Dear Members of the Quartet,
Your reconvening on the occasion of the World Economic Forum in Jordan was an encouraging signal from a Palestinian point of view. It comes at a time that the United States has brought Palestinians and Israelis back into contact with one another. The resumption of your activities is especially important now, because renewed US efforts have also returned us to the United States’ monopoly of the peace process, which has previously allowed Israel to avoid its obligations to signed agreements, international law and relevant United Nations resolutions. The United States acting alone is not as sensitive to international law, whereas members of the Quartet are bound by that law as representatives of the spirit and will of the international community.
At this point, the recent US-led efforts have made apparent several shortcomings of which the Quartet must be made aware. Some of these shortcomings are reminiscent of previous failed attempts to bring the parties to negotiations, including the efforts of US officials Anthony Zinni and George Tenet. The most important of these shortcomings circumvents the fact that the roadmap is one integral document that deals in the immediate term with the dire need to stabilize the situation in a balanced and reciprocal manner, while placing this stabilization package in the context of a process with very clear political dimensions, i.e. the intention to fulfill the legitimate rights of Palestinians by ending the occupation and meet the legitimate rights of Israelis by offering peace, security and integration. What Israel is trying to finagle--with the American administration doing nothing to prevent it--is a bid to isolate the security components of this roadmap from other elements, working them out separately from the roadmap context.
The roadmap and its stabilization package call for Palestinians to end all kinds of violence against Israelis wherever they may be, while Israel--bound by the very same language--is to end all kinds of violence against Palestinians wherever they may be. The roadmap does not differentiate between the violence felt by Palestinian or Israeli civilians. This same stabilization package expects Israel to end restrictions on Palestinian movement and stop settlement expansion, while Palestinians reform their authority and security in order to prevent other groups from possessing arms and militias, and to end incitement and begin reconciliation.
It cannot have escaped you that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was dragged to accept the roadmap against his will, weighted his “acceptance” with 14 reservations, avoided any statement in Aqaba that would ensure Israeli implementation and then pointedly resumed Israel’s policy of assassinating Palestinians just 48 hours later. On the very day of the Quartet’s meeting in Jordan, Sharon told his cabinet that settlement activity can continue.
The spirit of the roadmap calls for a halt in violence from both sides and acting to end the Israeli occupation. The one-sided language coming, especially from the Americans, but sometimes from others, that sees only the violence of Palestinians and is blind to both Israel’s violence or the fact that this violence occurs in the context of the illegal military occupation is not constructive. Indeed, it encourages Sharon to continue the occupation, which instigates violent reactions from the people who are occupied. Military occupation is the source of all kinds of violence that Palestinians feel nearly any time they come in contact with the occupying authorities--abuse at checkpoints, refusal to travel for unstated reasons, the sweeping confiscation of land, arbitrary demolition of homes and property, random arrests and political detention. Whenever violence is condemned, you must also condemn the occupation, otherwise we will be aimlessly treating the symptoms of the problem, rather than healing this devastating disease.
Ghassan Khatib is minister of labor in the Palestinian Authority cabinet. He has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.
As readers of this column know by now, writing "Dear. . . . ." columns to prominent leaders is not my style. But today in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere so much rides on the determination and commitment of United States President George W. Bush, that I simply cannot find a better mode of addressing the issues:
Dear President Bush,
Now that you have made a strong commitment to the cause of bringing about a viable two state solution for Israel and Palestine, you should be aware that there are no
here. Either commit fully and bear the accompanying risks, or "get out of the kitchen." And since we saw in Afghanistan and Iraq that you can indeed take the heat of President Truman's proverbial kitchen, we know you can do the difficult things that have to be done here.
The first, most important, and most doable task is to upgrade the rank of day-to-day supervision of the two sides' reluctant execution of your roadmap to peace. Either keep Secretary Powell or National Security Adviser Rice here on a semi-permanent basis, following in the successful footsteps of Kissinger in 1974 and Baker in 1991, or appoint your own personal emissary and give him/her equivalent rank. So many of the current daily spats, misunderstandings and minor revolts that characterize the parties' difficulties in adjusting to the roadmap could be resolved if there were someone on hand, all the time, who speaks with your voice. In Washington they're whispering that you're afraid to make this commitment lest it amplify the ramifications of a failure in the Middle East. I think you have no choice: if you don't upgrade, failure is virtually guaranteed. And with US forces already losing a soldier a day in Iraq and your rationale for being there called into question, you simply cannot afford to contemplate two failures, linked to one another.
Secondly, while your three partners in the Quartet have been obstructionist regarding Iraq and appear to have used up their usefulness in the Israeli-Palestinian arena--don't dump them. For one, if you succeed here, the Europeans will have to foot a huge new aid bill. Then too, you never know when they might be helpful, especially in dealing with Arafat, who will not fade into the woodwork no matter how morally justified your attitude toward him.
On the other hand, you would be well-advised to resist the European and Arab requests to somehow write Syria and Lebanon into the immediate roadmap process. We have learned over the past ten years that a two-track process does not improve our chances to make peace with either Syria or the Palestinians. Besides, Syrian leader Bashar Asad is not a mature candidate for peace, and Syria may yet require your military, rather than diplomatic, attention. Next time Bashar asks, tell him that your litmus test for Syrian readiness to deal with Israel is Syrian-Israeli face-to-face high level negotiations, with handshakes, the way real leaders deal with one another, even here. No more American messenger service.
By now you know that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not just a terrorism problem. Yes, it involves terrorism of the worst sort, but here far be it from me to advise you; you have already figured out what to do about Islamist terrorists in the most tragic circumstances. If possible, you should be organizing even more pressure on the Saudis, Kuwaitis, Syria and Iran to stop supporting them.
But beyond the terrorism issue, we Israelis and Palestinians have a fearsome quarrel over land. If you are going to "ride herd" and help us solve it, you will have to be tough--unpleasantly tough--not only on Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, regarding violence and the monopoly of force, but on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as well. Your monitors are going to have to dismount from their humvees and get some dust on their shoes, checking up on Palestinian weapons and money but also on Israeli settlements. Here the roadmap language--dismantling all outposts, freezing settlement expansion--gets you off to a good start, on paper. But in the field Sharon, the choreographer of the entire settlement deployment, will run rings around your dozen or so monitors. You need at least five times as many.
And you need to look Sharon and his followers, here and in America (where, I know, they are your followers too, and elections are not far away), in the eye and tell them that they are in danger of destroying any hope of a two-state solution and of turning Israel into an apartheid state, and that the only way to prevent this is to roll back a significant part of the settlement enterprise, whatever the cost--and not just as a "reward" for Palestinian good behavior. If you don't, not only do your roadmap and your vision fail, but by the end of your second term you, too, will be blamed for exacerbating this conflict and poisoning the Middle East, because the conflict was "south africanized" on your watch.
Finally, Mr. President, in your spiritual sense of mission to make peace in the Middle East you may have more in common with Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton than you would like to admit. They too began their terms by not understanding, or not wishing to deal with, our conflict. They made plenty of mistakes. But they also registered some progress--and progress here has proven to be a net strategic asset for the US.
I think you can surpass their achievements. Your war against terror and the conquest of Iraq have already vastly improved Israel's strategic security. The Israeli-Palestinian challenge is even tougher. Just don't do it by halfway measures.
Yossi Alpher was director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, and a senior adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Dear Members of the Quartet,
Let me tell you about our West Bank village of Jayyus. By last July, we knew that Israel had already mapped out the course of the separation wall in Qalqilya District, but we had not yet seen the plans. Then one September evening, a shepherd found white sheets of paper tacked to the olive trees. He brought them to me, and I saw that they were military orders handwritten in Arabic. The order said that all of the farmers of Jayyus village were to come to their farms, where a military officer from the nearby settlement of Qadumim would show us the path of the wall. We thought that the Israeli military might confiscate 50 or 100 square meters--no more. But 200 farmers showed up that unbelievable day to hear that the wall would be built six kilometers inside the Green Line, what we consider the political border with Israel. Many of the farmers were weeping.
I have worked all my life to build my farm, which stretches over 192 dunams. My orchards are full of loquats and avocados, mangos and peaches, walnuts and figs. I have the richest land in Jayyus.
But that Wednesday, I learned that 175 dunams of my land, the best and well-irrigated earth, was to fall on the other side of the separation wall. To get to it, I would have to circumvent barbed wire, electronic censors, military patrols and an eight-meter high cement barrier. Without those resources, I knew I would be a beggar.
And so we began our peaceful demonstrations. With international supporters, we farmers sat in the path of the bulldozers to try to prevent the uprooting of our olive trees. Many Israelis from the peace camp and Jews from America and Europe came, too. One day, we were sitting in the road when an Israeli army officer came and asked us why. We told him that it would be better for them to kill us than to uproot our olive trees.
“We are constructing the separation wall to prevent attacks between Israelis and Palestinians and--in the end--for peace,” he replied.
I said to him politely, “I represent Jayyus village. I am ready to pay half of the cost of constructing this wall, if you would only build it on the Green Line. If you have no security now, how do you expect to get it when you are 28 meters from our homes?” He became very angry, and said, “I want to show you something.” He put his arm on my neck and then under my shoulders, as if to whisper in my ear, but I could feel his arm wrenching painfully against my neck bones.
This land was my father’s land and that of his father before him. We have already lost land to the settlement of Zofin, which was established in 1988. The dust from a nearby Israeli quarry--also a settlement--collects on the leaves of my fruit trees. But it is only because of the earth’s wealth that I have been able to educate all of my seven children. I have four daughters: one economist, two English literature majors and a third who will graduate in physics. My sons include an electrical engineer, a lawyer and an agricultural engineer. This last son, Muhammad, breaks my heart. He won honors in school and a scholarship to study medicine in Tunisia. But when Muhammad called me from abroad, I spoke to him of my sadness that none of my children would care for my farm. He quit his program and returned to the West Bank to study agriculture. Now we will lose our farm and I wonder every day, what gift have I given my son?
The bulldozers work on the wall 24 hours a day. Israeli patrols run incessantly past our home and we do not sleep for the noise. The village of Jayyus is home to 550 families, 400 of which depend entirely on agriculture. Often, when we go to work the land, the military stops us to ask for our identification papers. Israel says that we will continue to have access to our farms, but no one really knows what the future holds. North of Tulkarem, the farmers were told this, too, but to this day they are barred from their farms. I have advised all of the Jayyus farmers to live on their land, because if that is lost, we will have nothing.
During the Aqaba summit, the Land Defense Committee of Qalqilya came to Ramallah and set up a tent in front of the office of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. We established this tent because we wanted the world to know that we are the new refugees (as if there are not enough refugees and tents in the Arab world). Since 1980, the settlements have been annexing our land bit by bit, and I worry that soon we will be no better than Thai and Filipino workers in Israel--day laborers on our own stolen land. We told Abu Mazen that this land is as holy for us as Jerusalem, and that we will not exchange it for even the best of that city.
My message to you, the Quartet, is a simple one: to ask you to pressure Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to treat us as human beings. If he could only respect Palestinians as humans, he would stop annexing our land, he would stop arresting our sons and he
would release all our prisoners.
Sharif Omar is a sixty-year-old farmer in the northern West Bank village of Jayyus.
Not only is the roadmap teetering on the edge of death, but the Quartet that was created to promote this latest Arab-Israeli peace effort is also close to disintegration. Instead of the promised harmony, the members continue their solo performances and each seeks the spotlight. While European officials are making pilgrimages to Yasir Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah, United States officials meet Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in Jericho. And the faces of European Union leaders such as Javier Solana and George Papandreou, as well as perennial United Nations representative Terje Roed-Larsen, were all missing from the group photos of the Sharm al-Sheikh and Aqaba summits. Like Arafat, the Quartet watched the show, conducted by President Bush, on television.
Indeed the Quartet, like the roadmap, had a very inauspicious debut, demonstrating that the core issues that contributed to the catastrophic end of Oslo have not been resolved. During the Oslo phase, often competing policies of the US and Europe caused confusion and allowed the main actors to seek better terms by shuffling between the two main mediators. Now, amidst the deep fractures between the US and "Old" Europe over Iraq, and Israeli anger over European paternalism and betrayal of democratic principles (amplified in the UN), the prospects of a useful role for the Quartet are essentially zero.
The violence that followed the introduction of the roadmap was, in part, the result of the flawed Quartet framework. British Prime Minister Tony Blair's determination to publish the text immediately after the defeat of Saddam Hussein prevented Mahmoud Abbas from wresting control over the security apparatus from Arafat. Blair felt he needed a quick release in order to appease constituencies angered by the British position on the Iraq war. This gave Arafat enough power to sabotage Israeli-Palestinian security coordination, and, according to reports, to dispatch terrorists from his muqata'a headquarters.
At the same time, the premature presentation of this initiative ensured that Abbas would remain weak. The various factions, including Hamas, were thus invited to try their luck in destabilizing the new Palestinian government and the roadmap process. The results included the murder of four soldiers guarding the highly symbolic Erez crossing (where Palestinians enter Israel to work), followed by an Israeli targeted attack against a Hamas leader, and then the very brutal bus bombing in
Jerusalem. Together, these initial but readily predictable failures may be fatal for the roadmap.
In terms of meeting the difficult challenges of implementing the roadmap on the ground, the EU appears to have little to offer. European leaders, as well as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, again denounced the terror attacks by Hamas, and issued more ritual calls to end the violence, as if such statements had any impact whatsoever. In contrast, President Bush increased the level of his direct involvement, reversing his initial stand and accepting Israeli actions to end terrorism conducted by Hamas. The US also threatened to take action against countries that provide assistance to terror groups, while the EU could only hint in the vaguest terms regarding possible sanctions against Hamas. And as the Americans belatedly dispatched the initial monitoring group, and forced resumption of the Israeli and Palestinian security talks in a desperate hope to save the roadmap, Europe and the UN remained on the sidelines, without influence on such critical steps.
From an Israeli perspective, the main rationale for the Quartet is to keep the other three actors from interfering with the policies pursued by the Americans. The Israeli view of the EU has become increasingly bitter, based on the European adoption of the Palestinian narrative, focusing on "settlement, occupation and victimization" (as if the conflict began in 1967). Europeans and the UN are seen to pander to growing Muslim
populations and oil dependency, at Israel's expense. Anti-Semitism and paternalism (particularly from the French) still play a role and, in contrast to the US, Europe puts little emphasis on norms such as democracy and freedom. In the entire Oslo period and well beyond, the EU never halted the flow of funds to the Palestinian Authority despite its corruption and direct involvement in terror, and the investigation demanded by the EU's parliament is being conducted in secret. And finally, Israelis realize that while the other members of the Quartet will advocate "painful concessions" and risk-taking for Israel, only the US will assist Israel if and when such policies go badly wrong.
These problems were reflected in the first disastrous days of the roadmap's life. It is now clear that only the full force of "Pax Americana", without petty political competition from its "partners", may be able to create some stability. Perhaps by banging enough heads together, the Americans may force the disarming of Hamas and force the PA to ensure that it has a monopoly on the use of force, as necessary for any proto-state. If they succeed, this could also set the stage for beginning the deep changes necessary for transforming the conflict. For their part, the other three members of the Quartet need to examine their roles and past failures more critically, while avoiding contributing to the failure of another peace process, and to more violence and murder.
Professor Gerald M. Steinberg is director of the Program on Conflict Management and Resolution at Bar Ilan University, and a member of the Political Studies Department.
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