An Israeli-Palestinian discussion of the broad territorial, security and legal outlines of a Palestinian state is a good idea that has resurfaced for all the wrong reasons.
United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the current advocates of this approach of reversing the order of the roadmap, did not invent it. Six months ago the idea that the Quartet would determine the border between Israel and Palestine and present it to them as a fait accompli was put forth by the moderate Arab camp. Another variation was the now defunct Sharon-Olmert plan for unilateral Israeli withdrawal as a means of dictating final borders.
All these approaches reflect, first and foremost, desperation. The Palestinian government has proven incapable of stopping terrorism. Israel's government is weak and can't even dismantle a few outposts, much less curb settlement expansion. So much for phase I of the roadmap. The new proposal is reminiscent of the late PM Yitzhak Rabin's resolve to negotiate peace as if there were no terror and fight terror as if there were no negotiations. Ultimately, the extremists won the day.
Rice is also desperate to demonstrate progress in the Arab-Israel peace process for the benefit of the Europeans and the moderate Sunni Arab camp led by Saudi Arabia, so that they will cooperate with American policies in Iraq and regarding Iran. Since neither the Americans nor, apparently, the Saudis and Jordanians would welcome an Israeli-Syrian peace process, there remains only the Israeli-Palestinian track.
Rice's approach also seemingly reflects ignorance. She has declared that all the elements of a successful peace process are well known to both sides, hence if only they would start talking it should be feasible for them to reach agreement. And agreement, in turn, would bolster President Mahmoud Abbas' leadership against the challenge of Hamas.
In reality, the sides are now farther apart than they were seven years ago at Camp David and according to the Clinton formula. For example, Israel then agreed to discuss limited repatriation of Palestinian refugees, whereas it now insists that the only Palestinian "return" be directed to a Palestinian state. Moreover, subsequent events in Iraq and Iran, coupled with the failure of both Palestinians and Egyptians to prevent the large-scale exploitation of the Gaza-Sinai border for terrorism-related smuggling, require that Israel reexamine the notion of turning the Jordan Valley over to a Palestinian state at any time in the near future.
Another failure at negotiating final status would weaken rather than empower Abbas, who in any case appears too weak to deliver on a successful end-of-conflict agreement even if he could get one.
The "diplomatic horizon" approach of reversing the roadmap appears to follow the conflict resolution principle that, "if you can't solve a small problem, enlarge it." Sometimes that works; often it fails. But if we're going to invoke that principle, why not go all the way and place the final status issues in the context of the Arab peace plan. Conceivably, just as the Saudi leadership was able to get Hamas and Fateh together in a unity government, Saudi and other Arab pressure and inducements could be brought to bear on the Palestinians to offer the concessions necessary for making the diplomatic horizon work.
True, Israel traditionally has much to fear from the comprehensive solution concept. The Arab world and much of the Quartet could gang up on Jerusalem and pressure it to make far-reaching concessions. Yet for the next two years at least, Israel will have the Bush administration solidly behind it. It has reason to assess that the Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians and Emirates fear Hamas, Hizballah, Iran and a Shi'ite-dominated Iraq as much as it does. It can legitimately demand a quid pro quo of close security cooperation with much of the Arab world against the dangers from Iran and an anarchic post-occupation Iraq.
Here, then, is a road leading to a diplomatic horizon that is worth exploring. It requires a Saudi decision to lead the Arab world in face-to-face dialogue with Israel on a level playing field. This approach has a better chance of success than the Bush administration's continued bumbling in the region.- Published 26/2/2007 © bitterlemons.org
There has lately been a spike in talk about creating a diplomatic horizon for settling the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, causing politicians and analysts to ponder how such a horizon might stand a better chance of success than previous approaches.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's position that the roadmap does not contradict attempts at fixing final status issues first is an encouraging sign not only because it indicates a seriousness in reviving a political process, but also because it represents a willingness to think outside the box.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, meanwhile, has been promoting ideas contradicting the traditional order of events as established by the Madrid and Oslo processes, in which an open-ended and possibly reversible process of interim arrangements should lead to a final negotiations phase.
These "new" thoughts have probably arisen in response to stronger pressure in the last few months from Arab states, especially Egypt, to fix final status issues first. This pressure, in turn, is informed by the lessons of the failures of the past.
The reasons for the past failures of Madrid and Oslo are many and varied. They range from problems with the structure of the processes themselves, the behavior of the two players and in particular their leaderships and the role of external players, especially the US and regional powers, to the imbalance of power between the sides.
The leaders on the two sides currently seem desperate for political progress mainly because both leaderships lack any strategy or initiative of their own. At the same time the external players, international as well as regional, seem to have realized that the longer this conflict lasts without solution, the greater effect it has on their vital interests. It is clear that Arab countries and international powers are showing greater interest in jump-starting a political process.
In such a situation, it is natural to try and change variables from the past to see the effect that might produce. One important variable is the structure of any process and one way to change that variable is to turn it upside down.
Thus, instead of proceeding with incremental, open-ended, and possibly reversible interim steps that may or may not lead to a negotiated agreement on final status issues, a promising approach would be to agree on the final outcome first. With the terms of reference for such an outcome already agreed as being UN Security Council resolutions, the outcome should be two states living peacefully on the 1967 borders with a mutually acceptable solution to the Palestinian refugee issue.
Once that point has been reached, a process of gradual implementation should stand a better chance of success.
An additional advantage of this approach is the fact that not only the Palestinian leadership but all Arab governments are willing to enter into normal and peaceful relations with Israel in return for an Israeli willingness to go down this route and accept, first in principle and then in reality, to end the occupation of Arab lands. That is the basis of the Arab initiative.- Published 26/2/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is the coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is vice-president of Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Difficult things first
by Shlomo Avineri
It is now pretty clear that despite almost universally repeated incantations, the roadmap is not going anywhere. In a way, it never was a roadmap--but a wish list; nor did it specify how to get from A to B. Above all, it put both sides in the unenviable position of having to take meaningful steps, some of them irreversible, without knowing that at the end of the road a final status solution would actually be achieved.
It is this conundrum that has recently given rise to the idea of trying to address the final status issues first--in other words, starting with the most difficult issues. Given the current weakness of the Israeli government and the internal turmoil among the Palestinians (where there is not yet a state but there appear to be two governments), this may seem counter-intuitive: when you can't solve problems like dismantling illegal outposts or stopping terrorism, how can you expect to approach such fundamental issues as borders, refugees and Jerusalem?
But maybe there is some logic in this attempt to reverse the order. Here are some reasons why.
It is perfectly legitimate for the Palestinians to ask what Israel means when it says it accepts the two state solution. There is not only the question of the size of the future Palestinian state, but also its shape. It is obviously important for the Palestinians to know whether Israel is ready to give up 90 percent or only 60 percent of the occupied territories: yet it may be even more important to know whether this state would control a contiguous territory (despite the inevitable separation between Gaza and the West Bank) or would be a patchwork of isolated cantons, cut off from one another, basically unable to provide the infrastructure for a coherent and viable polity.
Yet there may be an even more significant consideration weighing heavily on the minds of most Israelis and curtailing the freedom of maneuver of any Israeli government toward a successful compromise. This is the Palestinian claim to the right of return of 1948 refugees to Israel. This is not merely a humanitarian issue; it goes right to the root of the conflict. It is also the main factor that, following the failure of Camp David 2000, soured many centrist and left-wing Israelis' hopes for an achievable resolution to the conflict.
For almost 60 years, the Palestinians' narrative has held that the 1948 refugees have a right to return to what were their or their forefathers' homes in Israel proper. This is what appears in all Palestinian school textbooks; this is what all Palestinian organizations, without exception, include in their founding documents; this is what hundreds of thousands of refugees and their descendants hear constantly from their leaders, teachers and preachers.
Regardless of the Palestinians' subjective feelings regarding the justice of this claim, for Israelis it means that the Palestinian agenda is not just about putting an end to post-1967 Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Rather, it aims at reversing the consequences of 1948 when Israel accepted partition while the Palestinians and neighboring Arab countries rejected it. They went to war not only against Israel but also against the United Nations' solution, which was the basis for the international legitimacy of the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state.
No Israeli leader can be expected to make significant concessions on the West Bank and plan the evacuation of tens of thousands of Israeli settlers when he cannot reassure his public that if Israel gives up the territories occupied in 1967, the Palestinians will see this as a final and unambiguous end of the conflict. The damage Yasser Arafat did to the Palestinian cause at Camp David in 2000 is so terrible that, since then, most Israelis believe that the refugee issue is not a humanitarian problem (that obviously has to be addressed generously by Israel) but that it is the Trojan horse by means of which the Palestinians would undermine the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.
There is no doubt that if a Palestinian leader would clearly and unequivocally give up the right of return to Israel--not, of course, to a future independent Palestinian state--the Israeli public would put enormous pressure on its government to take the dramatic leap toward defining the final borders of Israel.
But this is utopian. One can understand the political difficulty for the Palestinian leadership to make such a statement, thereby reversing 60 years of keeping the hope of return burning in the hearts and minds of so many hundreds of thousands of refugees and their descendants. Yet Palestinian leaders can take the first steps: by toning down the rhetoric in schools, textbooks and public meetings; by stating, gently and carefully, that whatever the justice of the claim of return to Israel it is unrealistic and cannot be fulfilled. Yes, the Palestinians need a diplomatic horizon--but the refugees need a human horizon. And Israelis need reassurance that the two state solution is not the first step toward the dismantling of their country.
The issue is not to quibble about the number of possible returnees (as the Geneva proposals tried to do unsuccessfully and to my mind dishonestly). The point is to try to clarify the ultimate parameters of final status: on Israel's side, a willingness to return basically to the 1967 borders; on the Palestinian side, a clear indication that the claim of return has been reversed.
Difficult? Yes. But precisely because it is so difficult, this may be the opening to a compromise that will be hard on both sides yet necessary for any serious attempt at reconciliation. Here clear language and intellectual honesty are a must. Therefore, it may not be totally nonsensical to start with the most difficult issues first.- Published 26/2/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Shlomo Avineri is professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He served as director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the first government of Yitzhak Rabin.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Wide and flexible
an interview with Ghazi Hamad
bitterlemons: There has been talk about diplomatic horizons from the US and Israel. If a final outcome were discussed first, would this constitute a positive development?
Hamad: The political track has different branches and different directions. Sometimes people refer to the Oslo agreements, sometimes the roadmap or the Arab initiative and so on.
In Hamas we have already presented an outline. It is wide and flexible. First, we are not against political compromise or a political solution. We have put the Palestinian demands very clearly: a Palestinian state on 1967 borders, the right of return and so on. It is in line with the Prisoners' Document.
We have also clearly stated that the political file is the responsibility of the PLO and President Mahmoud Abbas is the head of the PLO. He has committed the PLO to political agreements. We have discussed the Arab initiative and international legality.
We are the government and we will not put obstacles in the way of President Abbas to negotiate with Israel and to continue the peace process. We only have one condition: when he wants to sign an agreement, he should go back to the Legislative Council.
Our program for the unity government is very flexible and it opens the way for any political process, if it is appropriate. We can apply different titles and different addresses, but if you put them all together one thing is necessary for a political process: that there are good and serious intentions to do something to help the Palestinians.
bitterlemons: Can a diplomatic horizon be created for as long as sanctions continue against the Palestinian Authority?
Hamad: We have had discussion with representatives of some European countries. There have been some good developments and I think their position is different now than in the past.
But the international community has only imposed conditions on the one side, the Palestinian side. What about Israel? Israel is against returning to the 1967 borders. It is against the right of return. Israel is against removing its settlements from the West Bank. It refuses to recognize our rights to Jerusalem. Until now, there has been no clear statement from Israel on all these issues. So why are conditions imposed only on the Palestinian people?
Recognition is between two states. We are not a state. We are not a real authority. There is no justification to demand these things from us at this point.
bitterlemons: So you are saying that talk of a diplomatic horizon will remain just that for as long as the international community does not treat the two sides equally?
Hamad: We have long experience of a political process and things only got worse. The situation is this: if Hamas or any Palestinian faction accords recognition [to Israel], then where is the guarantee that anything will change for the Palestinian people? What happens after that? Settlement expansions, incursions, the building of the wall are all ongoing. So while the international community is strong in its support of Israel, no one is looking after the interests of the Palestinian people and their legitimate rights.
bitterlemons: If people sat down and negotiated a final agreement first would that change the situation?
Hamad: We are not against a political compromise. If they want to end the occupation then that is a good thing, indeed, we expect the international community to help us in this way.
We are currently in a new situation. There is not now the program of Hamas or any one Palestinian faction, there is a unity agreement, so there is a real chance to change the political game.
When we say we are ready to open a dialogue between the unity government and the western world, the language of boycott and sanctions just won't help. These sanctions have harmed the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories in all aspects of life. I hear new messages from European countries, encouraging dialogue with Hamas. This will help. It will build a bridge between the Palestinian people and the western world.
But if the West only wants to use to the language of conditions, people will turn away. Some 90 percent of Palestinians support the unity government agreement. But ask them if they support the Quartet conditions. You will find maybe ten percent.- Published 26/2/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Ghazi Hamad is the spokesman for the outgoing Hamas-led government.
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