b i t t e r l e m o n s. o r g
    July 9, 2007 Edition 25                      Palestinian-Israeli crossfire
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An international force
. Only if guided by international law        by Ghassan Khatib
Israel must not be allowed to remain selective as far as international law and the role of the international community are concerned.
  . No cake to ice        by Yossi Alpher
Israeli security planners are increasingly ready to risk introducing international forces under less than favorable circumstances.
. No force without substance        by Akram Baker
The PLO has called for "international protection" ever since the late Chairman Yasser Arafat first discovered a microphone.
  . Still a viable concept for the West Bank        by Pini Meidan-Shani
There is a need for a third party security force to bridge the gap of will and capacity among Palestinians.

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Only if guided by international law
by Ghassan Khatib

The idea of deploying international forces in Palestine to ease tensions and violence with Israel is yet again being bandied about. The difference this time is the response by all parties. It used to be an idea that Israel rejected and Palestinians promoted. Now the Palestinians, unsurprisingly, are divided and the Israelis are hesitant.

The idea of international peacekeeping forces was always encouraged by the peace camps in Palestine and Israel because it is consistent with their approach and the kind of solution they are after, namely one based on international legality, including the relevant UN resolutions. International forces would, as part of their remit, serve to monitor the behavior of the parties, and since Israeli practices in the occupied territories are always in contradiction with these laws, Israel has always avoided such a third party role.

Hamas, still in the grip of euphoria after taking over Gaza by force, feels that anybody else with authority will reduce its control there. Hamas is only at the beginning of its mission in Gaza, and Hamas fears international forces because the international community considers President Mahmoud Abbas and his government to be the legitimate leadership of the Palestinian people and therefore is in opposition to the Islamist movement's current illegal position.

Israel opposes the idea for very similar reasons, namely its hostile attitude toward international legality. That is simply because international law contradicts the Israeli occupation and consequently disapproves of Israeli practices in occupied territory, especially the settlement policy that serves to consolidate the occupation.

But this is based on the assumption that any international forces will be mandated by the international community and the UN, or at least that their remit will be consistent with the laws and resolutions of the UN.

The possible change in the Israeli position is that Israel might approve some kind of international presence in Gaza alone on the premise that the Strip is no longer occupied territory. Israel opposes any international presence in the West Bank because in the Israeli definition, the West Bank was never occupied.

Such differentiation must be completely rejected by the international community as well as the Palestinians. Accepting an international presence in Gaza and not in the West Bank will only play along with the Israeli strategy of separating the West Bank from Gaza. Not only that, it will have no chance of being accepted by Gazans, especially Hamas. One of the biggest mistakes made in Oslo on the Palestinian side was accepting different statuses for the different parts of occupied territory. The West Bank is as much in need of an international presence as Gaza, if not more.

Furthermore, Israel must not be allowed to remain selective as far as international law and the role of the international community are concerned. In Lebanon for example, Israel is urging the international community to help impose relevant UN resolution. But UN resolutions are suddenly very unpopular when in a Palestinian context.

The recent consensus on the failure of Israeli unilateralism and the fact that the neo-cons in the US are taking a back seat, in an implicit admission of the failure of neo-con strategy, might provide new opportunities. It is time for Europe to take a leading role, because it has already been promoting the alternative to the failed Israeli-American approach.

If an international peacekeeping force is deployed, it must have a clear mandate from the UN and international law must be its guiding principle. Otherwise, such a force will not be able to play a constructive role but might rather be caught in the conflict instead of solving it.

The absence of a clear mandate and terms of reference will also confuse the mission. Should it prevent only Palestinian violence or also Israeli? Should it stop only the illegal activities of armed Palestinian groups or also the activities of the illegal settlers?

An international force furthermore has to be part of a comprehensive package that includes a specific political component such as resuming political negotiations, as well as economic and security components that can form a platform for its mission and function as terms of reference.- Published 9/7/2007 © bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is vice-president of Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning.

No cake to ice
by Yossi Alpher

There was something pathetic in the knee-jerk reactions of both Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to the Hamas takeover in Gaza last month: "bring in an international force." They ignored at their peril the most basic lessons that all of us, Israelis and Arabs, should have learned from the past 60 years' experience with international forces in our midst.

First, an international element should be inserted only when both belligerents concur with its rules of engagement. For example, the mandate of the United Nations Disengagement Force (UNDOF) on the Golan Heights was agreed in 1974 between Israel and Syria even though they remained enemies in a state of war, whereas the mandate of the first United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL I, prior to last summer) was agreed to by Lebanon alone; Israel was not consulted. This is one key reason why UNDOF has been so much more successful than was UNIFIL I.

Second, ideally the international element should be little more than "icing on the cake", i.e., it should complement and reinforce the will and desire of two viable and credible local parties to honor their agreements. This means that if at some point the international element is removed, the peace does not necessarily collapse. The Multinational Force and Observers in Sinai is a successful example of this principle at work. In contrast, when its predecessor, the United Nations Emergency Force, was arbitrarily removed by then UN Secretary General U Thant in May 1967 it helped precipitate the Six-Day War.

Third, the deployment of international forces in the Israel-Arab context has had a greater chance of success when they have genuinely separated Israelis and Arabs. Here again, the MFO and UNDOF have worked relatively well, whereas UNIFIL I generally failed because at least until May 2000, when Israel withdrew from Lebanon, the international force did not separate the belligerents, but rather mixed in among them.

If we apply these lessons to the prospects for an international role in the current Israeli-Palestinian context, the following considerations emerge. Considering that the international force's detailed mandate should be agreed between the two sides, then in view of Hamas' resolute rejection of an international force in Gaza the idea of an international force there is a non-starter. As for deploying an international force on the West Bank, the failure of Abu Mazen to lead and Fateh to reform itself, so painfully evident in Gaza last month, calls into question their credibility as a viable partner anywhere.

Some would argue that this state of affairs reinforces the need for third party intervention. One option mentioned in this regard is an international nation-building force similar to those that have been deployed in recent years in Bosnia and East Timor. From Israel's standpoint this too is problematic. The introduction of a genuine international force under current circumstances, where settlers and Palestinians occupy the same geographical space, the IDF patrols most of the territories and Palestinians still seek to carry out acts of terrorism from the West Bank, would probably be disastrous. Moreover, the force itself would encounter armed Palestinians, thereby reducing the likelihood that the international community would volunteer to put its soldiers in harm's way.

Thus, in the case of Palestine--both Gaza and the West Bank--from the Israeli standpoint there really is no "cake" of agreement with a viable partner upon which to put the "icing" of an international force.

But there is another side to the story of Israel's current and prospective interaction with international forces. It reflects two Israeli dilemmas. First, that of combating non-state actors such as Hizballah and Hamas, engaged in asymmetrical warfare with Israel and targeting its civilian population from neighboring territory--southern Lebanon and Gaza--that is not ruled by a responsible or even responsive state actor. And second, a growing reticence, even revulsion on the part of the Israeli public to occupying such neighboring territory, for reasons reflecting both demography and the absence of a negotiating partner for peace. Under these evolving circumstances, wherein there are neither obvious military solutions nor easy exit strategies, Israeli security planners and politicians appear to be increasingly ready to risk introducing international forces under less than favorable circumstances.

This explains Israel's eagerness to introduce an international force to southern Lebanon last summer, despite the problematic nature of the "cake". The jury is still out regarding the wisdom of deploying UNIFIL II in Lebanon. If, as could happen in the coming months, the international force is denied the backing of a viable and moderate Lebanese government, the situation in the South could quickly become even worse than before from Israel's standpoint, with 13,000 UNIFIL troops denied Lebanese state support for neutralizing a resurgent and aggressive Hizballah and becoming more of a hindrance to Israeli security than a help.

Conceivably, a similar sense of exasperation as that of last summer could impel Israel to weigh the introduction of some sort of international state-building force on the West Bank. Without a viable "cake" of agreement with a credible Palestinian partner capable of enforcing its sovereign will, this too would be a very risky enterprise.

Meanwhile, in Gaza, we can hardly expect the international community to volunteer to fight Hamas on our behalf.- Published 9/7/2007 © 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 and a former special adviser to PM Ehud Barak.

No force without substance

by Akram Baker

In the parlance of our times, "chatter" is how we would describe the debate about a possible international force in occupied Palestine. As in all chatter, the one most important objective is to sort the wheat from the chaff and attempt to determine if, when and what impact the result of such intense banter might be. First, a quick look at the facts.

Israel has consistently rejected any and all calls for an international presence in the occupied territories for the past 40 years, with the exception of the very significantly insignificant TIPH (Temporary International Presence in Hebron) "deployed" in that tortured city following the massacre of Palestinian worshipers at the Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994 by a Jewish American settler. As for TIPH's impact, suffice it to say that this contingent of well-intentioned, unarmed Scandinavians (mostly) cannot even make public statements or reports about what they see, let alone intervene to protect the local Palestinian population of Hebron.

So why is Israel all of a sudden willing to put a group of Euro soldiers in Gaza? Because Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is trying to get ahead of the debate and make sure that any international force that may be deployed will do Israel's bidding and nothing else. If this still phantom force can isolate Gaza even more, if it can drive an even greater wedge into crumbling Palestinian national aspirations, then Israel will wholeheartedly throw its significant weight behind it to the detriment of all.

From a Palestinian perspective, the PLO has called for "international protection" ever since the late Chairman Yasser Arafat first discovered a microphone and just about every Palestinian backed him up. The big difference this time is that PA President Mahmoud Abbas is calling for the deployment of an international force only in Hamas-run Gaza to ensure "free and fair" elections. Hamas has roundly and vocally rejected any international deployment plans, going so far as to threaten to treat them as an "additional occupation force" and to "receive them with rockets and missiles". Typical Hamas hyperbole aside, that position appears to have merit and is more than a knee-jerk reaction even though it is clear that Hamas is playing party politics to the hilt. On the other side, Fateh has given the call a less then resounding endorsement, coming across as a group of jilted lovers, only happy when it can hit back at Hamas in any way available.

So is there any use for this international force in Palestine? Yes, but with a few, very major conditions attached.

First, any force must be deployed to protect the Palestinian people from the Israeli occupation. I would make the case that in order to develop, reform and grow, Palestine and its people must be safe from the iron fist of the Israeli military that sweeps in death and destruction on a very regular basis. Israel is the real threat here and this must be recognized before anything substantial can be done.

Second, elections do not make a democracy and can even be counterproductive. Hamas, for all its faults, won the last parliamentary elections fair and square and the entire "international community" greeted them with boycotts and a siege. With their actions, Europe and the US pushed the cause of "democracy" back an entire generation in this region. To hold another round of useless elections at this time would be hollow at best and calamitous at worst. If, and only if, President Abbas can get ironclad guarantees from the US and Europe that the outcome of any future elections will be fully respected should they be held. We do not need another exercise in futility.

At the same time, Hamas must also immediately step back from its ill-begotten takeover of Gaza, humbly ask President Abbas and the PA to resume control over the Strip and apologize to the Palestinian people for their despicable and unacceptable actions last month. Hamas must realize by now that civil war is not tolerated in Palestinian society.

For his part, President Abbas needs to clean the Fateh house in a big way (which he should have done a long time ago), dismiss the many corrupt and incompetent officials within both the leadership and the rank and file and bring legal action in the most egregious cases. If these conditions are met even to some extent, then bringing in an international force to ensure safe and fair elections would make sense.

Finally, the force must be deployed throughout the occupied territories and not only in Gaza. It in no way can contribute to the division of Palestine, lest it rightly be seen as playing an active part in the occupation. If the international community wishes to protect Palestine and provide it with a haven safe from Israeli punitive actions in order to give the Palestinian leadership a fighting chance at reforming itself, then an international force should be welcomed with open arms. If it is planning to take sides in an internal Palestinian struggle, or just to enjoy the weather, then it is are off staying at home.

All efforts from Fateh, Hamas, the Quartet and even Israel should be focused on achieving one goal: freeing both Palestinians and Israelis from the yoke of the Israeli occupation. All steps should be taken in this direction or not taken at all. The only international force that makes sense is one with a meaning.- Published 9/7/2007 © bitterlemons.org

Akram Baker is an independent political analyst based in Ramallah. He is also co-president of the Arab Western Summit of Skills.

Still a viable concept for the West Bank

by Pini Meidan-Shani

Since Hamas took over Gaza we have been hearing new-old voices calling for the deployment of an international force in Gaza. Both PM Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) have discovered a "magic solution" for the international community to save them from themselves. Unfortunately, it is too little, too late for Gaza.

When Israel withdrew from Lebanon it was obvious to everybody that if there were no one to replace us there, Hizballah would flourish and create a state within a state. Yet Israeli leaders and the international community preferred to ignore the situation and did not insist on the full implementation of UNSC Resolution 1595. Even then, the deployment of the Lebanese army would have been insufficient to prevent control by the Hizballah militia in South Lebanon.

The unilateral disengagement from Gaza, disregarding Hamas' military capacity and Fateh's weakness, fragmentation and lack of will to fight, was also misinterpreted by Israel and the international community. We all fell into our own trap of wishful thinking, believing that Abu Mazen, with the financial assistance of the Quartet and friendly Arab states, could make the difference.

During the recent events in Gaza, Abu Mazen avoided giving the order to the Presidential Guards and the police to engage Hamas troops. By not doing so he shares the blame, together with the Preventive Security force, for the defeat in Gaza. He has also failed to unite the various security apparatuses under one authority. He is further than ever from implementing the fundamental concept of government, "one law, one gun".

Accordingly, whoever calls for new elections in Palestine on the assumption that this time the results will be different than in 2006 is deceiving the international community. Will the Palestinian people vote for those who drove Israel out of Gaza and humiliated the corrupt Fateh security forces, or should they vote for those who didn't even fight for their own families? Can Fateh, fragmented as it is today, take on full responsibility in the West Bank? How far is it from carrying out the internal reforms that would reflect a real change in the movement?

On the other hand, can Israel afford another "failed experiment", relying on the non- promise of Palestinian security forces? What are the assurances the Israeli government can give its constituents that a withdrawal from parts of the West Bank, removing the outposts and most of the roadblocks while confronting the settlers, would not be abused as in the past by radical Islamist groups.

The concept of strengthening Abu Mazen has become a common denominator for the international community, the friendly Arab states and Israel. This is a coalition of fear and mutual concern regarding the emerging radical Islamic movements. But fear is not a policy. Assisting Abu Mazen financially and equipping his troops are important steps, but these alone cannot replace the Palestinians' need for decisiveness and a strong will to fight for their principles and future. Abu Mazen's good faith is not enough; he has to take the necessary steps to assure security.

There is a paradigm shift among the Israeli majority. Instead of "land for virtual peace", the new formula is "land for long-term guaranteed security and finality of claims". The old assumption that once we achieve a comprehensive peace agreement, this by itself will bring security is no longer acceptable to Israeli citizens. They will demand assurances from their government.

Who can provide the missing security components? If Israel withdraws from the West Bank in the current atmosphere of lack of determination among Fateh forces, Hamas will be victorious there in no time, just as in Gaza.

There is a need for a third party security force to bridge the gap of will and capacity among Palestinians while at the same time assuring the security and stability of both sides. A third party security role should start with a robust presence and its volume then be decreased according to agreed-upon performance standards. The cosmetic old system of "monitoring lite", such as EU-BAN or UNIFIL prior to UNSC resolution 1701, is no longer applicable.

What will this require from the local players? It will limit the authority and independence of Palestinian security forces. At the same time it will assist them to carry out necessary reforms, equip them, and train and guide them to reach acceptable performance standards. In parallel, Israel will have to agree to operational restrictions in areas that are jointly controlled by the Palestinians and the international force.

Israel and the Palestinians will have to work hard to convince the international community to send a significant intervention force to the region. They should emphasize both the urgency and the linkage between deterioration in our region and future stability in their own countries. Financial support from friendly Arab states and the international community and/or limited security assistance will not, in the absence of an operational mandate for an international force, be sufficient. Money alone will not buy us security.- Published 9/7/2007 © bitterlemons.org

Pini Meidan-Shani was foreign policy advisor to PM Ehud Barak (2000-01) and a member of the Israeli negotiating team with the Palestinians (1999-2001). Prior to 1999 he served in the Mossad.

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Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at ghassan@bitterlemons.org and yossi@bitterlemons.org, respectively.

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.