A PALESTINIAN VIEW
In need of each other
by Ghassan Khatib
Although President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon come from two different and contradicting schools of political thought and practice, they now find themselves in a position in which they need each other.
Sharon, who has always been against the kind of peace process that Abu Mazen has been advocating for the last 20 years, is approaching election year. It is of overriding concern to him that he show that his unilateral withdrawal from Gaza is making a positive difference to Israelis. This is an especially acute need, since for the sake of the Gaza disengagement Sharon alienated some of his traditional right wing support, without necessarily getting enough support in return from his traditional left wing opponents.
Abu Mazen, on the other hand, was elected on the premise that a political approach will yield greater reward for the Palestinian people than violent confrontations. For that purpose, Abu Mazen has also given up some of the traditional social and political bases of Fateh's power on the Palestinian scene. He now needs results.
The international atmosphere, meanwhile, seems conducive to a different kind of process from previous ones. The outside world, especially the countries that have invested both politically and financially in resolving this conflict, appears to feel that the two leaderships are facing serious internal difficulties but that the previous excuses for avoiding their obligations no longer exist. In Palestine, there is a viable and serious partner that has successfully contributed to the security situation by fulfilling a major requirement, i.e., ending, to an almost full extent, Palestinian violence against Israelis in spite of continuing Israeli practices in violation of international law. In Israel, the successful implementation of the unilateral disengagement from Gaza has brought the Israeli leadership face to face with its further obligations under the roadmap.
The most important indication of a successful summit would be a joint declaration stating the intention by the two sides to move from the current unilateral approach into bilateral and peaceful negotiations on the basis of the roadmap. The two parties should reiterate their commitment to the Sharm Al Sheikh understandings, i.e., to end the violence and end collective punishments against Palestinians including the sweeping arrest campaigns, assassinations, house demolitions and restrictions on movement.
The main challenge that will then face the Israeli prime minister is to stop the policy of settlement expansion, including in East Jerusalem. The most important challenge for the Palestinian president will be to incorporate all the opposition factions as well as the militias of the ruling party, Fateh, within the legal system through democratic elections. Such elections will represent a commitment by these groups to end the unlawful use of arms and instead practice politics through legitimate parliamentary means.
An undertaking to return to bilateral negotiations will mark a historic turning point. The two leaders will need time, political will and international support to undertake their mission. But this is what leadership is about, and the first step has to be to create a spirit of partnership and joint interest by committing to mutual recognition and respect.
There are already high expectations for this summit, since it comes after Israeli success with disengagement and Palestinian success in maintaining a ceasefire. Both peoples, as well as the international community, will be looking for strategic results that go beyond immediate needs, however important these are.- Published 10/10/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of planning and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Talk about tactics, not strategy
by Yossi Alpher
It is tempting to suggest that in their summit meeting, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should discuss the road to peace and an agreed two-state solution. But they are completely mismatched for such an endeavor, and neither is up to the task, so that would be an exercise in wishful thinking.
Abu Mazen is weak politically, has embarked on a controversial course of enfranchising his Islamic fundamentalist rivals, and still adheres to final status concepts on issues like the right of return that, alongside his questionable ability to "deliver", render any attempt to enter comprehensive negotiations with him a potentially counterproductive endeavor.
Sharon is hampered by electoral politics, does not believe in the viability of peace agreements with our neighbors, and has embarked on a unilateral course of determining Israel's final borders that requires only minimum coordination--and which in any case does not leave the Palestinians sufficient land to build a state.
Given these conceptual gaps between the two leaders' views, only US President George W. Bush could conceivably bring them together to discuss peace. But the American leader has a different set of priorities in the region and at home, and a major mediation or even facilitation effort by Washington is not likely.
This leaves the two leaders on their own, dealing essentially with tactical issues. Sharon, a better tactician than strategist, enjoys the advantage and has good reason to be generous. He can and should offer Abu Mazen confidence-building measures that help stabilize his authority: release of veteran prisoners, supply of ordnance for his security forces, flexibility regarding Gaza's border crossings and safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza, withdrawal from cities, and dismantling of outposts and checkpoints. He should also undertake to avoid interfering in Palestinian elections despite his understandable objections to Hamas' participation. But he should take this opportunity to clarify that, after January 25, Israel will not be obligated to negotiate with a Palestinian Authority that comprises an Islamic fundamentalist movement if Hamas still deploys a terrorist force and rejects Israel's very existence.
Abu Mazen, a better strategist than tactician, should not waste his time trying to persuade Sharon to restart the peace process; he has far more urgent issues on his agenda. He has to explain how his cooptation approach to Hamas will ultimately succeed in disarming and moderating that organization; how he will overcome the current government crisis in Ramallah and finally create a cohesive security establishment; and how he is going to put Gaza back on its feet.
There are additional heavy issues that it would be pointless for either side to put on the summit agenda, if only because the other side doesn't have persuasive answers. One is Sharon's senseless policy regarding the fence/wall in Jerusalem, which is setting the stage for another intifada. Another is Abu Mazen's appallingly sloppy and disorganized leadership style, wherein key trusted advisors are absent and vitally important decisions (e.g., sending a forceful and articulate ambassador to Washington) are never made.
These are not the leaders who will end this conflict or even get the roadmap going. But they can do some good if, in their summit, they limit their aspirations and take into account one another's political constraints and ideological limitations. It would help if Abu Mazen were to publicly recognize the advantages for Palestinians, too, of Israel's unilateral territorial approach, and offer to help facilitate future Israeli unilateral territorial moves. And it would be useful for Sharon to stop complaining about Abu Mazen's weaknesses and recognize that the Palestinian leader's intentions are positive, that the alternatives to his leadership are worse for all concerned, and that he deserves more active Israeli support.- Published 10/10/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Pleasing the world
by Ali Jarbawi
Whatever the outcome of the upcoming Abbas-Sharon summit, it is not going to yield any fundamental breakthroughs. In fact, the timing of the summit indicates that this is something that has been imposed on both the Palestinians and Israelis by the international community.
Unlike the international community, in particular the US, there is very little reason for either President Mahmoud Abbas or Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to attend a summit. Both sides know that no talks on fundamental issues will be entered into and both are taken up with domestic issues of overriding concern. As such, both sides know that the summit will be merely cosmetic.
Neither side, however, wants to displease an American administration bogged down in Iraq that desperately wants to show progress somewhere in the Middle East, Israel least of all. For his part, Abbas will see his willingness to attend the summit as important to ensure both the flow of international aid and the right atmosphere for his upcoming visit to Washington later this month. As a result, it can be expected that under very limiting circumstances, both sides will try to make the most of a poor deal.
The Palestinian strength will lie in what concessions they can get from the Israeli side before attending the summit, rather than at the summit itself. As such, from the Palestinian side, two categories of issues will be put forward.
The one category will concern movement of goods and people at crossings in the Gaza Strip, the linkage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Israeli settlement expansions and the West Bank wall, the withdrawal of the Israeli army from Palestinian cities in the West Bank and final status issues. Israel is liable to budge on none of these issues and will probably refuse to even discuss them.
Thus a second category of issues enters into the picture. Abbas will seek concessions on prisoners held in Israeli jails, closures and checkpoints in the West Bank and the flow of labor into Israel. Here, Palestinian negotiators may meet with a little more success. The key for the Palestinian side will be to have something tangible at the end of the summit so as not to come away empty-handed. The most important issue for Abbas on this front will be the release of prisoners.
Sharon can be expected to use the meeting to pressure, even lecture, Abbas on the need for the Palestinian Authority to assert itself. The only issue on the Israeli agenda will be the security file, and here Sharon is in a strong position in that he can tell Abbas that after having withdrawn from the Gaza Strip, the ball is now in the PA's court. He will likely condition any further talks on progress by the PA in asserting itself by disarming the resistance factions, as, Sharon will emphasize, the roadmap calls for. Israel will be particularly interested in the disarming of Hamas, and Sharon will make it clear that he will not accept Hamas running in forthcoming parliamentary elections unless it is disarmed.
Abbas is unlikely to bring up the elections himself because they are an internal Palestinian matter. However, if pressed on disarming the factions, he is likely to tell Sharon that elections are crucial to the PA asserting itself, and he will try to explain to Sharon that without elections the chaos will continue.
There will be no breakthroughs. Sharon will put security firmly on the agenda and brief Washington ahead of Abu Mazen's visit there, to try to ensure Israel's security is also firmly on the agenda when US President George W. Bush meets Abbas.
The best Abbas can hope for is some Israeli goodwill gestures that might see the release of a token few hundred prisoners and some easing of restrictions on Palestinian labor into Israel.
Ultimately, this summit is meant to please the international community more than anyone else.- Published 10/10/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org
Ali Jarbawi is a professor of political science at Birzeit University.
AN ISRAELI VIEW|
Getting to "win-win"
by Akiva Eldar
The meeting between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) could be the first between the leader of a sovereign state and the leader of a soon-to-be-sovereign state. With not too big an effort, the two figures could agree that a free Gaza Strip is the "Palestinian state with temporary borders" that is proposed in phase two of the roadmap. With less violence on the Palestinian side and more trust from Israel, one could expect the two to emerge from their meeting with a work plan and timetable for ending the Israeli occupation in the remainder of the territories.
But under present conditions, any discussion of the heavy final status issues is destined to fail, thereby again embarrassing the peace camp on both sides. Israeli and Palestinian public opinion concerning solutions for issues like the holy places in Jerusalem and refugee right of return will eventually be reformulated in accordance with the degree of success registered by the Gaza disengagement project. Hence the two parties' central objective for now must be to stabilize the situation inside the Strip and prevent the power struggle that is going on there from overflowing into the West Bank.
Following the IDF's withdrawal from the confines of Gaza, the Palestinians are perceived as bearing exclusive responsibility for law and order there. Hence the Israeli public is watching with concern the bloody battles taking place in Gaza between rival factions. These events hardly encourage Israelis to place the fate of the West Bank and its environs in the hands of the Palestinian Authority. Abu Mazen must present Sharon with convincing proof that the PA has maintained its commitment under phase one of the roadmap to unite all Palestinian security organizations into three services that report to a strong minister of interior. Here it is important to recall that the roadmap does not oblige the PA at this stage to collect all illegal weaponry and to complete the dismantling of the entire terrorist infrastructure--only to begin now to take these steps.
Abu Mazen's declarations against the public bearing of arms by militiamen indicate that the Palestinian leadership understands that in order for the political struggle against occupation to succeed where the violent struggle has failed, there is no alternative to the use of force against those who refuse to lay down their weapons and leave the job to the statesmen. Abu Mazen would be well advised to present a credible action plan and a list of tough steps he is taking to ensure the success of his policy of non-violent struggle.
Abu Mazen cannot deal successfully with this difficult challenge without the cooperation of Sharon, the man who continues to control the Gaza Strip from outside even after ending the Israeli presence there. The secret of success for Palestinian pragmatists over the radicals led by Hamas and Islamic Jihad lies in redefining the latter as partners rather than enemies (the government of Israel meanwhile has not yet amended its 2002 decision to define the PA as a "terrorist-supporting authority").
>From here it is but a short way to holding a practical discussion not only of security issues, such as the PA's request that Israel permit the Palestinian Ministry of Interior to purchase weapons and ammunition for its security forces and enable the transfer of police forces and even reinforcements (the Badr force from Jordan) from the West Bank to Gaza; the ammunition most critical for enabling the victory of the moderates is not bullets but public opinion. Dr. Khalil Shikaki's opinion polls should bring Sharon to the conclusion that the Palestinian street will follow the leadership that supplies it with health care and a livelihood, provides an education and hope for a better future for its children, and brings back the brother who was jailed during the days when terrorism was in style.
Nor can we ignore Sharon's need to consider public opinion, particularly the opinion of those in the Likud who will decide in a few months on his political future. Most party members were undoubtedly uneasy about disengagement from Gaza; now they would prefer to cut the Strip off entirely from Israel, the West Bank and the outside world. Yet turning Gaza into a large detention camp whose fate is in Israel's hands will lead to despair--and despair will turn the street over to the extremists. Experience teaches us that for the extremists, success is measured by the number of casualties and the extent of the damage they inflict on Israel. Israeli public opinion, and particularly Likud opinion, will attribute that terrorism to the man who got Israel out of Gaza.
Accordingly, when Sharon helps Abu Mazen win the allegiance of the Palestinian public he is not doing him a favor, but rather helping himself win the allegiance of the Israeli public. That would be the ultimate criterion for the success of the meeting between the two leaders and of their ongoing relationship: to progress from a zero-sum game to a win-win situation.- Published 10/10/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org
Akiva Eldar is a senior columnist and editorial writer for the Israeli daily Haaretz and co-author of the book Lords of the Land: The Settlers and the State of Israel, 1967-2004 (Hebrew).
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