As the roadmap process teeters near collapse, it is tempting to analyze the crisis in terms of the mistakes of recent weeks: why did Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas (Abu Mazen) and security chief Dahlan not act in time; should Israeli Prime Minister Sharon have waited another day or two before renewing targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders; would this or that concession or gesture have made a difference?
In fact, the process was flawed from the outset. If the flaws aren't rectified, prospects for the roadmap will remain slim--with or without the parties' tactical errors.
First and foremost, the current Israeli and Palestinian national leaderships are not up to the challenge. They carried out some roadmap-mandated steps, such as partial withdrawal and a reduction in incitement--but not the main ones. Abu Mazen understands the dangers to the future of Palestine posed by terrorism, but it's all talk. In two months he did not begin to translate his declarative strategic grasp of the problem into deeds. One of the reasons is Yasir Arafat, who remains the real leader. The assumption that the combination of the roadmap, the hudna (ceasefire) and American support would catapult Abu Mazen into the top leadership position proved false. Sadly, Arafat has won yet another round.
On the Israeli side, Sharon has manipulated the roadmap and his relations with the White House so as to continue to expand the settlements and to compel the Palestinian Authority to accept his vision of Israeli-Palestinian relations: Israel will control the land, while a nascent Palestinian rump state controls the terrorists, and the US looks on. He too has failed.
Sharon's approach also highlights the main flaw in the structure of the roadmap: phase II, a provisional Palestinian state without defined boundaries. The Palestinians fear, legitimately, that Sharon will seek to entrap them in a state consisting of a collection of enclaves in the West Bank, and then find excuses to avoid discussing final status. Israel fears, also legitimately, that the provisional Palestinian state will wage an ongoing struggle against it by citing the right of return. Given that phase III also repeats the Oslo mistake of avoiding a clear definition of the parameters of a Palestinian state, it is understandable that neither side has found a strong incentive in the roadmap to proceed beyond phase I. The Quartet drafters of this document should have reduced it to two phases: first, stabilization, end of terrorism, withdrawal and confidence-building measures; then, renewed final status negotiations based on agreed parameters. They should have learned from the demise of the Oslo process to avoid intermediate and ambiguous phases.
Perhaps most distressing of all is the US performance. On the one hand, the advent of the roadmap signaled the Bush administration's decision to abandon its hands-off approach toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and get seriously involved. Against the backdrop of complications in Iraq, Washington appeared finally to understand that the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is of major importance for its strategic interests in the Middle East. It shook off its three Quartet partners (the European Union, the United Nations and Russia), merged the roadmap with the Bush vision of June 24, 2002, and took over. Bush himself came to the region to launch the process; he went so far as to tell Middle East leaders that he was "on a mission from God" to end the conflict and produce a viable two state solution.
Yet the administration seems to think that for the most part this process will run itself; it underestimated the leadership weaknesses on both sides, along with the huge gap in trust and confidence separating them. A US monitoring team of talented and dedicated public servants was dispatched to the region--but it was too small, arrived too late, had too little experience dealing with Israelis and Palestinians and, most important, was not led by someone who could pull out his/her cell phone and contact the president directly when the going got rough.
Further, the president himself appears not to have appreciated the need to enforce the key demands of the roadmap, which neither side wanted to comply with. No effective pressure was placed on Sharon to freeze settlement construction and remove the outposts. Nor was real pressure placed on Abu Mazen regarding the dismantling of the terrorist infrastructure, until it was too late. Instead, the president got caught up in controversies over prisoner release and the fence--two non-roadmap issues.
Here again, the lessons of past peace processes were plain to see. The failure of all sides to insist on full compliance with the Oslo agreements--their readiness to proceed to the next phase without verifying adherence to early demands--is now understood to have been a key factor in undermining mutual trust during the 1990s. Then too, American intervention has generally succeeded only when it took place at the highest level and over a prolonged period of time--for example, when Secretary of State Kissinger shuttled back and forth for months on end in 1974-5 to nail down the Israel-Egypt-Syria ceasefire and withdrawal agreements.
In the present case, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's visit to the region in early July was instructive: neither side dared reject her directives because they knew she spoke on behalf of the president. But she went home the next day. By August, God was in Crawford, Texas--not in the Middle East.
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former senior adviser to Prime Minister Barak.
The Palestinian account of the rise and fall of the roadmap is simple and straightforward. Israel was first dragged to accept the plan, and then conditioned its acceptance on 14 reservations, and then tried all tactics possible to escape having to comply with its roadmap obligations in the first phase. Basically, Israel used the same old tactic that brought down previous initiatives, including the Mitchell plan, Tenet plan and Zinni ideas, the tactic of insisting on isolating the security components of the roadmap's first phase and making Palestinian compliance with those components a prerequisite for moving on to Israeli obligations--obligations that were initially intended to occur simultaneously with Palestinian security commitments.
Despite a significant improvement in the security situation and progress on the security track, as well as ready Palestinian compliance with obligations towards reform, Israel refused to even begin talking about its obligations to stop settlement expansion, dismantle all outposts, allow for Palestinian freedom of movement and reopen closed Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem, even though some of those obligations (the need to stop settlement expansion, for one) carry no security risk whatsoever.
The reason that Israel resumed its policy of assassinating Palestinians on July 9 in Burqeen near Jenin, August 9 in Askar refugee camp near Nablus, and August 15 in Hebron, in killings that Palestinian political leaders specifically warned would initiate a resumption of the cycle of violence, can only be Israel's political fear. The Israeli government, facing more than a month of a successful and unilateral Palestinian ceasefire, was suddenly being forced to answer questions about the hundreds of checkpoints barring Palestinian movement, the permit policy preventing Palestinians from leaving their towns, and of course, the continuing confiscation of Palestinian land in order to build more settlements and construct a devastating barrier on West Bank land--all of which contravene international law.
These Israeli practices were abruptly exposed to heightened criticism by the outside world, including the United States, and I think that Israeli decision-makers reached a point where they had to choose: either continue the period of quiet and actually reassess Israel’s practices that consolidate the occupation, or resume the assassinations and try to drag Palestinians back into the vicious circle of violence in order to obscure the world’s view of those less sensational activities that ordinarily do not attract diplomatic attention.
As such, there are two broad explanations for the collapse of the negotiations process. First, there is Israel’s success in implementing the roadmap selectively, which prevented the Palestinian leadership and public from seeing any political light at the end of the occupation tunnel. Instead, Palestinians saw progress in achieving Israeli security, and since Palestinians view the security problems and violence as an inevitable outcome of Israeli occupation, they could not comprehend the value of a process meant only to heal the symptoms of occupation, rather than excise the disease.
We repeatedly warned that this defect in implementing the first phase of the roadmap would doom the process. The only means of rescuing the roadmap now is to implement a dramatic decline in settlement expansion and other Israeli commitments, at the same time that there is an improvement in security conditions.
The second explanation is that the ceasefire, which was adhered to successfully by the Palestinian factions, cannot continue unilaterally. The persistence of Israeli assassinations or "arrests that end in killing" grates against the Palestinian desire to implement calm. One might add that the Americans also did not comply with their roadmap obligations as monitors of all components of the roadmap’s first phase (not only the security components) and therefore significantly contributed to the roadmap collapse.
This progression of events has proven once again that only two things will end the crisis and accompanying violence. First, Israel must get out of the Palestinian Authority areas and allow Palestinians to handle their security duties without Israeli interference. Second, there is no substitute for a progressive, aggressive peace process. When the Palestinian Authority is engaged in a process that is about ending the Israeli occupation, then the Palestinian Authority will have the political power to act in any way against anyone who is jeopardizing that process.
But as long as Israel is continuing its assassinations here and there, and as long as there is no sign of a lifting of the occupation's hold on the public, it is difficult for the Palestinian Authority to take an active security role. Further, as long as these conditions persist, any internal Palestinian debate or power struggle is completely irrelevant to the success of the peace process. No Palestinian can implement what is being asked of the Palestinian side, as long as the Israeli side is disregarding its part of the deal.
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is minister of labor in the Palestinian Authority cabinet and has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.
bitterlemons: Was the collapse of the roadmap predestined, or avoidable?
Meridor: The roadmap was the only option to get us out of the mess we were in with the Palestinians. It was not implemented the way it should have been. The Palestinians didn't do enough to deal with the infrastructure of terrorism, and allowed Hamas and Islamic Jihad to prepare for another round. [In this sense] the most important thing missing in the Palestinian Authority is central command, a single leadership that takes responsibility and earns the respect of its own people.
bitterlemons: And on the Israeli side?
On the Israeli side there may be a problem with the [policy] position but not with the leadership, in the sense that decisions are respected and the government is in control. As for the position, Israel should have decided that either we do this on our own or we get the Palestinians to do it, knowing that they won't be immediately successful. If you want them to do the job, then organize international pressure on them. But once we do the job, it gives an excuse for the extremists to carry out their attacks. [In this regard] Israeli attacks, for example in Hebron and Nablus, were justified only if they really prevented an immediate attack, a ticking bomb. If this was not the case then the attacks were not justified.
bitterlemons: How would you change the Israeli approach?
Meridor: We need to set a target of a border for Israel. If the roadmap can do this, then Israel should stick with it, even if there are violations here and there and we need to defend ourselves. We should give the Palestinians the option to do the [security] job and [we should] build the fence more quickly. If I were doing it two years ago, the fence would be built now, and would include the main settlement blocs near the green line that we planned to include inside Israel in the future. This would leave room for negotiations when they come, and provide an incentive for the Palestinians to negotiate.
bitterlemons: But the fence got in the way of the roadmap, and became a controversial issue in and of itself.
Meridor: It was a mistake not to do the fence earlier, but even this difficulty could be mended in a way. It requires leadership on our part: not to make the lives of Palestinians difficult, but to include the settlement blocs. We should tell the United States, the European Union and the world that this is for security, and that we are ready also to remove the remote settlements beyond the fence. This would give us the political room to build up a coalition of agreement.
bitterlemons: At this point in time, can the roadmap/ceasefire process be revived?
Meridor: There are only two options. One is to revive the roadmap and withdraw and give the Palestinians security and political sovereignty over large parts of the West Bank and Gaza. We don't do everything at once, but we create a border, on the other side of which there is a Palestinian state. This is an imperfect solution, but it relieves us of a demographic ticking bomb.
The other option is that we do the job, defending ourselves everywhere, including in the streets of Gaza and Nablus. This is much more dangerous security-wise and politically. So either we do the job everywhere or they do it in lands we withdraw from. As long as the roadmap is not officially dead we should not bury it.
bitterlemons: Can we depend on the United States to shepherd this process skillfully?
Meridor: The US has its own problems now in Iraq. There has been no problem with the US attitude here. But it depends whether the US is ready to invest the leadership to revive the roadmap.
Dan Meridor has served as minister of justice and minister of finance in past Israeli governments. He led the Center Party in the last two governments.
bitterlemons: Recently, it has been said that the ceasefire cannot be over, that Palestinians have no other choice right now, and that even Hamas doesn't really have a choice.
Abu Layla: I think that there is a chance that a ceasefire could be agreed upon once again, but this is not the only possibility. A new ceasefire will have to have better guarantees in order to be respected by both sides--especially by the Israelis--and in order to be convincing for the Palestinian movement and the Palestinian people. Otherwise, I think that the present cycle of violence will continue and perhaps become more violent than what we have seen over the last three years of the intifada.
In spite of that, I believe that the option of a negotiated settlement is, in the final analysis, the only option that could end this struggle. For the time being, I think that the conditions for this option have not yet matured, mainly because Israelis have not come to the conclusion that they have to address the main needs and rights of the Palestinian people, even within the framework of the roadmap.
bitterlemons: Do you support the roadmap?
Abu Layla: I have a lot of criticisms of many of the provisions of the roadmap. From the beginning, I thought that the unconditional acceptance of the roadmap by the Palestinian leadership, even before it [the roadmap] was formally presented to both sides was an error--not because the roadmap should have been rejected, but because this opened the way for the Israeli rejection of the roadmap through its "comments" on the text.
Now the roadmap has become a general framework for strenuous negotiations between the two parties, and without the international supervision that was promised in the text itself. The whole time framework that was included in the text has exploded, leaving the Israelis in complete control of the development of the process and therefore capable of dictating the terms. This makes the roadmap an Israeli solution, rather than an international compromise between the two parties.
I think that there are positive aspects within the roadmap that could be a basis for the future of a negotiated settlement, especially the call for an independent sovereign Palestinian state and the call for an end to the occupation of 1967.
bitterlemons: What is your impression of the government of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas?
Abu Layla: The attitude taken by the present government towards the negotiations on the roadmap is basically incorrect. I think that they have drifted along with Israeli and American attempts to undermine all of the positive aspects of the roadmap and to turn the present process into a series of security dictates. This has weakened the popular base of the present government and may gradually lead to its collapse.
bitterlemons: You were one of those who called for Palestinian national dialogue with Hamas. Do you think that there have been positive results of this dialogue, and how can this dialogue continue?
Abu Layla: There was a positive result of this dialogue in that, for the first time in the history of the Palestinian movement, there was unanimous agreement on a ceasefire with Israel. This did not occur even in 1980 or in 1981 in Lebanon. All the ceasefires that were declared by the Palestinian leadership had people that opposed them and sabotaged them.
Now, for the first time, we have a general consensus on this ceasefire on the bases that were developed by the different factions, which are actually the same terms included in the roadmap itself. Even those factions that are against the roadmap have actually adopted the same terms for the ceasefire that were included in the roadmap.
This was a step forward and I think that this could have been a sound basis for continuing dialogue in order to arrive at a common platform for a unified national command to include all of the Palestinian factions, and also the Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization.
bitterlemons: You are a political leader. You said that it is possible that the violence could get much worse. Personally, how do you feel about that? Is the prospect of a very violent turn of events worth it?
Abu Layla: Personally, I feel very much distressed, of course. I think that what we are actually asking for and what we are fighting for is a peaceful settlement that is based on recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to an independent and sovereign state within the borders of 1967. If the Israelis agree to that, and if the Americans actually press the Israelis to meet this Palestinian demand, I think that we could have a very simple and very short way out of this continued violence.
I do not feel comfortable with the continuation of violence and war, but this is an option that has been forced upon the Palestinian people. They have to fight to the end. If they have to do it through military means, then they will--despite the hardships.
But they will do it not because they want to fight, but because fighting is necessary to reach their goal of a peace that meets their national aspirations, and the aspiration of independence.
Qais Abu Layla is a member of both the politburo of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Central Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
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