There is a Hamas government in place in Palestine, while in Israel it is clear that Ehud Olmert will form a government dedicated in one form or another to a platform of additional territorial withdrawals. The fog of politics is starting to clear, and accordingly the United States and European Union should begin to formulate a strategy for dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the months ahead. Many of the thoughts laid out below are appropriate for Israeli thinking about Hamas as well. Indeed, the greater the degree of coordination between Israel and the international community regarding Hamas, the better for all concerned, including moderate Palestinians.
This can only be the beginning of formulating a strategy, because the new reality is still evolving. An electoral takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood (of which Hamas is a branch) in an Arab country remains such an unprecedented event that patience and caution are the appropriate watchwords. This is particularly so when the Arab country in question is Palestine, not a sovereign state but rather an entity still deeply enmeshed in conflict with Israel. So point one of a proposed four-point strategy for the US and the EU is: consider this a learning process, and proceed with caution.
Point two is to fine-tune the aid effort to the greatest extent possible so as to ensure, on the one hand that Palestinians don't starve or suffer undue hardship, while on the other avoiding any compromise in the conditions placed on political contacts with Hamas. For the international community this is a matter of realpolitik as well as credibility. The decisions taken last week by the US and the EU regarding restrictions on aid point in the right direction: cautious realpolitik. On the other hand, hocus pocus formulae for considering, for example, that Hamas has recognized Israel (despite its insistence to the contrary) because it participated in elections in the Palestinian Authority, which was created by Israel and the PLO, would ill serve the EU's credibility.
Israel, too, is talking about funneling the taxes it collects on behalf of the PA to Palestinian non-governmental institutions. This approach is based on the recognition that, on the one hand, severe economic hardship in Palestine will strengthen rather than weaken Hamas, while on the other, political isolation, tough demands on Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel, and denial of development funds might continue to pressure the Palestinian Islamists to a point of either moderating their policies or losing power. The stammering "concessions" heard in recent days from Hamas leaders regarding a two-state solution and peaceful coexistence with neighbors seem to indicate that the current carrot-and-stick policy is worth maintaining.
Third, the international community needs a new strategic framework for dealing with the conflict at the political level. The roadmap was stillborn three years ago; it is time to bury it before the odor of decay becomes embarrassing for all concerned. Israel is showing the way with its disengagement/convergence program. But disengagement, while strategically important for Israel--it helps maintain the substance of a Jewish, democratic state--is of largely tactical significance for the conflict as a whole, because it offers no political solution.
The US and the EU should embrace additional Israeli withdrawals as a way of reducing the ills of occupation, on condition that they leave open the window of a negotiated two state solution in the future, and that withdrawals include the outposts as well as large parts of Arab Jerusalem. They should also recognize that convergence, under the best of circumstances, will take far longer than the four years and eight months that Olmert hopes his government will survive. In other words, there is no "quick fix" to this conflict, roadmap style, with phases lasting eight or 18 months. And the international community should avoid being tempted into far-reaching condominium-type solutions that could end up pitting an international force in Palestine against both militant Palestinians and frustrated Israelis.
Fourth and last, and without prejudice to the political conditions for opening up official contacts with Hamas, the international community can begin to think about facilitating informal contacts between private Israeli citizens and spokespersons for Hamas. Eventually the two sides will have to talk to one another; meanwhile they should get to know each other better. Private European research institutions have carried out this sort of task very effectively in the past; the EU can find quiet ways to encourage this approach. The Olmert government should be interested in hearing the impressions of Israelis who have met with Hamas representatives in a totally non-committal framework, even if they merely confirm the negative image generated thus far.- Published 10/4/2006 © 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 senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
A call for cool heads
by Ghassan Khatib
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is unique because of the extent to which the two parties are dependant on the international community. For that reason, both are very sensitive to the attitudes and positions of the outside world, and this gives the major international players huge leverage over the parties and the conflict.
Israel owes its existence and survival to the continued political support of the international community, especially the US but also others. One of the most important Palestinian achievements, meanwhile, is the international recognition of their right to self-determination, reflected in various resolutions of the United Nations. In addition, both parties, although to different extents, are financially reliant on the outside world.
The international reaction to recent elections on both sides and to the significant developments from their results, especially in Palestine, has raised a question mark over the attitude of the international community, however.
The international community has made it perfectly clear that there are three conditions that must be fulfilled before it is prepared to deal with the new Palestinian reality: recognition of Israel, renouncing violence, and honoring previously signed agreements between the Palestinians and Israel.
If these conditions are rejected, the US and EU, the most influential members of the international community vis-a-vis the conflict, have threatened to stop their aid to or through the PA. In recent days these parties have started realizing these threats and seem to be cutting much of their regular support to Palestinians.
Israel, whose position and behavior directly influence the two previously mentioned international players, recently declared a complete boycott of the PA, including the presidency. The Israeli government has not wasted any opportunity to use the new Palestinian reality as a smokescreen to pursue its unilateral agenda. In spite of agreements to the contrary, it has publicly declared its intention to prevent any movement between the West Bank and Gaza. Israel openly continues other illegal practices, including the de facto annexation of areas around Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and further restrictions on the movement of goods and people within the West Bank.
There is a confluence of interests between some Palestinian circles, especially within the peace camp, and the international community, in that both would like to see another Palestinian government. But those same Palestinian circles are extremely concerned that the way the international community is handling the issue is not only ethically questionable but could easily backfire.
While the international boycott of the Hamas-led government might bring about its collapse simply out of practical necessity, it most likely will also leave Hamas as popular as ever since that collapse will be seen as a direct result of external pressure rather than any failing of the government itself.
Currently, Hamas' response to international pressure plays on exactly that and appears highly effective. Hamas is indicating that there is some kind of international conspiracy with local dimensions that is trying to oust the movement from power by punishing the Palestinian people for their legitimate and legal choice in elections that everybody praised as fair. That is creating sympathy for Hamas, and consequently increasing or at least maintaining the level of public support Hamas had before elections.
A rational approach by the international community to the new Palestinian reality must include recognition of the fact that Hamas won elections fair and square and as such must be given the chance to govern the Palestinian people.
The way to change the government is for a successful opposition to be able to convince the majority not to elect Hamas again. Hamas will not agree to cede its victory before practicing authority, but it will be forced to cede authority if it fails to maintain the confidence of the majority of Palestinians in the next elections.
Accordingly, while the international community is obligated to ensure Palestinian compliance with international legitimacy, signed agreements and a peaceful approach to resolving the conflict, it has to be constructive in trying to do so. It must leave to Palestinians to guide their government as soon as possible back to such rational and legitimate positions.
The way the international community has handled this issue so far has been hasty and unwise. By attempting to quicken a change of the Palestinian government through direct, external interference of the kind that involves increasing the suffering of the public, the current approach will most probably only contribute to the process of radicalization among Palestinians and generally in the region.
The international community is required to stop the creation by Israel of illegal, pre-emptive facts on the ground that are jeopardizing any future peace, and, at the same time, are provoking Palestinian extremism. The international community is also required to launch a political initiative on the basis of international legality to resume a peace process that will isolate any Palestinian group, such as Hamas, that might react negatively to such an initiative. - Published 10/4/2006 © 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|
East Timor in Palestine
by Gershon Baskin
Ehud Olmert's Kadima party will pay lip-service to the idea of a negotiated process with the Palestinians for the next 6-12 months. During that time, the IDF strategic planning department will prepare detailed plans and maps for Israel's proposed final borders that Olmert will try to negotiate with the United States. Even if Olmert does not receive the full backing of President George W. Bush for his unilateral definition of Israel's borders, the new government of Israel will commence the implementation of the convergence plan that removes Israeli settlements from positions east of the separation barrier.
Palestinians will never agree to Israeli unilateralism, but they will also not oppose Israeli withdrawals and settlement removals. It seems quite likely that the Israeli decision to move forward with unilateralism will be based on the continued inability of the Palestinian Authority, whether the Hamas-led government or the presidency of Mahmoud Abbas, to govern. As rivalries continue between the two main ruling elites there and chaos continues to reign, Palestinian public suffering and despair will increase. The almost complete lack of law and order in the Palestinian areas will likely produce an increase in violence, both internally and externally toward Israel.
Israel will want to pursue its unilateral withdrawal policy with vigor, but the question of who controls the territories east of the separation barrier will present Israel with dilemmas that it is incapable of answering alone. The possible humanitarian crises that would emerge from a collapse of Palestinian governance and financial bankruptcy will force the Palestinian issue back to the realm of the international community's direct responsibility. Israel will be at a great disadvantage if the international community's response is one of managing an acute crisis situation rather than seeking, from the outset, a planned course for direct international involvement.
Israel is determined to bring about a two-state solution, even if there is no immediate partner on the Palestinian side to accept its pre-determined borders for the Palestinian state. Israel is resolved to relinquish its direct control over the occupied territories and seek recognition from the international community that the occupation is over. In doing so, Israel should seek the agreement of the international community to temporarily take charge of those territories and properly prepare the area for full Palestinian sovereignty and control. An Israeli initiative for the international community to create a 3-5 year temporary interim governing authority over all of the areas that Israel withdraws from could properly delineate the path for a negotiated end of the occupation through the assistance of the international community.
As in East Timor, the interim international governing authority would prepare Palestine for an end to Israeli occupation and real independence for the Palestinian people. If the creation of such an authority is based on a UN Security Council resolution, it could also be predicated on a Palestinian referendum that would extend greater public legitimacy to the plan. Israel could play an active role in helping to determine the make-up and mandate of the international governing authority as long as it takes the initiative leading to its creation.
Israel, which has been more than reluctant to internationalize the conflict, would be well advised to see in this suggestion the internationalization of the resolution of the conflict rather than of the conflict itself. A two-state resolution of the conflict requires two sides to make it real and lasting. The basic guiding principle of Olmert's unilateralism has been that there is, in the Israeli assessment, no effective and responsible Palestinian partner, hence Israel should not wait until such a partner comes to be. But along with this philosophy will likely come the realization that even unilateralism has limits. In the absence of a Palestinian partner it would be wise to have a responsible internationally sanctioned body on the other side helping to ensure that the Palestinian state emerges as part of a process that Israel can support rather than as a default from widespread chaos and violence.
By taking the initiative of creating the international interim governing authority in Palestine, Israel can ensure the orderly takeover of control of territories from which it seeks to withdraw. Israel will be voluntarily limiting its ability to take military initiatives in those areas, which is clearly a risk, but it will also ensure that there is a body to which political and military recourse can be addressed.
The Israeli convergence plan would probably have to be more extended than anticipated as a solely unilateral exercise, bringing Israel even closer to the green line. But once again, as Israel has already determined that it is in its interest to create the two-state solution, it would be wiser to make those decisions as part of a process that probably generates a de-escalation of violence and creates a more responsible and effective Palestinian governance.- Published 10/4/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Dr. Gershon Baskin is the Israeli Co-CEO of IPCRI - the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Talk to us
an interview with Sameer Abu Aisheh
bitterlemons: How are you feeling international sanctions at the moment?
Abu Aisheh: International aid comes in two broad categories: budgetary support and developmental projects. Cutting aid for either of these will have a very negative impact on the situation.
Budgetary support goes mainly to the service sector ministries, which consume most of the budget. These are the ministries related to health care, education, social services and the social safety net in general, as well as programs associated with services, specifically poverty alleviation programs.
The developmental projects are also mostly related to services, and include clinics and basic needs such as water and sanitation. Some 60 to 70 percent of the population is not connected to the sewage system. People's basic needs will not be met if these projects are stopped. This also goes for education. Every year we should build tens of schools.
bitterlemons: And if these needs are neglected?
Abu Aisheh: If these developmental needs, closely associated with basic needs, are not met, it will have a very negative effect on the system and will cause a collapse.
This benefits neither Palestinians nor the Israelis, and it is not in the interests of the international community. In addition, I don't think the Arab world will accept seeing Palestinians failing to receive their basic services and needs or to live a dignified life like any other nation.
We are under occupation and there is an international responsibility to help us, because we are not free to develop ourselves, to invest, or to raise funds from anywhere. No investor will consider coming here to finance projects under occupation.
bitterlemons: The EU and US are adamant that they will cut off funding and have already done so, but you seem confident they will step back in. At what stage will that happen?
Abu Aisheh: I think if after three or four months they see things are moving on the ground, they will come back and start assisting the Palestinian government.
At the moment, they are looking at specific humanitarian needs to be channeled through NGOs. But we are not in need of food. We need the system, we need to pay the salaries, and we need to provide services. The government provides most basic services. For example, the government provides 96-97 percent of Palestinian educational services, outside UNRWA schools. The government provides 60-65 percent of the healthcare system.
It's very important to engage and cooperate with a Palestinian government, selected through a democratic process, to ensure that these services continue.
bitterlemons: You say the international community will step in if it sees things moving on the ground. Can things move on the ground in the meantime?
Abu Aisheh: We are working in the hope that they will. We have promises that Arab and Islamic countries and funds will assist us. We are also urging the private sector and banks, like the Islamic banks and Arab banks, to assist us, not only as aid but also through loans. We need these loans to run the system and pay salaries. Otherwise, as I say, the system will collapse. No one is happy to see that.
bitterlemons: What do you think of the current international approach?
Abu Aisheh: It is disastrous. This is not the way the West should deal with the Palestinian case. They are pushing to get specific positions from the Palestinian government that we are not able to provide. We should not have to submit to the occupying power. We are the victims, and we want to live in security and peace but without this price.
We are willing to run our system within the 1967 borders. If the Israelis accept our right to have such a state and say it clearly, then we can discuss what the next step is.
But we cannot only give positions and condemn this and accept that and recognize Israel when, at the same time, we saw what happened under the late President Yasser Arafat and what is happening now with Mahmoud Abbas. No specific actions on the ground have been made by Israel. There is an endless list of things Israel requires us to do without reciprocation and this is not the way we operate.
bitterlemons: What would you like the international community to be doing?
Abu Aisheh: It should cooperate with the elected Palestinian government. It should support the democracy it always talks about. The EU, Canada and the US not only vocally supported the elections, they did so financially, and their current position is a double standard. When the Kadima party won the Israeli elections, the international community recognized its right to form a government and congratulated its leader. Why should we be different?
The West is always talking about building bridges between east and west, between Arabs and Muslims and the West, but it is acting directly against this publicly stated stand. The international community should move forward and tell Israel that Palestinians have the right to elect whomever they want.
We have provided what we feel is a very realistic program, and the international community has rejected it without even reading the English translation. They turned us away even though we approached them and said we are very willing to speak to the Quartet and see what we can do to push the peace process forward.
There should now be an approach from them to us to tell us, "let's talk and see how we can resolve this problem". Then we can present our case and discuss how to go from here. - Published 10/4/2006 © bitterlemons.org.
Sameer Abu Aisheh is the Palestinian Authority minister of planning.
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