Under the circumstances, and by comparison to its predecessors, the current Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah led by President Mahmoud Abbas and PM Salam Fayyad is making reasonable progress toward fulfilling its roadmap phase I security obligations. Of course there is still a lot to be desired--but the PA deserves better than the degree of reciprocation it has received thus far from Israel.
A "lot to be desired" refers first and foremost to the Ramallah government's inability to deliver any aspect of security in and around the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. There are parts of the West Bank, too, that appear to be ruled more by clans and gangs than by PA security forces, and there are indications that the Abbas/Salam government is sadly detached from the Palestinian public and unable to come to terms with the depth of crisis within Palestinian society brought on by the rise of Hamas. All of these lacunae have prompted some Israelis to argue that it is pointless to jeopardize Israeli security by making gestures to this Palestinian government.
On the other hand, there are notable Palestinian successes. The PA's amnesty program, closely coordinated with Israel, has neutralized several hundred otherwise dangerous men. The Palestinian police contingent sent to Nablus has been successful in disarming gangs and Hamas groups in that area. The murderers of two Kiryat Arba settler youth were apprehended, tried and jailed. And West Bank NGOs that channeled funds to Hamas have been brought under supervision. None of these tasks has been carried out to Israel's full satisfaction (witness the recent escape of detainees from the Nablus jail), but they certainly merit encouragement.
On balance, it is vital to the current peace process as well as to prospects for coexistence in general that these and additional security moves by the PA be seen by the Palestinian public to have been reciprocated. But can Israel do so without endangering Israelis?
The most obvious and, from the Palestinian standpoint, effective area where Israel can act is in reducing the number of roadblocks and checkpoints and the damage they do to the fabric of Palestinian economic, social and family life throughout the West Bank. Several former senior IDF officers who dealt with the West Bank have made very specific proposals for doing precisely this, for example by replacing stationary checkpoints with mobile ones. Obviously, if even two or three major roadblocks could be removed--particularly in the Nablus area where this would enable the Palestinian police contingent to expand and operate more freely--this would be very visible and welcome. Besides, the roadblocks represent that aspect of the occupation that, through its corrupting effect on young Israeli soldiers, is most damaging to the fabric and morality of Israeli society.
But the problem represented by the roadblocks is more complex than that. To a large extent the roadblocks, along with some of the roads designated for "Israelis only" due to security considerations, are there to protect the settlers. Remove settlements and outposts in any given sector of the West Bank and Israel's security problems there become far easier to manage without totally disrupting the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
This takes us back to the settlements problem. The key to dealing with both settlements and security is to deal with them together. Israel should integrate its treatment of roadmap phase I security with the demands of roadmap phase III final status territorial negotiations by proposing the removal of settlements, outposts and checkpoints, and where needed completing the security fence with its monitored passages, in a specific geographic region of the West Bank, with corresponding Palestinian security efforts to be concentrated there. If the approach works in one area, it can then be applied in an adjacent area.
Such an integrated geographic and security approach might be slow and piecemeal, but for Palestinians it would nevertheless represent progress toward a better life. Accordingly, it would encourage peace and strengthen the moderate government of Abbas and Fayyad--while also serving Israel's own demographic and moral need to remain a Jewish and democratic state.- Published 25/2/2008 © bitterlemons.org
One of the main responsibilities of the Palestinian side under the roadmap is its security obligation. Under it Palestinians are required to end military attacks on Israelis and the Palestinian Authority to dismantle "terrorist infrastructure". The security obligation is perceived to be the counterpart to the Israeli responsibility to end settlement expansions and dismantle settlement outposts.
There are a few major problems with this obligation, however. One is that while ending settlement expansions and dismantling outposts is a well-defined obligation that can be easily measured, the security obligation on the Palestinian side is less so. Another problem with the obligation is that the continuing occupation and Israeli practices to maintain that occupation are a constant provocation for Palestinian violence against Israelis. No matter how active the PA is in confronting Palestinian violence, without a clear prospect for ending the occupation it will always be difficult to control such resistance.
In addition, the fact that the Oslo agreement only gave the PA partial authority and responsibility over Palestinian areas limited its ability to impose its control. That situation was further complicated with the Israeli re-occupation of those autonomous areas in 2002. Politically, the current situation makes it extremely awkward for the PA to undertake its security responsibilities, at least from the perspective of the Palestinian public. Palestinians believe that it is legitimate to resist the occupation in the absence of any agreement to end the occupation and certainly in the absence of even the prospect of agreement to end this occupation.
It is for this reason that the Palestinian side has been insisting that the ideal way for both sides to fulfill their obligations under the roadmap is for them to do so simultaneously. In other words, the PA should not wait until Israel dismantles its settlements in order to start fulfilling its security obligations, nor should Israel delay implementing its obligations to halt settlement expansion and dismantle outposts until the PA fulfills its security obligations.
This, unfortunately, is not the Israeli position--as witnessed by recent statements by Israeli officials, including some by the foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, who is also head of the Israeli negotiating team. Israel expects that the PA fulfill its obligations first, arguing that in the absence of security there it has no responsibility to fulfill its own obligations. But, in fact, the simultaneous fulfillment of the two sides' obligations will reinforce each other and if each side waits for the other to start it will have the opposite effect.
There has to be recognition by Israel and all interested parties, especially the United States, which has given itself the role of overseeing the implementation of the roadmap, that the PA has shown unprecedented seriousness and success in fulfilling its security obligations in an increasing number of Palestinian cities and towns. The success in enforcing law and order in Nablus in addition to the success of convincing a growing number of the members of various resistance groups and militias to give up their arms is very significant.
The way to recognize and encourage this progress is for Israel, in turn, to begin to fulfill its obligations under the roadmap by ending settlement expansion--especially in and around Jerusalem--and lifting its systematic restrictions on the movement of Palestinians and goods. Failure to do this will weaken and embarrass the Palestinian negotiators and the leadership behind them. Already, Palestinian negotiators are isolated and under constant criticism.
It is impossible for Palestinians to accept that political negotiations should proceed alongside settlement expansion. In the mid-1990s the combination of these two processes led one to kill the other. Unfortunately we are witnessing the same dynamic today. If it continues, the end result will be the same.- Published 25/2/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons.org family of internet publications. He is vice-president of Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning. He holds a PhD in Middle East politics from the University of Durham.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
A vicious circle
by Shlomo Brom
The Annapolis summit meeting of late November concluded with an agreement to implement a two track approach. The first track is negotiations on a permanent status agreement; the second is implementation of the first phase of the roadmap: ending terror and violence, normalizing Palestinian life and building Palestinian institutions. Implementation of any agreement concluded in the first track is conditioned on successful implementation of the second track. Here we examine the status of implementation of the security commitments of the first phase of the roadmap.
According to the roadmap, the Palestinians have to "declare an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism and undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere". A "rebuilt and refocused Palestinian Authority security apparatus" has to begin "sustained, targeted and effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure. This includes commencing confiscation of illegal weapons and consolidation of security authority, free of association with terror and corruption."
The Palestinian Authority is far from implementing these obligations. An effort was made to improve the capabilities of the Palestinian security apparatus with resources and training provided by the US, the European Union, Jordan and Egypt. The success of this effort was very modest; PA security forces manifested their poor performance when they failed to prevent the takeover of the Gaza Strip in May 2007.
This means that the PA's security apparatus cannot operate at all in the Gaza Strip. In the West Bank its performance is marginally better. The Fayyad government has utilized some newly-trained forces to take control of limited parts of the West Bank. The most notable case is Nablus, where the PA deployed some 300 police officers to instill law and order and their presence has restored some stability and public order in a city that was in an anarchical situation, ruled by warlords and armed gangs.
However, there are two problems with this operation. First, the PA has exhausted its ability to instill law and order in other places due to a shortage of trained forces and because cities like Hebron are still in a situation of complete security havoc. Second, the force in Nablus is engaged solely in public security, i.e., fighting common crime. It doesn't confront those engaged in terror and doesn't dismantle terrorist capabilities and infrastructure.
True, there are some attempts to dismantle Hamas infrastructure as part of the internal conflict between Fateh and Hamas, but no attempts are made to dismantle armed groups not associated with Hamas by arresting, disrupting and restraining them. The PA force has tried to dismantle some of these groups by mediating an agreement between them and Israel, according to which Israel pardons these people and they give up their weapons and commit not to participate in terror.
This initiative has had some success but its capacity to produce better results is constrained by the lack of a sustained campaign against those not willing to participate in the agreement.
The main problem for the PA, other than its limited security capabilities, is its reluctance to operate against those perceived by the population as freedom fighters. Mahmoud Abbas and others in the PA are willing to make general declarations that denounce violence but are not willing to engage in open and clear activities against groups involved in terror. As a result, recent terror activities featured involvement of personnel from the security apparatus itself. Those involved in these actions preferred to turn themselves in to the PA because they thought they would thereby be sheltered from Israeli arrest and because they knew they would be indicted for light offenses such as hurting the interests of the PA rather than for murder.
Israel's security obligations under the first phase of the roadmap are not to take "actions undermining trust, including deportations, attacks on civilians; confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and property, as a punitive measure or to facilitate Israeli construction; destruction of Palestinian institutions and infrastructure; and other measures specified in the Tenet work plan". As comprehensive security performance moves forward, the IDF is supposed to withdraw progressively from areas occupied since September 28, 2000.
Israel has generally stopped deportations, confiscation and demolition of Palestinian homes and properties, although some property is still confiscated for public needs such as road building. Israel is not attacking civilians intentionally although some collateral damage occurs. Destruction of Palestinian institutions and infrastructure has stopped in the West Bank. In the Gaza Strip fighting continues, including destruction of infrastructure.
Nevertheless, it is not possible to determine that Israel is refraining from undertaking actions undermining trust because Israel is continuing its sustained anti-terror operations all over the West Bank, and these lead to arrests and Palestinian casualties, including in areas like Nablus after the deployment of the Palestinian police. This badly undermines the legitimacy of the PA security apparatus among Palestinians. Therefore the return to the September 28, 2000 lines is not the issue. The sore point is the activities of Israel's forces and not their deployment.
To sum up, the two parties are in a vicious circle. Israel feels that it cannot alter its security activities as long as Palestinian forces are not capable and willing to operate against terror. The PA feels it cannot build forces that are capable of dealing with terror as long as Israel undermines their legitimacy. All this pertains only to the West Bank, because the Gaza Strip ruled by Hamas is outside the game. It seems that the only way to break this vicious circle is through much more proactive interference by third parties than the monitoring and other activities stipulated in the roadmap.- Published 25/2/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Brig. Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Brom is a senior research associate at the Institute of National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Israel will not succeed in imposing a settlement
an interview with Ali Jarbawi
bitterlemons: The Palestinian Authority has trumpeted its achievement in imposing law and order in Nablus and convincing people to lay down their arms. Do you think this is a significant achievement?
Jarbawi: It is a significant domestic achievement for the Palestinians and for their own security and stability. The Israelis have tried hard to turn the West Bank into cantons, divided from each other. The plan was to sever each canton and let it control itself. What was happening in Nablus represented a success for this Israeli plan and its objective to erode any central Palestinian authority.
Having the Palestinian police deployed in Nablus and calm on the streets, shows that the central authority in the West Bank is in control. It also shows that the West Bank is an integral territory and the Israeli policy of trying to carve it into cantons, in spite of the roadblocks and obstacles, is not working. If the PA is allowed, it can function and function successfully.
bitterlemons: Is it reasonable to demand that the PA clamp down on security in the current circumstances?
Jarbawi: Nablus shows that in spite of the hindrances and obstacles in the way of the PA, the PA can be successful. But Israel is not inclined to want the PA to be successful. Israel does not want to help this government. On the contrary, Israel thrives on internal Palestinian conflict and lawlessness. Israel is not doing what it should be doing if it really wants to reach a political settlement. It is not helping the PA to exert control over the West Bank and rather wants the West Bank divided.
bitterlemons: How long, in the absence of Israeli moves to freeze settlement expansion, especially in Jerusalem, or remove outposts, will the West Bank remain calm?
Jarbawi: Reaching a settlement needs the cooperation of the international community, the PA and Israel. Between us and the Israelis it's a two-way street. But the Israelis want only a one-way street. Israel wants security first before it implements any of its obligations.
This approach has not worked in the past and it will not work in the future. Palestinians will not accept that their land is confiscated, that settlements continue to be built, the existence of roadblocks or their being prevented from improving their economy for long. Israel needs to take this into account. It cannot have its cake and eat it. Israel has to decide whether it wants to reach a political settlement with the Palestinians or impose its own settlement. If Israel wants to impose a settlement, well, it is the occupying power and it may be able to force actions on the Palestinians. But it will not be able to force acceptance of such a settlement.
Both sides need to implement their obligations simultaneously. Past experience shows that unless the Palestinians see their minimum demands being fulfilled, nothing will be achieved. Israel should not expect to have security unless Palestinians have it too, in the form of a political settlement ensuring Palestinians their minimum demand, a two-state solution on all occupied territory, etc.
bitterlemons: The PA is not in control over Gaza and Israel can always point to Gaza to say that the violence continues there. How can this problem be solved?
Jarbawi: Israel did the same with Yasser Arafat, confining him to his headquarters in Ramallah and still blaming him for every single event in the occupied territory. I don't think we will reach any overall settlement unless Israel accepts what is in the Oslo agreement. There, the West Bank and Gaza are considered one geographical entity. Hence Oslo talked about a territorial passage between the two areas. We need this passage if Israel wants to reach a settlement. Israel cannot have the two areas removed from each other and at the same time expect that Palestinian central authority be exerted in both places.
There cannot be a settlement without a truce. But this truce cannot be imposed on the Palestinians alone. If Israel is interested, a truce can be worked out. President Mahmoud Abbas already succeeded once in implementing a unilateral ceasefire on the Palestinian side, but Israel was not on board, continued its incursions and killings, and it eventually failed.
If Israel wants to work with the American vision of a two-state solution it has to be mutual. Israel needs to do its part and Palestinians too need to do their part. Israel cannot expect that Palestinians will not resist the occupation while Israel continues to kill people every day.- Published 25/2/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Dr. Ali Jarbawi is professor of political science at Birzeit University.
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