Palestinian officials have always and consistently reiterated their commitment to the peace process. Bilateral negotiations are seen as the main strategy to achieve the legitimate Palestinian objectives of ending the Israeli occupation, achieving statehood and freedom as well as solving the issue of Palestinian refugees in accordance with UNGA Resolution 194.
However, the peace process has so far lasted 18 years and there are diminishing reasons to believe that it will accomplish its objectives and bring an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Although the process has been through severe crises before, the one we are experiencing now appears to be the most difficult.
This is so for several reasons. First, both Israeli public opinion and Israel's political elite have been moving away from the basic assumption underpinning the peace process, namely the end of occupation. Second, the prolonged process has enabled Israel to expand its control over most of the occupied territories through the illegal settling of Jewish populations in those territories, contrary to international law.
Third, public opinion in Palestine is less confident than ever of the effectiveness of the bilateral approach as a means to ending the occupation and as part of a comprehensive peace settlement. Finally, international actors have been using the peace process mostly as an excuse not to fulfill their obligations to the human and political rights of the Palestinian people.
Thus, while this latest crisis was brought on by the failure of the new American administration to make Israel comply with its obligations under the first phase of the roadmap, particularly freezing settlement construction, it has become a crisis of the bilateral process itself rather than of aspects of it. This has caused Palestinians to think of alternative strategies for achieving their legitimate objectives.
The failure of the peace process seems to have been anticipated by the Palestinian government, which only a month ago came up with a two-year plan specifically to end the occupation and establish a Palestinian state. The government justified the timing of its plan by saying that if the peace process were successful the plan would ready Palestinians for statehood. If, on the other hand, the peace process failed, then Palestinians needed an alternative based on managing their own affairs and enhancing the steadfastness and resilience of the people, in addition to building the institutions of state. The government plan thus seeks to convince the international community to recognize Palestinian rights to statehood and sovereignty without necessarily gaining Israeli consent.
There are two schools of thoughts among Palestinians vis-a-vis alternatives to the bilateral process. The first, which represents a significant minority, is to go backward by dissolving the Palestinian Authority and declaring the failure of the Oslo project under the assumption that this would bring us back to pre-PA days of direct occupation and end the confusion created by the presence of the authority, thereby unmasking the ugly reality of the Israeli occupation. This, it is then argued, will lead us back to a struggle against occupation and the international solidarity such a struggle would bring with it.
The other alternative is to move forward, i.e., to dissolve the PA within the institutions of an independent Palestinian state. This approach considers that building an authority on Palestinian territory is the second most important achievement of the Palestinian people after the establishment of the Palestine Liberation Organization and should not be wasted. Rather it has to be used as a tool to achieve complete independence.
This strategy relies on the ability of the Palestinian people to actively and effectively prepare for independence and statehood as well as on positive changes in the international dynamic regarding a two-state solution on the borders of 1967. There are some indications that such a dynamic is in place. Israel has never been criticized as it is being criticized now, and support for Palestinian statehood was never as strong as it is now. Hence, many Palestinians look at preparations for statehood and a possible direct approach to the UN Security Council for international recognition as the most constructive and positive approach.
This approach could have another positive side effect. It puts pressure on Israel to allow a resumption of constructive negotiations on the basis of the roadmap, which calls for ending the occupation in return for peace, security and integration. The only clear indication that Israel is willing to enter such a serious process would be a total freeze on Israeli settlement construction in all occupied territory.- Published 23/11/2009 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Two alternative paths
by Yossi Alpher
I continue to believe that a bilaterally negotiated two-state solution between Israel and the PLO is the optimal outcome and is possible. But not under the leadership currently in power in all the relevant capitals: Jerusalem, Ramallah, Gaza, Cairo and last but not least (on the basis of its first 10 months' performance) Washington. In the absence of credible hope for a near-term solution, a number of alternative paths to progress present themselves. Two are reflected in evolving realities on the ground, hence appear to be the most pragmatic. They are not mutually exclusive.
One is Palestinian Authority PM Salam Fayyad's plan to create the institutions of statehood in the course of two years. If, by August 2011 when those two years have elapsed, Israel and the PLO have not successfully negotiated a solution, the Palestinians would turn to the United Nations for recognition and third party international intervention.
This is "bottom up" state-building that has proven itself thus far. Fayyad, with international help, is successfully creating security, economic and governance institutions. His efforts are not incompatible with those of Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu regarding "economic peace". They have already produced the best security situation in the West Bank in years. There is something to work with here. Besides, as of today this is the only constructive game in town.
Obviously, to make Fayyad's scheme work, state-building must be paralleled, in real time, by serious negotiations. If these negotiations are tried but, almost inevitably (like all their predecessors), fail due to lack of agreement regarding core final-status issues, then at least by August 2011 the international community will have something substantive to dig its teeth into: the makings of a Palestinian state on the ground, along with clearly defined gaps between the two sides' positions to be bridged through international intervention.
But Fayyad's scheme, along with other variations on unilateral or partial peace process themes being discussed today, applies to the Gaza Strip only in theory. Assuming Egypt's prolonged efforts to bring about genuine Palestinian geographical and political unity continue to falter, any peace and/or state-building achievements emanating from Ramallah do not apply to Gaza and Hamas. This brings us to the second non-bilateral process that can be characterized as an evolving reality: the existence of two separate Palestinian proto-state entities or, in political shorthand, the three-state solution.
As matters stand, whatever Fayyad accomplishes and whatever Israel and the US contribute in parallel toward Palestinian state-building and Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, this does not directly affect Hamas in Gaza. The current international attitude toward Gaza can be characterized as non-benign neglect. Israel, Egypt, the Quartet and the PLO all prefer to do nothing about Gaza in the blind hope that the reality of the Strip will either "go away" or at least not bother them too often. The economic blockade continues; the military situation can be characterized as quiet for the time being, but only for the time being; all Arab parties pay lip service to non-existent Palestinian unity; and Egypt's mediation efforts are tailored to suit its own agenda of making sure Gaza remains Israel's problem, not Egypt's.
This situation will not last forever. Anyone who hopes that success on the West Bank--economic, political, diplomatic or all of the above--will somehow bring Hamas rule in Gaza crashing down rather than inspire Hamas to invoke serious acts of sabotage--is gambling against the odds.
Better to recognize that our strategies for Gaza have not succeeded and must be revised if disaster is to be averted. That the economic strategy is downright counterproductive, inflicting collective humanitarian punishment on Gazans without producing political progress. That Israel is the only party in the Middle East talking to Hamas exclusively through Egyptian good offices and is getting nowhere (if there is a breakthrough on prisoner exchange, it will apparently be thanks to German good offices). And that we have to offer to talk to Hamas directly about long-term coexistence if a productive solution for the West Bank can be deemed sustainable.- Published 23/11/2009 © bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons.org family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Where next for Palestinians?
by Ghada Karmi
Palestinian history is at one of its most serious and important junctures. The peace negotiations that commenced with the Oslo accords in 1993 are at an end. Even hardened devotees of the peace process with Israel have now given up and are adopting positions that threaten to disrupt the cozy status quo of the "peace process". The Palestinian president's announcement that he will not seek re-election, and the recent demand for UN recognition of a Palestine state on the 1967 territories are examples of this trend. It has become impossible for even the most pliant Palestinian leadership to ignore Israel's strategy of "talking and taking", its relentless colonization of the occupied territories, which doubled after the Oslo agreement and is ever more blatant and aggressive. The Palestinian maneuver, taking advantage of an assumed US frustration with Israeli intransigence on settlement building, is clearly designed to challenge the international community out of its inertia.
Whether this will be able to jump-start a process more favorable to the Palestinians is unclear. So far, the signals are mixed. Western leaders have reacted by urging Abbas to stay on and restart negotiations with Israel. The US has even offered him various sweeteners--more weapons for PA security forces, a release of 400 Fateh prisoners, and extending PA security control to Area B and partially to Area C. Israel was said to be considering a ten-month settlement moratorium as another inducement. At the same time, both the US and the EU rejected the Palestinian request for state recognition as "premature", despite widespread encouragement from journalists, NGOs and activists. Israel declared itself "alarmed", but its president proposed a Palestinian state with provisional borders.
Perhaps these reactions represent some form of early response to the Palestinian maneuver. At any rate, Abbas is so far sticking to his position, with possibly more positive results to come. But supposing this Palestinian tactic to recommence peace negotiations on a better basis succeeds, what then? And what of the long-term future? In my discussions in Ramallah this week, I have been struck by the variety of opinions and ideas about ways out of the current impasse. Most of these, however, were strategies for interim solutions without a vision about the ultimate aim of a peace settlement. The consensus about the two-state solution, which was nearly universal, has been shaken by the logistical reality of Israeli settlement expansion, but the alternatives have not solidified. The only shared view is that more negotiations with Israel on the current basis are futile. Marwan Barghouti's call from his prison cell on November 19 for popular resistance in the face of peace talks
describes as "doomed" has found wide resonance.
In the current political confusion, people are searching for solutions. The major trends I found can be summarized as: plodding on with the pursuit for a Palestinian state, however elusive, or abandoning the whole idea for something radically different. In between are various ideas for surviving the current impasse and hoping for the best. Foremost in the first camp is the Salam Fayyad government with its two-year program for economic development and state building. The language this government uses of "good governance, accountability and transparency" will be familiar to students of the Oslo years, when preparations for statehood were at their zenith. Undeterred by the manifest failure of that process, the current PA government believes that greater effort in the same direction could yield better results. In other words, diligence has its rewards and, with generous international funding, a sovereign state might emerge.
By contrast, the other camp, consisting of various political analysts, intellectuals and activists, suggests that the PA, which has failed to deliver anything significant in 18 years, should be dissolved. Some, like the politician Ahmad Qatamesh, propose a PA limited to a domestic role, managing civic issues like health and education, while a revitalized and more inclusive PLO would deal with the politics. Others advocate more radical approaches. Without a PA to mediate between Israel and the occupied Palestinians, a campaign of civil resistance against Israeli apartheid should be waged in all the occupied territories. This could in due course lead to the creation of a unitary state in Israel-Palestine. More direct calls for a one-state solution, given the logistical impossibility of two states, are increasingly heard.
The divergence of opinion and the ferment of ideas are indications that at this critical stage in Palestinian history, what is needed is not a peace process on better terms, but a pan-national debate about the future. The deepening gulf between the "outside" and the "inside" that I see here is the most dangerous threat to that future. The challenge facing the Palestinians involves all of them, not just the third living under Israeli occupation. Any political decision now must include Fateh and Hamas, the refugees and the exiles. That is why some of us are calling urgently for an international meeting of Palestinian leaders to work out the best way forward before it is too late. Israel, which has worked hard to fragment the Palestinians and diminish their cause to one of bickering over percentages of land on the West Bank, must not be allowed to succeed.- Published 23/11/2009 © bitterlemons.org
Ghada Karmi is a research fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, UK, and the author of "Married to another man: Israel's dilemma in Palestine".
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Is there a nice way to say "an imposed solution"?
by Gershon Baskin
The peace process has once again entered a dead end. Senator George Mitchell has fallen into the trap of negotiating about negotiations. There is little chance that bilateral negotiations at this time will be capable of producing agreements on either the Israeli-Palestinian or Israel-Syria track. The US mediator has been focusing on "process" rather than "substance". The Middle East is not Northern Ireland. Here we all have a pretty good idea of what the end game looks like (on both tracks) and we also have 18 years experience of failed process.
The parameters of agreement are more or less known. The needs, interests, threat perceptions and means to answer them are known on both tracks by experts but have not yet been detailed and no international commitments have been made to provide for them. The possible agreed outcomes of negotiations are light years away if left to the standard classical negotiating process. Yes, the parties must be brought back to the table and there must be a process where they can relate to the substantive issues. But we don't need to wait for them to produce the substance in a bilateral process.
Resolution of the Arab-Israel conflict is a US and international strategic interest, which means that the old formula stating that "the parties have to want it more than us" is no longer true. The parties no longer have the right to veto peace and to allow the conflict to continue to endanger the security of the region and the whole world. The United States and the Quartet must not be held hostage by domestic politics in the US, Israel or the Palestinian Authority (in Syria, this is less relevant).
There are several possible alternatives to bilateral negotiations. The following is what I propose for the Israeli-Palestinian track:
The Quartet requests from the parties to provide answers to the following questions within three months:
- What are the difficulties and obstacles that you would face in implementing a "two-states for two peoples" solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
- What are the primary concerns that you would face (including but not limited to domestic concerns) in implementing this solution?
- What are the primary threats that you would face as a result of implementing the solution?
- What mechanism/means would you propose to monitor, verify and ensure compliance with obligations undertaken by the other side in accordance with a peace agreement?
The objective of this exercise is for the parties to detail the specific difficulties they would face within the parameters of the well known solutions to the conflict without them having an opportunity to put their maximalist positions on the table. After receiving the answers, the Quartet (led by the US) would spend the following months developing detailed responses to the threats and difficulties spelled out by the parties. A major emphasis within the Quartet plans would have to be on the role of credible third parties and third party multi-national forces (military, police and civilian--led by the US but without necessarily having US soldiers on the ground) and not solely reliance on the parties themselves to deal with those threats unilaterally or even bilaterally, which they have proven over the years incapable of doing.
The Quartet's responses would entail expansion of its "diplomatic tool box" to comprise a large quantity of "carrots and sticks". The "carrots" are specific ways to deal with as many as possible of the threats and obstacles detailed by the parties. The Quartet must be willing to include its own commitments for meeting the real needs of both parties. All threats must be treated with the utmost sincerity and the answers provided must be based on real commitments. Likewise, the diplomatic toolbox must contain "sticks"--those consequences backed by commitments that the Quartet is willing to use if the parties fail to cooperate.
Once the Quartet has designed the package providing responses and solutions to the obstacles, difficulties and threat perceptions presented by the parties, including the mechanisms they propose to confront issues of monitoring, verification and enforcement of implementation of treaty obligations, the Quartet would place on the table for the parties the draft of a full peace agreement (in the format of a declaration of principles) including all permanent status issues. The DOP would state that the agreement relates to all the relevant territory including Gaza that will be included in the implementation of the treaty once the political situation there enables it.
There are additional non-bilateral possibilities. One is to encourage the "Fayyad plan" for building the institutions of the Palestinian state from the bottom up. Another could be Israeli transfers of parcels of land in area "C" to the Palestinian Authority for development of large infrastructure projects. Israel could also turn over the four settlements in the northern West Bank that were vacated in the 2005 disengagement. The US president could present the "Obama parameters"--a revision of the Clinton parameters adding the regional dimension made possible by the Arab Peace Initiative--and call on the parties to negotiate on the basis of those parameters. Finally, a new UN Security Council resolution could preserve the viability of the two-state solution by including the basic parameters of peace (borders, Jerusalem, refugees, etc.) within the text.- Published 23/11/2009 © bitterlemons.org
Gershon Baskin is the co-CEO of IPCRI - the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information and a member of the leadership of the Green Movement Political Party.
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