiations over confrontations, the ceasefire would soon collapse. Unfortunately, that is exactly what seems to be happening now.
Without a political context, the other aspects of relations between the two sides are left untouched. The siege on Gaza, which is engendering poverty and frustration, is left intact, while in the West Bank, not only are arrests and assassinations continuing and restrictions on movement as draconian as ever, but Jewish settlements there continue expanding in contradiction to international law. For Palestinians, the ceasefire thus becomes a means by which Israel can continue its occupation and all measures that derive from it without paying any price. On the Israeli side, meanwhile, the lack of a political process merely increases fears that Palestinian groups will use the time to rearm and prepare for the next round of fighting.
One of the new aspects of this ceasefire was that it was the first time Hamas was the political and military counterpart to Israel. Hamas entered into the ceasefire, after sustained involvement of the outside Hamas leadership, partly to assert its strength by showing it could enforce a ceasefire. The ceasefire was thus, partly, for short-term political gain.
That is also true on the Israeli side. Continued rocket fire on the south of Israel had led to mounting pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government, and to ease that pressure Olmert needed the ceasefire.
Regionally, meanwhile, people had hopes that the ceasefire would offer an opportunity for the international community to step up its involvement. It was certainly a cue for foreign ministers from a dozen different countries around the world to turn up in the region.
Surprisingly, however, most of these envoys came merely to hear about the situation and "encourage" the parties to move forward. This disappointed people here who expected the representatives of the Quartet, the G8 and others to use their leverage on the parties to force them to resume political negotiations. People were also hoping that these envoys might work actively to end the humanitarian suffering imposed on the Palestinian people and force the parties to adhere to international law in their behavior.
But with these diplomatic activities limited to exploration, Palestinian-Israeli relations will continue to deteriorate and the collapse of the ceasefire seems imminent. Linked to this is the deterioration in Palestinian-Palestinian relations, especially after the failure of the internal dialogue to form a national unity government.- Published 4/12/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the former Palestinian Authority minister of planning, and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.
AN ISRAELI VIEW|
No chance under present circumstances
by Saul Singer
The usual question about a ceasefire is whether it will hold. The more important question is whether it will contribute to longer-term prospects for peace or actually pave the path to a future war. In other words, what matters is not the ceasefire itself, but whether it will be taken as an opportunity to change the circumstances that brought about the fighting and that threaten to lead to resumed conflict.
To understand the factors in play, we must go back a short time to Israel's complete and unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005. This was a turning point at which the Palestinians had to decide whether to continue attacking Israel, especially from Gaza, or to return to a strategy of achieving their objectives through negotiations.
Following the Israeli withdrawal, Hamas won parliamentary elections in January 2006 on a platform of combating corruption and improving the dismal Palestinian domestic situation. Yet once in power, Hamas quickly allowed and joined in rocket attacks against Israel from Gaza, leading to Israeli military responses, thereby plunging Gaza back into the exhausting conflict from which most Palestinians presumably sought respite.
Why did Hamas do this? One answer is that of the scorpion who, in the famous parable, explains to the bewildered frog he has just stung, before they both drown in a river the frog was carrying him across: "because that is what scorpions do." That may be true, but there are additional factors that have greatly exacerbated the situation.
The first is that since the Israeli withdrawal, Egypt has not prevented large quantities of weapons of increasing sophistication from being smuggled into Gaza. Presumably these weapons could be stockpiled, as many are, rather than used, but such an inflow of weaponry certainly strengthens the hand of those advocating no let up in attacks against Israel.
Secondly, this pressure to attack Israel increased after the Lebanon war this summer, since those advocating aggression could argue that Hizballah had proven that even a relatively small guerrilla army could hold its own against the Israeli military. Why make peace with Israel--considered surrender by those who wish to destroy the Jewish state--when Israel has proven its weakness?
Thirdly, despite the fact that the United Nations Security Council clearly blamed Hizballah for starting the war by attacking Israel on July 12, that same body continues to blame Israel for being attacked by the Palestinians. This is seen by the fact that months of Qassam rocket attacks on Israeli civilians produce no concern at the UN, which leaps into action when Israel, tragically but accidentally, kills Palestinian civilians in its military response.
This UN formula of blaming the victim greatly encourages attacks against Israel; Hamas would be crazy not to attack Israel when such attacks effectively serve to increase Israel's isolation and, ironically, relieve pressure for diplomatic concessions that Hamas has no desire to make.
Lastly, the sense that the international community is becoming less likely to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is already increasing the power of radical forces across the region, both because of direct Iranian funding and influence and because these radicals are considered a growing force that is dangerous to resist.
The way, then, to not only make the ceasefire hold but to move away from the seemingly inevitable next war is to address each of these negative factors:
- The United States should tell Cairo that if it acts like Damascus and allows itself to become a weapons funnel to radical forces, then US military and financial aid will be jeopardized.
- The full Quartet should join the US not only in rejecting "blame the victim" resolutions at the UN, but should introduce resolutions condemning Palestinian aggression against Israel and supporting Israel's right to self-defense.
- The more the international community is seen as unable to enforce its own resolutions regarding Lebanese independence and against Iranian nuclearization, the weaker those Palestinians and Lebanese seeking a more peaceful future will become. Capitulation on these other issues will have a direct impact on the Arab-Israel conflict.
The West, including Israel, is under attack by the axis Israel fought during the recent war: Hamas, Hizballah, Syria and Iran. That war, while initially demonstrating Israeli military prowess and the Israeli public's incredible fortitude under fire, quickly came to symbolize Israeli weakness and vulnerability. This performance, coupled with the western refusal to impose minimal sanctions against Iran let alone convincingly confront it, will likely embolden this entire axis and lead to an increase in terrorism.
Under such circumstances, no ceasefire has a chance of survival or of becoming the basis for something more promising. At the same time, if the West wakes up and changes course as suggested, the chances would be good to set positive trends in motion--not only between Israel and the Palestinians, but in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan, where the radical axis is working hard to undermine western objectives.- Published 4/12/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Saul Singer is editorial page editor of the Jerusalem Post and author of Confronting Jihad: Israel's Struggle and the World After 9/11.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Three conditions for a successful ceasefire
by Daoud Kuttab
Three conditions must obtain for ceasefire agreements to work. They need to be mutual, supervised by a neutral party and supported by continuous political negotiations. Only the first condition seems to have been met this time around, and for the fire to cease we need to work on the remaining two conditions.
Although nothing has been signed by the conflicting parties, the condition of mutuality seems to have been fulfilled by an Israeli willingness to be involved in what amounts to an understanding rather than an agreement. As such, this ceasefire seems closer to the understandings reached in Lebanon or with the Syrians that have worked even though they were not put on paper by the parties to the conflict. It therefore bodes well that we seem to have overcome the initial hurdle that has been delaying movement on this front.
The lack of a signed agreement, however, has unfortunately left the larger part of the Palestinian territories outside the understanding. Without including the West Bank, Israel will get what it wants, i.e., an end to the Qassam fire without Palestinians getting what they need, i.e., an end to the continuous Israeli incursions and assassinations in the West Bank. If these continue, they would be a clear invitation to West Bank Palestinians to use the same tactic that forced the Israelis to accept a ceasefire with their Gazan brethren. That would be unfortunate.
But this is not enough. Both sides need to agree on a mechanism to put an end to violations through a clear monitoring scheme that is operated by a genuinely neutral party. To be effective, such neutral monitors must be allowed to name and shame the guilty party. Too much politics has been exerted in the past to prevent the naming of the parties that have violated previous ceasefire attempts.
Naturally, the most important component to give any ceasefire longevity is to reach a political agreement. Individuals and groups shoot at each other because of a feeling of injustice and because of the absence of a political agreement that addresses their demands. In this regard, the most obvious political agreement begins with the recognition of the basics: that each side accepts the other and its right to self-determination. This applies as much to Israel accepting Hamas as to Hamas accepting Israel.
The issue of Palestinian statehood is no longer in question, but in addition to the geography of this state (especially as regards East Jerusalem), the problems of viability and contiguity are not to be minimized. The contiguity issue is now a major problem because the Israelis are unilaterally building tunnels and alternate roads without coordinating with the Palestinians and without including East Jerusalem or even Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem as part of this complex road system.
The peace that both sides require needs to be built on trust and respect. Attempts to impose solutions based on the needs of the strong party will fail. They may bring temporary ceasefire understandings, but true peace and security can only be achieved when both sides are willing to address some of the most important needs of the other. This means security for Israel and sovereignty for Palestinians. Such agreements begin with respect and are concluded on the negotiating table.
Ending the shooting is important. But unless this is widened to include all Palestinian territories, is monitored by a neutral party and followed directly with substantive talks, it is unlikely to last very long.- Published 4/12/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian columnist and director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah.
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