The Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) government and the roadmap are in effect Siamese twins; they must be analyzed and monitored together, or not at all. It was not a coincidence that the official establishment of a Palestinian cabinet headed by Abu Mazen was followed a day later by the official presentation of the roadmap. The two are part of the same process that has emerged from the Israeli-Palestinian war, the Iraq war, and the evolution of American policy.
Two corollaries follow. First, from the Israeli standpoint, in the foreseeable future there will not be a better opportunity to work our way out of the current conflict and at least stabilize the situation. If Abu Mazen--who so dramatically rejects the path of violence--fails, or Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat successfully intervenes to spoil the process, or the roadmap fails, or the United States loses interest, there is no alternative peace process waiting in the wings. If we deal with the unfortunate fact that Arafat still retains too much control, particularly over security organizations, by turning down this process or demanding a different prime minister or even capturing and exiling Arafat--this will not improve our chances for ending this conflict, with its disastrous economic, human and political consequences for both sides, but rather worsen them. So we all have to work with what we've got, even as the pressures on Arafat--internally, from genuine reformers, and externally, from the Quartet--must continue.
Secondly, in view of the antithetical positions held by Abu Mazen and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon regarding final status issues such as Jerusalem and the size and borders of a Palestinian state, the roadmap as constituted is not likely to generate a two state solution within the next two years. Hence the very best we can do at this point is a successful phase I, the phase of stabilization, security and reform. This is still preferable by far, for both sides, to the current status quo of warfare. It will almost certainly generate a new and positive dynamic that will affect Israeli as well as Palestinian internal politics.
Assuming that all three sides--the PLO/PA, Israel and the Bush administration--understand and accept the constraints and limitations of this process and the crucial link between Abu Mazen's fortunes and the future of the roadmap, there remain three key issues for immediate resolution.
One is Israel's demand for amendments to the roadmap. The overall thrust of Sharon's attempts to change the roadmap's parallel process into a sequential one, to avoid restoring a PLO presence to East Jerusalem, to "legalize" settlement outposts, and to elicit Palestinian renunciation of the right of return from the outset, is that Sharon is simply looking for excuses to avoid getting onto the slippery slope of the roadmap. Here the US must be firm. The only truly legitimate Israeli demand at this point is that the Palestinian effort to end the violence be sincere, and be seen to be working.
The Bush administration should continue to tell Sharon to stop quibbling and to dismantle all 70 outposts established on his watch over the past two years in accordance with phase I--if only for Israel's own good, to avoid the slippery slope of "South Africanization" of the conflict. The best way it can deal with Israel's very understandable demand that the Palestinians renounce the right of return if they want Israel to recognize Palestinian statehood is to amend the roadmap by eliminating phase II with its highly problematic "provisional" Palestinian state. This would relegate all final status issues to what is currently phase III, which in any case will be hard to complete under the current leaders. To sacrifice the entire process before it begins due to Israel's insistence on a final status issue--legitimate and vital on its own merits--is folly.
But regarding an end to violence, the administration should make clear to Abu Mazen's government that it must take control over all Palestinian security organizations, and that a mere hudna or ceasefire with Fateh's own al-Aqsa Brigades, along with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, will not suffice. These organizations must be disarmed and their terrorist infrastructures dismantled. Israelis must be convinced that the existential threat posed by the suicide bombings is ending, not merely being frozen for the interim. They will feel very little sympathy if and when confronted with the argument that Palestinian solidarity is ultimately more important than the real security needs not only of Israel, but of Palestinians as well.
For months I have been writing that there is no peace process because none of the three principals--Bush, Sharon, Arafat--has a realistic strategy for peace. The advent of the roadmap and of the Abu Mazen government signals that, just conceivably, in a best case scenario, we are witnessing the beginning of change within this triangle of doom and frustration.
It will be an uphill battle.
Yossi Alpher is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University.
The formation of the new Palestinian cabinet was accompanied by both high expectations and heavy interference. The recent events in the Palestinian political system were characterized by fierce internal debate and struggle typical of healthy democratic life--a struggle that was inaccurately portrayed externally as a fight between two individuals over competing political strategies. The subsequent involvement of outside players and attempts to influence the course of events have unfortunately--by virtue of their emphasis--set us all up for disappointment.
During the course of the cabinet selection, different Palestinian players (and not just the president and prime minister-designate) utilized the chance to try to forward their various points of view, a debate that culminated in competition for the vote of the Legislative Council or parliament. This exercise reflected a healthy democratic system not seen in most neighboring Arab states. But instead of being described as a positive and unique discussion, the differences within the Palestinian political sphere were described by the press as an impediment to the evolution of a “reformed” Palestinian cabinet (what is “reform”, anyway, but healthy democratic debate?).
In the realm of politics, there are actually no significant differences between Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). Both come from the same school of thought and in all previous internal Palestinian disputes have come down on the same side. The most recent example of that was during the discussions of the Palestinian delegation to the Camp David negotiations.
Even Abu Mazen’s remarks about the need to stop the military components of the Intifada reflect the views of President Arafat, who tried to pursue that course of action through several ceasefire declarations and statements calling to stop the violence, as well as practical attempts to carry out his objectives. Unfortunately, Israeli behavior--whether the ongoing Israeli crackdown on Palestinian security organs or the continuous Israeli killing of Palestinian civilians--manufactures Palestinian anger, extremism and the spirit of revenge.
The attempts to interfere in this internal debate from outside were not constructive and were even harmful, but in the final analysis did not prevent an outcome in harmony with the will of the Palestinian people as represented by the affirming vote of the Legislative Council. Still, because this new Palestinian government was a response to the demands of those with the power to influence the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (such as the United States), its completion created high expectations among both Palestinians and Israelis. The change also occurred after the war in Iraq, which many analysts had concluded would push United States and the Quartet in general to "do something" vis-a-vis the Middle East and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
But realists have no reason to nurse hopes due to the change within the Palestinian cabinet, simply because the obstacles to replacing the ongoing violence with peaceful negotiations are not found on the Palestinian side. Despite the danger of sounding like a broken record, it is fact that the individuals in charge of the Israeli government, including the prime minister himself, have political and ideological problems with the central notions of the peace process: ending the occupation, stopping settlement expansion and adhering to international law. These tenets also make up the basis for the Quartet roadmap. That is why, until we see a change that replaces the current government in Israel with a government that can “belong” politically and ideologically to the peace process, it is very difficult to be optimistic about a change in direction.
Ghassan Khatib is minister of labor in the Palestinian Authority cabinet. He has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Conceivably I won't be able to support the process
an interview with Tzipi Livni
bitterlemons: What is your impression of the election process that brought Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) to the Palestinian premiership?
Livni: The process was disappointing in some ways, because of Arafat's influence and his unwillingness to accept procedures that are supposed to affect the mode of the war against terrorism. But the outcome is positive from the standpoint of anyone who wants to arrive at a political peace process.
bitterlemons: What is the government of Israel demanding of Abu Mazen and his government?
Livni: What has happened within the Palestinian leadership was intended primarily to advance those who recognize that it is Palestinian society that requires a war against terrorism. Therefore, I don't want to address this from the Israeli standpoint. This is first of all a Palestinian interest. Palestinian society has been damaged by terrorism at its deepest levels. So there is both a Palestinian internal interest and a government interest.
From Israel's standpoint, in order to move forward the infrastructure of terrorism must be eliminated. If any Israeli, right or left, wants to advance a peace process, he will undoubtedly not do so if confronted by a terrorist state. Hence both sides have an interest.
bitterlemons: What is your approach to the hudna idea, a ceasefire among the Palestinian factions, as a solution to terrorism?
Livni: This is a very disturbing idea. I fear this will not be sufficient, will not provide the right road to the beginning of a process, because the [terrorist] organizations will simply acquire more weapons and prepare for the next round. A hudna will provide imaginary external quiet that will arouse deep fears among Israelis.
bitterlemons: Will the Americans suffice with a hudna?
Livni: The Americans aren't playing games here. We saw that in Iraq.
bitterlemons: Can you address the amendments that Israel is asking for in the roadmap--the additional demands upon the Palestinians?
Livni: One issue regarding which I have taken the lead is substantive. President Bush is leading a solution of two states for the two peoples. Therefore the historical deal will involve the creation of a Palestinian state in the sense that this encompasses an arrangement for the [1948 Palestinian] refugees. Accordingly, the translation of Bush's speech [of June 24, 2002] into the roadmap is defective. Hence I demanded that the discussion of a Palestinian state be held simultaneously with the discussion of the refugee problem.
bitterlemons: Perhaps your argument is with phase II of the roadmap. After all, it moves up the discussion of one final status issue, a Palestinian state, but delays the other final status issues to phase III.
Livni: Phase II as it stands is problematic, since it advances one topic of final status. Therefore we must move the discussion of the refugees to the same phase. This is the only way we can accept the roadmap.
bitterlemons: Perhaps the solution is simply to skip this problematic phase II. . . ?
Livni: If we skip phase II this will return us to August 2000.
bitterlemons: Reportedly, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suggested that the Palestinians agree to define Israel as a Jewish state, perhaps instead of renouncing the right of return at this time.
Livni: Defining Israel as a Jewish state is not sufficient because this moves the issue to demographics, to a discussion of percentages, and I'm talking about a matter of principle. If the establishment of a Palestinian state does not provide a solution to the Palestinian people, then there is no reason I should agree with it. I propose a solution that moves both sides into the process.
bitterlemons: It's generally understood that Abu Mazen does not forego the right of return at the level of principle.
Livni: I regret Abu Mazen's position regarding the right of return. There's no point in the process unless we get this amendment.
bitterlemons: And if the US, which opposes any changes in the roadmap, opposes the amendment you propose?
Livni: If the US opposes the change then I, who want to reach an agreement, won't be able to support the process.
bitterlemons: Can you address the other Israeli comments on the roadmap?
Livni: There were additional amendments, for example regarding the timetable for the process. Obviously the entire concept of phasing was intended to move from one phase to the next in an atmosphere of security. If the timetable is not clearly locked into performance tests, this is insufficient.
bitterlemons: Isn't the process in any case likely to break down in phases II and III in view of the clash between the views of Sharon and Abu Mazen?
Livni: The process itself can be beneficial. If we see that there's security in phase I, and a period of time passes during which we see that the terrorist organizations have been eliminated and the textbooks changed, then our readiness to compromise will also change. That's why phasing may provide a better chance.
Tzipi Livni (Likud) is Minister for Immigrant Absorption in the Government of Israel.
bitterlemons: How do you feel about the creation of the position of prime minister?
Al Wazir: This new government, and the appointment of a prime minister, is a positive step towards developing and improving the internal state of affairs and towards institution-building that will get us to the point of establishing an independent Palestinian state.
bitterlemons: Do you feel that this change was the result of external or internal pressure?
Al Wazir: This was a Palestinian demand before it was an external demand. The Palestinian demand corresponded with the international demand, and the Palestinian Legislative Council agreed to it and the Central Council agreed to it in principle. The Palestinian Legislative Council then put it into law and amended the Basic Law.
bitterlemons: Some people seem irritated by the external pressures…
Al Wazir: The irritation is at the external interference in the formation of the government. In the end, though, there was agreement on the names of the members of the new government, and a decision was made. The Palestinian Legislative Council specified the powers of the prime minister, while the president, Abu Ammar [Yasser Arafat], continues to hold powers. The most important of these powers are that he appoints the prime minister and can dismiss him at will. In the end, he remains president.
bitterlemons: What does the new government plan to begin working on first?
Al Wazir: This government has an ambitious work plan. This plan affirms that efforts should continue to end the occupation, to find a solution for peace, and to obtain national rights for the Palestinian people. The most important issue before the cabinet is the continuation of reform and making laws operative. The most important laws that need to be worked on are the social solidarity law, the parties law, and the social security law.
There is also an opportunity before this government to continue negotiations with the Israelis to apply the roadmap and reach a final solution. The new government also has a responsibility to rebuild the structure of all of the ministries and study their plans for the future.
bitterlemons: It was expected that Abu Mazen [Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas] would request a one-year ceasefire. Do you think he is moving in this direction?
Al Wazir: I think that Abu Mazen, the new government and Abu Ammar are seeking to reach an understanding that will end the occupation and stop violence on both sides.
bitterlemons: Four days ago, the roadmap was made official…
Al Wazir: The Executive Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the previous and current cabinets demand Israeli compliance with the roadmap. We agreed to the roadmap even though we have many concerns over it, but as an international plan promoted by the United States of America and the Quartet--the Europeans and the United Nations and Russia--we accepted it, and ask that Israel agree to it.
bitterlemons: Are there indications from abroad that pressure will be placed on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in terms of the roadmap?
Al Wazir: We say that the United States of America must not rule with two different measures. It is able to force Israel, just as it has forced major changes in the region. If it is serious about bringing about a just peace, then it can pressure Israel.
Our goal is really only to live under a true and just peace that will guarantee the Palestinian people’s right to establish an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, and a fair solution to the issue of refugees--return of refugees on the basis of international law. This is the message that Abu Mazen forwarded in his political plans, for which he received the confidence of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
bitterlemons: Your husband, Khalil al Wazir, was assassinated in Tunis by Israeli operatives in 1988. When you remember Abu Jihad, how do you think he would view the current situation?
Al Wazir: Abu Jihad, may his soul rest in peace, was part of the struggle to obtain an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. It’s true that Israel committed a heinous crime in the assassination of Abu Jihad, but the interest of the people and our belief in what he stood for is to continue in the struggle to obtain the goal of all of the martyrs. The goal Abu Jihad was struggling for was the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, on all of the lands that were occupied in 1967. He believed in this objective and he felt that we could obtain it by armed struggle. If we can obtain it through peaceful negotiations, then we will have also met our goal.
bitterlemons: In your view, are Palestinians closer or further from this prospect?
Al Wazir: That depends on the belief of the Israeli people in the necessity and importance of peace. Abu Mazen was still taking his oath of office as Israeli tanks and helicopters were invading the Gaza Strip to commit a massacre in the Shuja’iyyeh neighborhood of Gaza City. Twelve martyrs fell in this massacre, and more than 65 were wounded. That was a poor message to send to the new prime minister.
Intisar al Wazir has served as Palestinian Authority Minister of Social Affairs since 1995, after returning to the Gaza Strip from 30 years of exile. She was the first female member of Fateh, joining the mainstream Palestinian faction in 1959.
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