About ten days ago I asked a senior American diplomat who knows the Arab world well and meets regularly with the Palestinian leadership, what he believes the Palestinians most urgently need from Israel. Notably, at the top of his list were not the outposts or the checkpoints, nor even gestures like release of prisoners. First and foremost, he explained, the Palestinians require an Israeli attitude change: more support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and for his peace platform.
That is not what Abbas heard from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last Tuesday. As the cameras were rolling in his Jerusalem residence, Sharon opened their summit meeting by taking Abbas to task for not stopping the rising wave of Palestinian terrorism.
Sharon's anger was understandable, as was his need to demonstrate to the Israeli public that he has not gone soft on the terrorism issue. The summit was ushered in by new and bloody acts of Palestinian terrorism. Just a day earlier, a woman had been caught at the Erez crossing, laden with explosives that she intended to detonate in an Israeli hospital; she had been sent by a faction of the al-Aqsa Brigades, itself a faction of Fateh, Abbas' movement. During the month before her appearance, Israel had demanded, to no avail, that Palestinian security forces apprehend her dispatcher. There could be no clearer statement of Abbas' failure thus far to deal with terrorism.
But there could also be no clearer statement of Sharon's attitude toward the Palestinians. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Sharon's public humiliation of Abbas and his entourage reflected not only genuine anger, but also a constant belief that this is the only efficient way to treat the Palestinian leadership--the only way it will "get the message".
Sharon, after all, has opted for unilateral withdrawal from Gaza precisely because he does not believe we have a viable partner. He belongs to an "old school" of Israelis who have always held that Arabs only understand force and humiliation.
Needless to say, there is a complementary "they only understand the language of force" school on the Arab side. But Abbas does not belong to it. With all his faults, the Palestinian leader has registered some remarkable accomplishments in less than six months: reform, democratization, ceasefire, and the strategy of non-violence. If he is perceived by his constituents as having failed, the alternative is probably another round of violence, with no one to talk to because there appears to be only one Mahmoud Abbas in Palestine.
Prior to their meeting, Sharon and Abbas' aides did agree, with American help, on a number of impressive collaborative steps to facilitate disengagement and render life inside the Gaza Strip more palatable. These include preparations to open air and sea ports, agreed destruction of the settlers' homes by Israel and removal of the debris by Palestine, preparations for "safe passage" and Palestinian force transfers to the Strip, etc. Sharon could have emphasized these positive aspects in his public statement to Abbas, but chose not to.
In recent years, at the height of the intifada, I frequently noted that the situation would not change until one or more members of the leadership triangle of Bush, Arafat and Sharon produced a realistic strategy for peace. In recent months we've witnessed a move, however hesitant, in the right direction.
Abbas replaced Arafat and presented a strategy for peace, albeit an unrealistic one. Sharon took a welcome initiative for disengagement, but unilaterally and without any clear transition to a peace process or even to an additional disengagement. And Bush gave his blessing to both leaders' initiatives, but is too busy elsewhere in the region and apparently too frightened of failure here to go beyond mere rhetoric.
In retrospect, last week's Sharon-Abbas meeting probably should not have taken place. It's no secret that the two leaders preferred not to meet, that the positive agreements were reached beforehand, and that their summit was held under pressure from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The latter's performance while visiting the region prior to the summit was well focused on the immediate task of disengagement. Nevertheless, it suffered from a dangerous American inclination to assess that a one day appearance in the region--the Bush administration's version of Middle East shuttle diplomacy--is sufficient, and that the rest will be done by Wolfensohn and Ward, Abrams and Welch.
Abbas' weakness needs little elaboration. As for Sharon, his need to be seen denigrating Abbas at the meeting demonstrated just how politically vulnerable he really is. He'll be lucky if he reaches the disengagement deadline of August 15 with a majority coalition, and even luckier if the coalition survives the trauma of disengagement itself.- Published 27/6/2005 (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
Some positive movement
by Ghassan Khatib
As expected, the successful ceasefire and relative calm on the Israeli-Palestinian front have managed to attract considerable positive and sympathetic diplomatic attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and particularly to the Palestinian internal situation. In addition to the tens of foreign ministers and prime ministers who visited Israel and Palestine in the last few months, President Bush has received both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and followed up on these two summits with a working visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Two significant developments have taken place in American diplomacy in the Middle East. The first is an increase in the amount and level of attention and the second is an increase in financial support.
A major significance of the Abbas-Bush meeting for the Palestinians is that President Bush, in his statement to the public during the press conference after the meeting, said things that are contrary to some of the assurances that he gave to Sharon last year. By doing this, he moved the American position back into compliance with international legality.
The most prominent example is when President Bush stated that "any modifications to the border of 1967 should be agreed upon by the two parties". That is an important contrast to the previously mentioned assurances to Sharon, in which Bush said that the settlement blocs are a reality that must be taken into consideration when the borders are discussed between the two sides.
One of the things about which Abbas complained to Bush is the way that Sharon is handling his intention to disengage from Gaza unilaterally. In particular, Sharon is not cooperating with the Palestinian side at all, including not giving the information necessary to enable the Palestinians to plan for the day after. He is also insisting on maintaining the closure regime on Gaza by denying Palestinians safe passage from the West Bank to Gaza, as well as an airport, seaport, or land crossing that would enable Palestinians free movement to and from Gaza.
Condoleezza Rice came with the intention to ensure that the withdrawal process is smooth and constructive. She left behind two envoys: General Ward, who is following up on the security aspects, and Mr. Wolfensohn who is concentrating on economic aspects and needs. Wolfensohn has been explicit in expecting cooperation in the process of disengagement. He also expects Israel to allow for conditions that are conducive for economic recovery, including the movement of Palestinians and their goods.
This significant American return to active Middle East diplomacy is a very positive step that can be attributed in part to successful Palestinian efforts. It can also probably be attributed to the fact that Washington realized that Sharon failed to end the conflict by force in spite of the long opportunity that the US gave him to do so.
In spite of these encouraging developments, things are not yet moving positively on the ground. First, there has not yet been progress on the Israeli plan for disengagement, i.e., Israel is still planning to keep the same restrictions on the movement of Palestinians. Second, there is no sign of American success in convincing or pressuring Israel to stop expanding settlements and the illegal wall in the West Bank. Third, and as a result of these two facts, there is little chance for the recovery of the Palestinian economy. From a Palestinian perspective, the criterion for judging the failure or success of America's Middle East diplomacy is whether or not it will allow the resumption of peace negotiations toward the implementation of the roadmap, which includes stopping the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.- Published 27/6/2005 (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|
The test ahead
by Efraim Inbar
The June 2005 Abbas-Sharon summit took place after several delays and with much prodding from Washington. Yet the summit had an air of deja vu, eliciting only limited interest in the media and having little significance.
Since the beginning of the Oslo process in 1993 many similar summits have been held, with identical dynamics. Again and again, exasperated Israelis have demanded that the Palestinians meet their obligations, particularly in combating terror, in order to be able to proceed with the peace process. The Palestinians, in turn, have told their interlocutors that the Palestinian Authority (PA) was too weak to confront Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The Palestinians have always demanded Israeli concessions to be able to show the people that the PA can deliver, thereby gaining strength to put their house in order. The Israelis have usually responded with a few gestures of debatable significance, which have been invariably termed by the PA as insufficient, thereby enabling the latter to ignore its security obligations.
The recent Abbas-Sharon meeting was no different than numerous previous summits between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon upbraided the Palestinian side for the increase in terrorist incidents despite the Palestinian ceasefire, and stated the obvious--that it is in the Palestinian interest to dismantle militias and put an end to the lack of law and order. As expected, President Mahmoud Abbas responded that the PA is weak, and suggested to Israel several courses of action to strengthen him and the fledgling PA. Israel is likely to accept some of the suggestions in order to avoid being blamed for the collapse of the Abbas regime, and will in all likelihood continue to complain.
Over the years, the Palestinians have perfected the nebech (weakling) strategy. In a world of power politics, Palestinian self-declared weakness elicited during the last decade remarkable results: Israeli territorial concessions and generous humanitarian assistance, tremendous international sympathy, many billions of dollars in foreign assistance to the PA, as well as a flow of NGO money to the Palestinian-ruled territories. In addition, most of the western world was willing to turn a blind eye to the emergence of an incredibly corrupt, authoritarian and inept Palestinian regime.
That regime was unwilling to exert its internal security forces (one of the highest ration of police personnel per capita in the world) to establish a monopoly over the use of force. This caused the PA to descend into anarchy, and facilitated relentless terror against Israelis. A corollary result of the PA failures was the ascendance of Hamas in Palestinian politics, which was moderated only by the influx of external support to prevent the collapse of the Palestinian economy.
Only the degeneration of the Arafat regime, and the events of 9/11 that rendered terrorism less acceptable, placed question marks on the Palestinian enterprise and its strategy of ineptitude. The PA had a chance to change its course of action when Arafat died and Abbas became his successor. But the nebech strategy was not abandoned.
Yet the recent summit may well signal that this strategy is losing some of its usefulness. In 2005, Israelis, Americans, and even other important members of the international community are less inclined to be impressed by Palestinian powerlessness. At least for a while, the Palestinian ability to perform has become particularly important for moving ahead in the peace process, due to the impending Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. The goal of the summit was to enhance limited cooperation between the two sides on disengagement.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came to the region to impress upon the Palestinians the need for a peaceful and orderly withdrawal from Gaza, and to push for coordination between the protagonists. The US is busy with Iraq and is concerned about the emergence of a nuclear Iran. Washington's energies may suffice to deal also with Syria, but it has little desire to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian arena. The Egyptians are also involved in ensuring a smooth withdrawal. They are helping the PA primarily in order to prevent the possibility of Hamas taking over Gaza, on their border.
It is clear to all that the test of Abbas' leadership and even of the future of the PA is the transfer of power in the Gaza Strip. In August the PA will acquire a piece of land, witness the dismantling of Israeli settlements, and take full control over Gaza. It will not have to give anything in return, apart from the expectation that Israel be allowed to complete the withdrawal without being harassed by Palestinian militias. Anything less than a clear demonstration that the PA's forces are in control, by preventing looting and terrorist attacks, will be deemed a failure on the part of Abbas and the Palestinian political system.
Abbas runs out of maneuvering time on August 15, the day Israel starts disengagement. It remains to be seen whether the Palestinians will pass the test that lies ahead.- Published 27/6/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org
Efraim Inbar is professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
A plan to make Abu Mazen fail
by Shawqi Issa
The Sharon-Abu Mazen meeting of a few days ago failed to produce any result, proving yet again that the Israeli government, since Sharon's assumption of power, is working to kill any progress toward a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Sharon was comfortable with Arafat's presence, as it allowed him to say that Arafat was not a partner in the peace process. The Americans accepted that deceit, using what occurred at Camp David as if it were proof of Arafat's refusal to make peace.
Sharon continued in this manner with full American support until Arafat's death. The United States used Europe's silence, and perhaps inability to act, to deflect attention from Israel's rejection of the roadmap, in spite of all of its disadvantages for Palestinians. The US placed complete blame for the obstruction of the peace process upon Arafat, who was the one who had accepted the roadmap. The US paid no attention to Israel's rebuff of repeated American calls for the need to freeze settlements.
Arafat had also been blamed for bringing down Abu Mazen when he was prime minister. It was said that Arafat did this because he did not want to achieve peace. However, there were no differences between Arafat and Abu Mazen with regard to the minimal demand of Palestinian rights necessary for a final settlement.
The US showed no interest, however, in the daily crimes committed by the Sharon-Mofaz government in the occupied territories, among whose victims where a number of American and European peace activists, in addition to thousands of Palestinians. Bush continued to be the only person in the world who described Sharon as a man of peace; not even Sharon, previously accused of war crimes, ever described himself in those terms.
This situation continued until Sharon put forward the disengagement plan as an alternative to the roadmap. The disengagement plan aims to rid Israel of the burden of the Gaza Strip while giving it a free hand to annex parts of the West Bank to Israel through the building of the wall and the expansion of settlements in the area of the border zone between Jordan and Palestine.
Bush has made it clear that he supports everything that Sharon wants. Not only did he endorse the Gaza disengagement plan and the wall, but he has announced, for the first time, that new realities on the ground must be taken into consideration. The consequence is no return to the 1967 borders.
Yet the Israeli government has felt itself in a quandary since Arafat's death and Abu Mazen's assumption of leadership. This has especially been the case because Abu Mazen was able to obtain a commitment from all Palestinian forces to halt military operations, which opened the space for negotiations. Israel's actions, however, have quickly demonstrated that Israel is putting in place a plan to make Abu Mazen fail. As such, Israel refused to announce a ceasefire and, except for a few superficial steps, has not taken any steps to ease Palestinians' daily lives.
Neither has Israel implemented the Sharm al-Sheikh understandings. On the contrary, it felt that, in order to continue with its plan, it had to undertake some illusory measures. It thus released some prisoners, although without any coordination with the Palestinians. Not only did it choose on its own the list of prisoners to release, but shortly thereafter it arrested Palestinians in numbers outweighing those who had been released.
Beyond this, Israel did not withdraw its troops from inside Palestinian cities and villages in order to clear a space for Abu Mazen to control security. It withdrew from Jericho knowing full well that this was nothing more than a joke, as the Israeli army was not there in the first place.
From the Sharm al-Sheikh summit until the failed meeting of last week, Sharon refused even to met with Abu Mazen. That proves that the visit of Condoleezza Rice to the region before the Sharon-Abu Mazen meeting did nothing to push the peace process forward. Also reinforcing this was Israelis' leaking to the media of transcripts of the discussions that took place at the meeting. These leaks were done professionally in a deliberate effort to humiliate Abu Mazen and weaken him in his own society.
What the Israeli government is doing will lead to a single inevitable conclusion: it will annul any possibility for a solution on the basis of two states living side-by-side on the 1967 borders.
The history of the conflict and its details demonstrates perfectly that it is impossible to impose a settlement on the Palestinian people that offers less than the 1967 borders. No Palestinian leader can accept less than that. This was one of the lessons of Camp David, although the American government has yet to comprehend its manifest truth.
Moreover, the lack of effort to arrive swiftly at the aforementioned minimum settlement will prevent a two-state solution once and for all. It will weaken the Palestinian forces that call openly for such a solution, and strengthen those who call for a one-state solution. This, as the American government and the Israeli people should understand well, is not what Israel wants.- Published 27/6/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org
Shawki Issa, based in Bethlehem, is a lawyer and human rights activist whose commentaries on Palestinian politics have appeared in numerous publications.
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