Dear Secretary of State Rice
This is a request that you cease visiting us for a mere day or two every few months, usually a week or so after a major crisis. Instead, as we enter the countdown to disengagement, you should stay a while, for weeks at a time. The pace and importance of events are too critical for you not to be here.
Let me note from the outset of this open letter that this is not an appeal for you to become an instant peacemaker. Only Israelis and Palestinians can make peace between themselves. Indeed, all the breakthroughs to Israel-Arab peace--Sadat's visit in 1977, Oslo, peace with Jordan--were made bilaterally, secretly, and behind the backs of an unenthusiastic US administration. Based, at least, on this incremental model, I offer neither expectations nor encouragement for a US-initiated and monitored peace process in the near future.
But close and high-level American mediating of Israel-Arab relations at times of crisis or opportunity are another matter. Two of your illustrious predecessors in Republican administrations did it brilliantly: Henry Kissinger spent months here in 1974-5 putting together ceasefire and separation of forces agreements. One of them, with Syria, has lasted to this day. The other, with Egypt, paved the way for peace. James Baker shuttled back and forth for weeks in 1990 and 1991, first to build a war coalition, then to organize the Madrid Conference.
Kissinger and Baker were, first and foremost, serving American interests as defined by their bosses, Presidents Nixon and George H.W. Bush. Your boss, President George W. Bush, keeps telling us that disengagement, the roadmap, and a viable two-state solution are a prime American interest. But when his rhetoric is backed up at critical junctures by no more than your occasional one- or two-day visits, many of us are not convinced that this is indeed a vital issue for the US.
What characterized the successful Kissinger and Baker mediating efforts was the recognition, on the part of Arab and Israeli leaders, that they spoke directly for the president of the United States; that they couldn't be maneuvered, manipulated or ignored without incurring the wrath of the president. In Kissinger's case this took place during an era when the US was not the sole superpower, and it took a degree of American audacity to try to capitalize on critical events the way he did. You, too, enjoy the status of direct and empowered emissary of your president. And disengagement is an equally critical event. This is why leaders like Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas cannot afford to ignore your requests the way they might dare to do with, say, General William Ward, your military representative, or James Wolfensohn, the quartet's economic representative, even though both are men of great skill and integrity.
There is plenty of work for you here in the coming weeks, when the weather in Jerusalem and Ramallah is undoubtedly more pleasant than in Washington. First, when the next major crisis threatens to derail disengagement, you'll be on the spot to deal with it. Second, both Abbas and Sharon need your hands-on support. Third, so many aspects of disengagement are not yet settled.
This is where you can back up your emissaries with the carrots and sticks that only you can brandish. Pressure Abbas to stand fast against Hamas and consolidate his security establishment. If he really does need more weapons and ammunition, make sure Sharon permits their immediate supply. Persuade Abbas to accept payment for removing the rubble from the settlements. See what other resources the PA needs in order to make good on its plan to take over the lands vacated by Israel in Gaza and shunt Hamas aside, and deliver them. Make sure Israel agrees now to a serious, stable and permanent safe passage project, both for the short and the long terms, because this is the first and perhaps most important building block for the viable Palestinian state President Bush keeps talking about. Bang on the table the way Sharon does and demand to see work in progress while you're here.
When you need a break from Israelis and Palestinians, as undoubtedly you will, go to Egypt to help wrap up Cairo's prolonged negotiations with Israel over the Gaza-Sinai border, and perhaps to arrange for burial of that settlement rubble in Sinai. Your carrots and sticks will help here too. Then go to Damascus: President Asad complains that he doesn't know what you want from him. This would be a good opportunity to demand in no uncertain terms that he expel Hamas and Islamic Jihad from Syria as his contribution to a smooth transition in Gaza. Lebanon can also help by disarming Hizballah; your recent half-day visit there was commendable, but show the new government in Beirut you're serious by coming back every week or two. American shuttle diplomacy worked well in the past; it can help now, too.
I know the US is busy with very high priority Middle East issues in Iraq and Iran. We have an interest in your success there. But if, as another of your emissaries, David Welch, recently said, "the disengagement plan is a central feature of America's foreign policy in this region," then show us how serious you and the president are by settling in here for the next few weeks.- Published 25/7/2005 (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 at Tel Aviv University, and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
In a state of limbo
by Ghassan Khatib
Some ten days ago, a week of heightened tensions led to sporadic incidents of internal violence in Gaza. Indeed, the recent months and weeks have witnessed a spike in internal Palestinian friction that has led to an unusually high risk of direct confrontation. But although this recent infighting was politically inspired, there has also in the last weeks and months been violence that is based neither on political nor ideological differences.
In general, there is a weakness in the enforcement of law and order on the Palestinian side, whether regarding civil and criminal law or clamping down on politically or ideologically motivated transgressions.
This deterioration has continued in spite of a greater political will on behalf of the leadership to enforce law and order and maintain internal security, in addition to more serious attempts by the PA to fulfill any obligations toward the Israeli side that that the two have agreed upon. There are different ways to explain it.
The most obvious explanation is the state of limbo Palestinians find themselves in. We're neither under the full control of the Israeli occupation, nor are we under the full control of the PA. By the same token, we are not involved in a full-blown and publicly accepted resistance to that occupation nor are we in the process of the implementation of any agreement with the Israeli side.
This situation, where essentially Israel is enjoying having its cake and eating it, is making the task very difficult for the PA. Israel, when it chooses, behaves as the party responsible for security; yet it also holds the PA responsible in the same territories for not fulfilling its security obligations.
One partial outcome of this situation is the huge and uncontrollable quantity of weapons and ammunition in the Palestinian territories that is mostly smuggled in from Israel or through borders supposedly under full and complete Israeli control.
The recent sharp increase in tensions that led to the direct confrontations resulted from the nearness of the scheduled Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. The approach of this event has led some opposition forces to try to test the waters to see if they can prepare the ground for a post-withdrawal situation of either chaos, to ensure that nobody can wield effective authority, or an actual take-over.
One complicating aspect of the actions of the opposition factions is that their way of putting pressure on the PA is by either themselves breaking the truce or by responding violently to Israeli breaches of the same. This has a double negative effect. On the one hand, it complicates Palestinian-Israeli relations and on the other it complicates Palestinian-Palestinian relations. This not only provokes the PA, it weakens it internally and externally.
The justification the opposition presents for its provocations is simply that the PA is not living up to the commitments it undertook in the Cairo dialogue. The evidence presented for this is first, the postponement of parliamentary elections, second, the delay in reforming the PLO, i.e., including the opposition factions, and third, the failure to form an all-faction committee with certain responsibilities vis-a-vis preparations for the day after withdrawal.
The suggestion to form a joint committee to administer matters after an Israeli withdrawal was countered by a PA offer to invite the opposition into a coalition government. That offer was rejected by the opposition.
Parliamentary elections, however, do seem to offer a way out for both sides. The opposition has the right to compete for power, but only through legitimate political and democratic means. Any agreement for all parties to respect law and order should include proceeding toward elections to allow everybody a share of power and responsibility on the basis of the democratic choice of the public. But the opposition cannot have it both ways: It cannot on the one hand take the law into its own hands yet at the same time take part in elections, a democratic process that requires respect for law and order.- Published 25/7/2005 (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|
Peace process reduced to rubble
by Aluf Benn
Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan has an important side effect. It forces the Israeli and Palestinian governments to tackle their respective rejectionists. Last week, as Israel's police and military forces blocked the settler march toward Gush Katif, the Palestinian Authority's security organs confronted their Hamas rivals in Gaza. For both sides, it has been an important new development.
The lack of domestic confrontation was a major weakness of the 1990s Oslo process. Successive Israeli governments preferred to nurture the settlements and turn a blind eye toward expressions of settler lawlessness rather than curbing the settlement enterprise. At the same time, the PA allowed the development of militias and terrorist groups that took the lead after the outbreak of hostilities in September 2000, instead of imposing "one law with one gun". Both sides recognized the extremist danger following Yitzhak Rabin's assassination and the subsequent wave of Palestinian suicide bombings in Israeli cities. But their efforts to rein in rejectionist elements were short-lived and, in retrospect, failed to change the dynamics of a crumbling peace process. It became more convenient for the two sides to fight one another.
Sharon's disengagement offers a fresh opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to put their houses in order. Its unilateral nature frees Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, from the need for mutual compromise and quid-pro-quos. It provides a time out from serious negotiations, which should be used for consolidating power and legitimacy through new elections to both parliaments, expected several months after the Gaza withdrawal. The negotiations impasse resolves the inherent contradiction between electoral needs that dictate tougher positions on outstanding issues, and diplomatic demands that mandate mutual concessions.
Disconnecting withdrawal from diplomacy allows the Palestinians and Israelis to keep their blame game going without jeopardizing the main effort of settlement evacuation. Sharon and Abbas are able to hold totally opposing views regarding the way forward on "the day after"--with Abu Mazen calling for a quick move to final status negotiations, which Sharon would like to avoid indefinitely--without halting the current movement. Under the umbrella of pending disengagement, Israel has gained badly needed international applause, while Abbas has become the new hope of American Mideast policy.
This delicate balance was seriously shaken by the renewed eruption of violence, beginning with the Netanya suicide attack of July 12. For several days, it appeared as if the war was back. Nevertheless, Abbas and Sharon managed the gravest crisis of the post-Arafat era successfully. With American and Egyptian assistance, they preventing the fire from spreading, focusing instead on dealing with their domestic opponents.
The violence brought American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice back to Jerusalem and Ramallah, to ensure that Sharon's withdrawal is implemented as planned and to promote Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. International public opinion favors summit meetings over unilateral dictates, and America is no exception. Criticized at home for lack of involvement and for giving Israel virtual control over regional policy, Rice prodded Sharon to meet Abbas, but he balked. Her aides explained later that "disengagement coordination" is in fact "negotiations" and announced a coming agreement on removing the rubble from demolished settler houses in Gaza. They apparently failed to notice any irony in the fact that the peace process had been reduced to negotiations over rubble.
Rice's main concern was a Hamas takeover of post-evacuation Gaza. She called on Israeli leaders to prevent this by strengthening Abbas through security assistance and freedom of movement in and out of Gaza. But at the end of the day, she had very little leverage over Sharon. Given the poor state of the Bush administration's policies elsewhere in the Middle East, Israel's premier appears as the best candidate to deliver credible results. This allows Sharon to be the eventual arbiter on Israeli-Palestinian matters.
Sharon's unilateralism has many advantages in the short run, but its major drawback is negligence of confidence-building with the other side. This may help Sharon win the Likud nomination against Binyamin Netanyahu, and even give Abbas more credibility for his criticism of Israel before the PA elections. Eventually, however, all summer breaks reach an end. After its elections--probably next spring--Israel will face enormous pressure to resume the peace process and move forward to a West Bank solution. It would be a pity if the lack of mutual trust prevails then and derails the diplomatic efforts.- Published 25/7/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org
Aluf Benn is the diplomatic correspondent of the Israeli daily Haaretz.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Committed to political pluralism
an interview with Ismail Haniya
bitterlemons: How do you assess the recent confrontations between Hamas and the PA?
Haniya: We see the events that took place as regretful and painful. No one benefits from such events. We, inside Hamas, tried to maintain national unity by adopting a policy of self restraint and refraining from engaging in side conflicts. Our basic conflict is with the occupation. However, the Palestinian national security forces initiated this and opened fire at our members. This escalated matters until they evolved into the events we witnessed.
I would like to stress that Hamas has no interest at all in engaging in any conflict with the Fateh movement or the PA. We are interested in brotherly and friendly relations so we can direct our united force against the occupation.
bitterlemons: Many say that the agreement reached in Gaza between the factions does not solve the underlying problems between Hamas and the PA. Do you expect more confrontations in the future?
Haniya: It is true that we rushed to stop all forms of incitement and tension and to remove any armed presence from the streets. Outstanding problems do remain and they need to be discussed and studied. We agreed with our brothers from Fateh, through the mediation of our brothers from Egypt, to continue holding meetings so that we can reach a comprehensive national formula. Let me stress again, Hamas is not an enemy of the PA or of the brothers in Fateh. Moreover, Hamas would like to stress that its weapons shall remain trained against the occupiers. We are completely convinced that internal conflicts do not serve our people, nor do they serve either Hamas or Fateh.
bitterlemons: Nevertheless, some fear that the confrontations might erupt once again after the withdrawal from Gaza. What do you think?
Haniya: This is not the case. I affirm that Hamas--whether before the withdrawal or after the withdrawal--deals on the basis of a set of principles that stipulate that we will not be the cause of a civil war. We want to assure everyone that Hamas believes in dialogue as the sole means of interaction with the PA and with all other factions.
bitterlemons: Some interpreted the recent events as an attempt by Hamas to compete with the PA or even overthrow it. How do you respond?
Haniya: This is not true. In our internal political approach we have adopted the principle of respecting political pluralism and fair competition over armed conflict. We have repeatedly stressed the principle of inclusion, not exclusion, on the basis of political pluralism and respect for Palestinian human rights. Hamas will cling to this approach and shall adopt it in its rhetoric, literature and interaction with all Palestinian forces, factions, sectors and figures.
Unfortunately, some analysts and writers have suggested that Hamas was preparing a coup to overthrow the PA and take control of the Gaza Strip after the withdrawal of the enemy and, furthermore, that Hamas was working to remove and exclude Fateh and the other factions from the scene. We totally deny this. Hamas has no intention of excluding others and will not accept to remain alone on the scene. On the contrary, the Palestinian political scene can not only sustain, but needs, all the colors of the political spectrum and their various potentials. We have stressed on more than one occasion, and we stress again today, that our path toward political participation in the decision-making process is only through free, honest and transparent elections. Hamas shall respect the choice of the Palestinian people.
bitterlemons: If you respect the PA and you recognize its presence, then why continue firing rockets when you know this causes tension with the PA?
Haniya: You know very well that since we agreed to the calm, we have showed a strong and consistent commitment to it. Everybody has borne witness to this, even the Zionist enemy, and this is because when we give our word, we honor it. But, what we witnessed on the ground is that the aggression against our people escalated in the West Bank and we cannot simply stand by watching these crimes. The firing of rockets is a reaction to repeated Israeli violations and is not targeting the PA. We are not interested in creating problems with the PA.
bitterlemons: How does Hamas view the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza?
Haniya: Hamas sees in the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza Strip a national achievement by the Palestinian people. It is the fruit of the resistance and steadfastness of the Palestinian people. That is why Hamas is interested to see a full withdrawal from the Gaza Strip so the Palestinian people can enjoy freedom as a first stage on the path of liberating the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories.
In order to maintain this withdrawal as a national accomplishment, Hamas shall continue to call for the formation of a higher national commission to supervise the issues related to the withdrawal based on the principle of partners in blood and heroic resistance. This commission shall have the task of setting up national criteria and checks and balances to deal with the various components of the withdrawal. It will also take on a monitoring function to ensure that the criteria are adopted. We would like to stress here that this commission shall not in any way constitute an independent administration of the Gaza Strip or an alternative to the PA or its ministries. It is a national guarantee to protect the achievement and shall work on limiting and reducing the margins for chaos so that it can show a positive image of the Palestinian people, who have liberated their lands through resistance and steadfastness.
bitterlemons: What is your standpoint on the PA as the sole authority on the ground?
Haniya: We have said earlier that we don't consider ourselves an alternative to the PA and we are not interested in weakening it or in confronting it. Through cooperation with the PA and the rest of the factions and forces, we want to rectify the mistakes and re-arrange the conditions of the Palestinian house. We have met several times with the leaders of the PA and with the various services and ministries, and we have always been a unifying factor. We want the Authority to represent the ambitions and hopes of its people, to fight corruption within its ranks and to be an authority for everybody without discrimination.- Published 25/7/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org
Ismail Haniya is a senior Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip.
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