Israel has come a long way in recent years in adopting a positive attitude toward international involvement on the ground in its troublesome relations with its neighbors. Gone are the days when every United Nations peacekeeping initiative and every European and sometimes even American offer of help was looked upon with great suspicion, if not out-and-out hostility. At the broad strategic level, this can apparently be explained with reference to two trends.
On the one hand, Israel has developed greater self-confidence based on a strong military and has emerged from isolation thanks to an advanced and increasingly globalized economy and stable peace treaties with two of its neighbors. On the other, there is a growing suspicion that traditional solutions, both military (conquest and occupation) and diplomatic (bilateral peace processes), won't work in the cases of Lebanon and Palestine. Hence Israel's greater readiness to consider international offers of help.
The beginnings of this development can perhaps be found in a dramatic appeal by PM Yitzhak Rabin back in the heady days of the mid-1990s when the Oslo process seemed on track. Speaking in the Knesset, Rabin called upon a divided Israeli public to recognize that the world was no longer against us and would work with us for peace--in this case, a peace with the Palestinians (that never materialized). Another milestone was PM Ehud Barak's readiness to work closely with the UN in delineating the Israel-Lebanon border when Israel withdrew unilaterally in May 2000. While many components of Israel's subsequent Lebanon strategy have since been discredited by the recent war, it is generally accepted that it was precisely the UN legitimization granted to the "blue line" Israel-Lebanon border fence that enabled Israel to keep most of the international community on its side in this war and bring about Security Council Resolution 1701, which appears so far to be working in Israel's favor.
More recently, when Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip a year ago it actively sought to involve Egypt and the European Union in Palestinian-Egyptian border arrangements that would enable it to abandon the philadelphi strip. The entire concept constituted a revolution in Israeli thinking that owed much to Israel's growing disenchantment with any scheme that involves occupation of heavily populated Arab territories. Since then, Israel has agreed to the establishment of an international mechanism to pay salaries of some Palestinian civil servants. The latter arrangement, coupled with Egyptian and American "coaching" of parts of the Palestinian security establishment, could conceivably be considered first steps toward the evolution of some sort of international trusteeship for Palestine.
This is not a new idea; a number of close observers of the Israeli-Palestinian scene have advanced the trusteeship solution in recent years. It is predicated on two determinations. First, under prevailing circumstances, Palestinians will not succeed on their own in building a state, hence they need hands-on support, assistance and even direction from the international community. And second, in plain language, Israel has every interest in ceding to the international community its post-withdrawal residual responsibility to ensure that Gaza doesn't completely collapse economically.
The trusteeship idea is ostensibly reinforced by 1701, which places European and other troop contingents in Lebanon both for independent conflict management tasks and as back-up for a weak government and weak army seeking to prevent weapons smuggling and establish the necessary monopoly-of-arms to bring about stability. And it draws encouragement from European willingness--against the current backdrop of American paralysis in the region--to commit forces in Lebanon and contemplate something similar in Palestine.
Indeed, "something similar" in Palestine, because no other concept of international involvement seems remotely workable. The sort of international peacekeeping forces envisioned in various Israeli-Palestinian peace schemes can't conceivably work in the absence of a bilateral peace agreement. Nor is there room for buffer forces patrolling demilitarized zones that straddle borders: these too require the presence of stable and willing local partners, and in any case the geography really doesn't leave sufficient room to insert an additional armed force. Certainly there is no likelihood of the international community taking over all of the PA or even Gaza by force against the will of the Palestinian government, weak as it is.
Yet even an international trusteeship requires a willing and able Palestinian partner. Here again, the Lebanese example is instructive. The Siniora government in Beirut is weak but willing. Certainly it has more control over most of Lebanon than either the Haniyeh government or President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) in Palestine. Yet, unless the Lebanese government evinces the courage to deploy UNIFIL II against Hizballah, a member of that very government, and unless a minimal level of security is maintained in southern Lebanon, the current experiment in international involvement in Lebanon will fail.
Can we envisage Abu Mazen siding effectively with the international community despite Hamas' discomfort or against its opposition? So far this has happened in specific instances, such as the deployment of EU forces at the Rafah crossing and Egyptian and American training of security forces allied with the president. Perhaps this trend can continue to be built upon incrementally, as we have witnessed over the past year or so in Gaza. But more importantly, can we envisage the minimal degree of security needed in Gaza in order to welcome and maintain a larger international presence there? Currently the EU force spends most of its days on the beach at Ashkelon precisely because it is too dangerous for it to deploy at Rafah.
Conceivably, if the currently rumored ceasefire/prisoner exchange/unity government deal is achieved and is stable, things will change and there will be room for some form of trusteeship in Gaza. But right now even this form of large-scale international involvement does not look practical.- Published 18/9/2006 © bitterlemons.org
The decision to deploy international forces under the auspices of the UN to ensure the practical implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which formed the basis for ending the war in Lebanon, started a debate about the possibility of doing the same in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
That debate took new momentum when Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Massimo d'Alema supported the idea in public. His stance encouraged Palestinians to think and speak more about the possibility.
One reason for the failure of international efforts to find a peaceful solution to this conflict is that there have been no serious attempts by the international community to impose or at least properly monitor the implementation of the many plans, initiatives and resolutions that received international approval. The roadmap is only the latest in a string of examples of plans that reflect international consensus and are accepted by the two parties but are not implemented.
One of the many reasons that these plans are not implemented is that each party accuses the other of not fulfilling its obligations under whichever plan may be in question.
With regards to the roadmap, one of the Israeli accusations leveled at the Palestinian side is that the Palestinian Authority is not able to maintain security and prevent attacks on Israel from Gaza or the West Bank.
Indeed, a seriously weakened PA could well be in need of international forces to help implement agreements with Israel, help monitor violations and contribute to enforcing the implementation of international initiatives. And if Israel, which has declared its willingness to achieve a two-state solution and end the occupation of most of the occupied Palestinian territory, is serious in accepting the roadmap but not confident of Palestinian intentions, then a deployment of international forces--with the mandate to contribute to the implementation and the monitoring of the implementation of a plan like the roadmap or any similar plan--should be welcomed.
The experience of the European security presence in Rafah can be seen as an encouraging example. That presence came about as the result of an agreement reached between the sides and is designed role to monitor its implementation. It also plays a role in helping the Palestinian side to gain the necessary capacity to fulfill its obligations and thus to create confidence between the sides.
Similar objectives can be agreed on a larger scale and on the basis of an initiative that has to do with ending the hostilities and going back to the pre-September 2000 situation when the PA was supposed to exercise control over the Palestinian territory under its jursidiction.
And if that is too big step to take, then it might be possible to expand the experience of Rafah gradually, by, for example, deploying an international presence at different crossings such Karni, Tarqumiya and others. That wouldn't be a totally radical idea, because the Crossings Agreement, reached after the redeployment of Israeli troops from Gaza last year, was meant to be a model for the port, the airport and other crossings in Gaza.
The danger here, and something that would be completely unacceptable to the Palestinian side, is to allow a role for an international presence in Gaza but not the West Bank. Such an arrangement would consolidate and confirm the fears among many Palestinians, including officials, that Israel is unilaterally creating a new reality, i.e., the legal separation of the West Bank from Gaza. This would undermine the strategic objective of the Palestinian people, which is the establishment of one Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank including East Jerusalem.
The idea of repeating the Lebanon experience, which so far appears successful, would require looking at the Palestinian territories as one, especially since the objectives that are to be achieved by any international forces can be found equally in both the West Bank and Gaza. In fact, there are more reasons to deploy such forces in the West Bank than in Gaza, simply due to its larger size.
One can even go further and say that an international presence in the West Bank in addition to Gaza could spare Israel the need for its separation wall, which is not only costing Israel a heavy price in terms of credibility and international public standing and legality, but in an age of rockets is not the worth the cement it's being built with.- Published 18/9/2006 © 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|
UN peacekeeping: from Lebanon to Gaza
by Shlomo Ben-Ami
Wars can have surprising consequences--especially those, like Israel's war against Hizballah, that start as a knee-jerk reaction rather than as calculated strategy. In an irony that hopefully will not escape the attention of Israel's leaders, once it was clear that the goal of bringing Hizballah to its knees could not be attained the war objective was changed to that of deploying a strong international force in southern Lebanon, mandated by the much vilified United Nations and manned by "anti-Semite" Europeans. By exposing the limits of Israel's deterrence, Hizballah might have helped Israel to integrate the concept of international legitimacy and the good services of the UN as a component of its security doctrine.
The solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will have to come from the international community or there will be no solution at all. The poor record of observance of agreements by the parties as well as the need to guard against revisionist attempts by either side require that any progress in the peace process be guaranteed by a multinational peace-keeping force that would also put in place strict mechanisms of implementation and monitoring. The way the recent war in Lebanon ended creates a chance for a possible reconciliation on the part of Israel with what I believe is a compelling necessity to internationalize the solution of the conflict.
This can clearly be Europe's moment in the Israeli-Palestinian process as well. Even before the war in Lebanon, Israel was forced to entrust the Europeans with the control and monitoring of the Rafah border, the only land crossing between the Gaza Strip and the Arab world. This is the first time since 1967 that an international task force, not Israel, controls a foreign Palestinian border.
The validity of the European way--multilateralism and UN-mandated peacekeeping--is being enhanced by the dramatic decline of US credibility in the Middle East and the resounding failure of Israel's and America's unilateralist philosophy. By completely turning its back on Clinton's peacemaking legacy and losing all channels of communication with Israel's enemies (Hizballah, Iran, Hamas, Syria), America has helped put Europe in the unfamiliar position of a viable alternative.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has recently called for an international force to be deployed in the Palestinian territories. Yet the conditions for the Lebanese pattern to be applied in the Palestinian territories have still to be created.
An international force can be efficient when it has a clear mandate, and only when there is a legitimate framework for a possible settlement between the parties to the conflict. This is clearly not the case in the West Bank. In Lebanon, there is an agreed border and a central government that has fully endorsed the mandate of the international force. On the Palestinian front there is no agreed common platform between the parties as to the outline of a peace settlement that the international force could be expected to uphold, nor is there a unified central authority to legitimize the mandate of such a force. The fluid lines of demarcation between the parties and the prevailing state of practical anarchy make the deployment of an international force extremely unlikely.
Ideally, the task of the international force should be to supervise and monitor the implementation of steps and measures that the parties have agreed to carry out. Yes, the roadmap is in theory "an agreed peace platform" that could be supervised and upheld by an international force. But the parties still have conflicting interpretations of this document, which means that the international force would have to confront head-on the Palestinian "terrorist infrastructure" and force the Israelis to dismantle the illegal outposts as stipulated by the first provisions of the roadmap. Likewise, the international force should help secure the creation of a Palestinian state within provisional borders, as also stipulated by the roadmap. But the Palestinians have utterly rejected that particular provision.
There is, however, one area where an international force can and should be deployed even before the contour of a settlement has been agreed by the parties. That is Gaza, where for all practical purposes the Israeli occupation has ended. More specifically, it is at the Rafah crossing that the European civilian task force, currently suspended due to the prevailing anarchy, needs to be reinforced by a military contingent whose deployment includes the Palestinian side of the philadelphi road, where the border with Egypt has become wide open to the massive smuggling of weapons. Notwithstanding the unilateral nature of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, an international force can operate here within clear lines of demarcation and under a mandate that is not too ambiguous.
Even so, for the Hamas government to be willing to cooperate with the international force, it would be necessary to end the international boycott to which it has been subjected since it came to office. The creation of a Palestinian national unity government that would subscribe to all previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians might help grant Ismail Haniyeh's government the necessary legitimacy, thereby providing the international force the broad political framework within which it could operate.
In Lebanon, America and Europe have worked in harmony in putting together the international mechanism of peacekeeping, something they were not always successful in doing elsewhere in the Middle East. This can be a promising precedent for a possible deployment of international forces to secure the stability of the Palestinian territories in their orderly transition to statehood.- Published 18/9/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Shlomo Ben-Ami is a former Israeli foreign minister who currently serves as the vice-president of the Toledo International Centre for Peace. He is the author of Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy (Oxford University Press, 2006).
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Not without a political horizon
by Camille Mansour
The deployment of a beefed-up UN force in Lebanon to bolster the ceasefire led Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Massimo d'Alema to suggest in late August that a similar deployment be made in the Gaza Strip. Days later, Karen AbuZayd, the commissioner general for the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, said "it would be great to have an international presence, civilian, military, whatever" in Gaza.
At first, the idea of an international force might seem very positive to Palestinians. It would mean a deep UN involvement in the occupied Palestinian territory, ensuring both the protection of the Palestinians and the fact that UN resolutions would be brought to bear on negotiations with Israel instead of American-Israeli diktats based on power politics.
A UN presence is something Israel, since 1967, has always been very careful to avoid, considering, as it does, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as being under the Israeli sphere of influence. The Oslo agreement came without UN involvement. The only significant exception has been UNRWA, which was already in the West Bank and Gaza before 1967 and which has at times provided a certain protection for Palestinians against the occupation's freedom of action.
But any international deployment would raise a host of questions. The most immediate is, where would this deployment be effected: on the border between the Palestinian areas and Israel or inside Palestinian territory? If the deployment were inside Palestinian territory, then what nature would that force have? Would it place the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority under UN supervision in the form of a kind of protectorate? That would go in the exact opposite direction of the Palestinian aim of independence, and therefore be wholly unacceptable to the Palestinian project.
If the force is on the border, then which border? If on the pre-June 5, 1967 borders it clearly would be unacceptable to Israel for the time being. If elsewhere, following for example the line of the wall Israel is building in the West Bank, or around Areas A or B, it would carry with it an implicit recognition by Palestinians of a new border and might help consolidate such a border.
The question of the border leads to another regarding the relationship between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Those who have talked about an international force have talked about it in the context of Gaza and not the West Bank. Since Israel redeployed its troops from inside the Gaza Strip, and in the wake of the past several months of fighting there, the idea would seem to be that an international force could grant security to Israel and some measure of protection to Palestinians in Gaza.
But, according to Oslo and international law, the West Bank and Gaza are considered one territorial unit. An international force deployed only in Gaza would as a consequence change the legal status of Gaza vis-a-vis the West Bank, whether that force is deployed inside Gaza or on the border with Israel.
This is not just a legal peculiarity. It would have real and practical consequences. The status of Gazans or people crossing into Gaza, as per the customs envelope agreed in the Oslo agreement (and confirmed late last year), for example, would then be different from West Bankers and those crossing into the West Bank. The status of the PA would be different in the two places. In effect, it would lead to a de facto division of what is supposed to be Palestine into two entities with separate legal statuses. In the context of creating a single Palestinian state, that is unacceptable.
The idea of an international force is hugely complex. Indeed, any deployment of such a force cannot come in the present climate. It is simply not enough to contemplate such a dramatic move if it is seen only in the context of security. And since the idea has come about as a result of the security situation in and around the Gaza Strip, that is precisely why it is being contemplated. The closing of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt each time the Israelis have requested it (and now almost without interruption for the last four months) and in spite of the agreed European presence, demonstrates that any agreement based only on often non-verifiable Israeli security considerations remains precarious.
Any deployment of an international force would in fact be largely impossible in the absence of political negotiations and binding arbitration by a neutral third party once an agreement is attained. While an international force may bring something positive to both Israelis and Palestinians in terms of guaranteeing both peoples' security, it can only work if effected in a much broader framework, one that only exists in the context of political negotiations.- Published 18/9/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Camille Mansour is professor of international relations at the Paris and Versailles universities. Since September 2004, he has worked as a UNDP technical assistant on Palestinian judicial reform.
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