b i t t e r l e m o n s. o r g
    November 29, 2005 Edition 41                       Palestinian-Israeli crossfire
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  The Gaza crossings and third parties
. A model for the future        by Ghassan Khatib
The agreement was only made possible because of a systematic, active and balanced third party role.
  . Three important precedents        by Yossi Alpher
This was the first time in five years that the Bush administration did some effective arm-twisting.
. Let's not get delusional        an interview with Eyad Sarraj
We have a long history of not trusting the Americans, and even if they do good, we suspect there is something bad behind it.
  . An international upgrade        by Moty Cristal
The process represents the three emerging pillars of international involvement: legitimacy, mediation and implementation.

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Nothing has changed
by Ghassan Khatib

The agreement that was recently reached on the Gaza crossings, including the Rafah crossing, was a very significant event and can be seen as a model to be followed in trying to solve other components of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

It is significant for several reasons. Firstly, it should lead to an end to restrictions on the movement of goods and people, one of the most serious impediments to any economic recovery. Indeed, the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza would have been rendered insignificant if it was not followed by such an agreement to allow for the free movement from the Gaza Strip to the outside world, the Gaza Strip to the West Bank and vice versa.

In this context, and although the Rafah component was the most visibly exciting part of the agreement, since it connects Gaza to the outside world and especially since it is the first opportunity for Palestinians to control a border of their own, the Karni component of the agreement might be economically more important in the short term.

The reason is that 38 years of Israeli occupation have left the Palestinian territory, and especially Gaza, heavily economically dependent on Israel: almost all of Gaza's trade is with Israel rather than with Egypt or any other country. Thus the Karni crossing, where goods cross in and out of Gaza, is of vital importance, especially now with the beginning of the agricultural season as Palestinians start to export and market the first harvest cultivated in the greenhouses in the evacuated Israeli settlements.

But as the Rafah component of the agreement is being implemented, there are some concerns among Palestinians, as well the elements of the international community involved in this issue, over the timely and proper implementation of the Karni crossing component of the agreement, as well as the part of the agreement that should allow a convoy system to facilitate movement between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It is well to remember how important these components are to ensure that economic recovery can at least be attempted. Without this, all other efforts will be in vain.

Secondly, in addition to the economic, political and humanitarian importance of opening up Gaza, the way in which this deal was negotiated and concluded carries many lessons that can be applied to other aspects of the conflict.

The agreement was only made possible because of a systematic, active and balanced third party role. That role started with the efforts of James Wolfensohn and his team, representing the international community and committed to international law.

The EU then managed to bridge the gap in confidence between the two sides with its decision to take on the third party monitoring role. Both parties are confident that the EU can ensure that implementation of the agreement adheres to both the clauses of the agreement itself and international standards. Furthermore, the EU will also work to increase the capacity of the Palestinian side to deal with customs proceedings and border security protocol and supply the Palestinians with the necessary equipment.

Finally, the agreement was cemented after the direct and serious last minute intervention of high-level US officials, particularly Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Her determined involvement effected changes in positions of the parties that were necessary to sign the agreement.

At a time when there are positive changes taking place in the political landscape on both sides, the lessons learned from the Gaza crossings agreement should be considered a model for further agreements. A determined Quartet envoy, backed by active third party mediation ought to now stand a good chance of getting both sides to implement at least the first phase of the roadmap.- Published 28/11/2005 © 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.

Three important precedents
by Yossi Alpher

The Gaza crossings agreement ostensibly deals with largely technical issues: the modalities of Gaza's border crossings. But it also embodies three extremely important precedents, all of which concern the international community, or "third parties".

First, Israel under PM Ariel Sharon has opted to remove all its personnel from a Palestinian border with the Arab world, the Gaza-Egypt crossing at Rafah. This is particularly remarkable when we recall that the most liberal Israeli-Palestinian peace plan produced thus far, the Geneva accord (which in its border arrangements is based on the January 2001 Taba negotiations and the Clinton plan), calls for a three-year ongoing Israeli security presence at Rafah within the framework of a genuine peace agreement. Now Israel, without making peace, has abandoned that demand in favor of a third party presence.

True, goods imported to Palestine and entry of non-Palestinians will still be channeled through Israel, at Kerem Shalom. But this reflects at least in part the Palestinian economic requirement that the Israeli-Palestinian customs envelope remain in place. From the security standpoint, Sharon has agreed to a unique precedent, one that is likely to determine the nature of arrangements at the Jordan River bridges as well, if and when Israel withdraws from all or even part of the Jordan Valley.

The second precedent concerns the identity of the third party that Israel has agreed should represent its security interests at Rafah: the European Union. This is the first time an Israeli government has agreed to trust the EU with an operational role in monitoring an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Finally the EU is "playing" instead of "paying". If the 70 EU monitors at Rafah succeed in training Palestinian border control personnel and representing Israel's security needs, this will establish a basis of confidence for an expanded European political/security role in the future.

The breakthrough to agreement also witnessed the debut of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as a forceful mediator between Israelis and Palestinians. In a larger sense, this was the first time in five years that the Bush administration did some effective arm-twisting at the highest level between Israelis and Arabs, persuading Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to drop some of their more stubborn demands and allow an agreement to emerge. Rice devoted only two days to the task, yet the inevitable comparison is to the heady days when her predecessors in Republican administrations, Henry Kissinger and James Baker, shuttled back and forth for weeks and months between Jerusalem and Arab capitals and invoked the authority of the American president in order to wring separation of forces, peace and summit agreements from suspicious Israeli, Syrian and Egyptian leaders.

George W. Bush is a far more reluctant Arab-Israel peacemaker than were Nixon or Bush senior. He has a very different order of priorities in the Middle East, beginning with Iraq and Iran. Still, hopefully, Rice will be encouraged by this modest first successful foray into peacemaking and will try her hand again after Israeli and Palestinian elections, if and when the opportunity for another breakthrough presents itself. In the words of Quartet economic facilitator James Wolfensohn, who only a day before Rice's arrival was so frustrated he threatened to quit: "to push [the agreement] over the edge, one needs not envoys [like myself] but secretaries of state."

Thus the Gaza crossings agreement represents a good start, however brief and delayed, toward investing the right level of third party energies in Israeli-Palestinian relations. What that level will be in the coming years will depend on the nature of the governments in Jerusalem and Ramallah and their preference for negotiations, unilateralism or stalemate. The Gaza pullout, ostensibly a completely unilateral act, has demonstrated third party involvement at its best. Note, too, that it was preceded by an unprecedented Israeli-Egyptian agreement regarding the Gaza-Sinai border that bodes well for future security cooperation between Israel and its neighbors.

But all of this is hardly a sign that peace is around the corner. The United States and the European Union cannot impose peace on a skeptical and reluctant Israeli leader like Sharon or a willing but weak leader like Abbas. A third party can do only so much in the absence of committed and effective local leadership.- published 28/11/2005 © 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 was a senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.

Let's not get delusional
an interview with Eyad Sarraj

bitterlemons: What do you think of the Gaza crossings agreement? Sarraj: In principle it's a good beginning. As a Gazan, I am happy to be able to travel freely through Rafah, though I haven't tried it yet. For the first time in 38 years I will be able to move freely without an Israeli soldier humiliating me by ordering me to sit down, or shut up, or go and see an intelligence officer or go back home.

bitterlemons: A lot was made of the symbolism that this is the first Palestinian-controlled border.

Sarraj: I don't take that too seriously. We know, and we should not delude ourselves, that we are still under effective Israeli control. Israel will maintain a special unit in Kesufim where they will monitor the movement of all Palestinians. Israel has the right to stop anyone for six hours at Rafah, and can put its case to the Europeans and the Palestinians, and the Europeans may decide to turn people back.

And let's not forget that our IDs and our passports are still issued by the Israelis. Our names, dates of birth, families and addresses are all registered in Israel. Effectively, Israel is in control. Also, Israel continues to exercise exclusive control over our airspace and territorial waters. All this tells you that we are still under Israeli occupation rule.

However, there is room for some kind of symbolic authority, and some Palestinians, particularly some ministers, are excited about this, a bit too excited, perhaps for personal or political reasons. But we don't take them too seriously.

bitterlemons: But you don't denounce the agreement, as some of the opposition factions have done?

Sarraj: No, I won't denounce the agreement. As a Palestinian living in Gaza, it is very good to be able to move from Gaza through Rafah to Egypt without any Israeli soldier there to humiliate me. This is a real achievement, and maybe this could be--we have to be a little optimistic--the beginning of something even better.

bitterlemons: Does this have a significant psychological impact?

Sarraj: I believe so. I think that Palestinians in general feel that this is a good moment, because we are able to move freely, although we all understand that we are not in total control of our lives. We do not have a sovereign state and we should not delude ourselves. We shouldn't go to the other extreme and say, "close the border, we want to live under direct occupation again". There are now no Israeli settlements; that is very good. We got some of our land back; that is excellent. We can now move freely to Egypt; that is fantastic.

And we must also take into account that the Israelis will not interfere directly. Now, if they interfere, they will do so through a third party that we have accepted, namely the Europeans, who are not part of the occupying forces.

bitterlemons: The agreement also stipulates a convoy system between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as well as clauses on facilitating the movement of goods at the Karni crossing. How important are these?

Sarraj: They are vital, and I believe the Israelis will do everything possible to prevent them from being implemented. This Israeli government is not at all interested in a peaceful solution in which there is a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. They are interested in forcing the Palestinians to ask for a state in Gaza alone. This is why they will do everything to hinder parliamentary elections, because they are an expression of national sovereignty, using Hamas and terrorism as justification; and they will complicate the issue of the convoys, again under the excuse of security.

bitterlemons: There is another aspect to this agreement, which is the third party role.

Sarraj: I very much welcome the European involvement in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and I even welcome European involvement in Palestinian life. I hope Europeans will be more involved at all levels, by sending more consultants, in addition to money, to help us restructure our authority, plan strategically and in general help us found a state based on the rule of law and scientific advancement and development. I don't believe this Palestinian Authority is able to do so alone, and I welcome the Europeans, who are not an occupying force and with whom we should strengthen our strategic alliance.

bitterlemons: What about the role of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice?

Sarraj: I welcome her role. I think there was pressure by Rice and her camp on the Israeli government that resulted in this agreement. I think Washington is very interested in making the Gaza experience succeed.

At the same time, we have a long history of not trusting the Americans, and even if they do good, we suspect there is something bad behind it. The question we'll always ask is: how far will the US pressure Israel, when it hasn't pressured Israel to uphold UN Security Council resolutions, respect Palestinian human rights or follow the path of negotiations and the peace process? How far will Washington go to face the Zionist lobby? But for this agreement, I am grateful to Rice.- Published 28/11/2005 © bitterlemons.org

Dr. Eyad Sarraj is the head of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program.

An international upgrade
by Moty Cristal

"It is a dream come true for us to be here to celebrate the reopening of the Rafah terminal as a free crossing between us and our brothers in Egypt." With these solemn words, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas opened the Rafah crossing last Saturday, minutes before he stamped his diplomatic passport with the "free-of-Israeli-security" stamp. It was an historic event, albeit still a reversible one, in the long process of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This development was achieved after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice concluded a frustrating negotiating process between the parties and Quartet special coordinator James Wolfensohn, forcing Israel and the Palestinian Authority to sign an agreement that officially introduces the concept of an active third party role in post-disengagement Gaza.

This concept isn't new. During the months leading to disengagement, various informal negotiations took place among Israelis, Palestinians and international representatives to plan and design the "day after". It was evident that addressing the Israeli interest in ending the occupation while ensuring security and the Palestinian interest in free access to and from Gaza would require an active international role. "At the border with Egypt, it is envisioned that there would be a Palestinian-manned immigration and customs office together with international personnel responsible for weapons search and entry denial to blacklisted individuals", we wrote in September 2004, a group of Israelis and Palestinians under the auspices of the Toledo International Center for Peace.

When Israeli experts first considered this idea, the politicians were reluctant. For the leadership, conceding any security to a third party requires a careful gradualism, having in mind the lawless violent environment of Gaza and failed experiences with UN forces in Lebanon. This gradualism is embodied in the "Agreement on Movement and Access" regarding the Gaza crossings, and it marks a change in Israel's approach toward the role of third parties.

More active international involvement is a direct result of realities on the ground, both regional and global. A weak Palestinian governing system and the unilateral disengagement approach held by the Israeli leadership have created the space for international involvement. The nation-building campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq have added significant experience and "lessons learned" within the international community. Today, an international model could assist the Palestinians in their nation-building while leaving space for negotiated arrangements with Israel.

An active international involvement, when negotiated with Israel, enhances Israel's long term interests as it assists it to gradually overcome the "occupier" mentality without posing an irreversible constraint on its freedom to fight terrorism. International involvement is also crucial in supporting capacity-building on the Palestinian side, which is an Israeli medium-term interest. Despite what some of the critics argue, Israel is depositing neither its security nor its foreign policy in the hands of a third party, nor did it do so in Lebanon. But it could and should use modern models of international involvement to better manage the conflict, until it is ripe for resolution.

Moreover, this agreement indicates a significant shift in the positioning of the international community regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The dignitaries who participated in this process represent the three emerging pillars of constructive international involvement: legitimacy, mediation and implementation. Wolfensohn represents the required international legitimacy for any arrangements between Israelis and Palestinians, a legitimacy that could be gained solely through consensus among international actors and their negotiations with the parties. Condoleezza Rice represents the sole mediator who can strategically deliver the parties--a performance dependant on the extent it correlates with US national interests.

The third and equally important pillar is the role of implementation. This is the role that requires the parties' trust, the ability to accurately read realities and adjust policies accordingly, and the talent to facilitate endless mini-negotiations with patience and responsibility and to guarantee the implementation of agreements reached. Egypt and the EU are currently the implementers, watchfully learning their new role.

In the near future, as a consequence of deep currents within the two societies, the conflict will remain in a "low-to-no trust" environment. This should force Israelis and Palestinians to seek not trust or a final status agreement, but rather gradual arrangements that a) allow a visible process of capacity-building on the Palestinian side; b) construct mutual respect, which is significantly different than trust; and c) encourage the international community to serve as an implementer and guarantor of good-faith implementation of agreed arrangements.

Back to Rafah. The Saturday crossing of 1,600 Palestinians to Egypt is only one element, though the first and a very symbolic one, among several arrangements agreed by the parties. Unfortunately, like any agreement this one includes many "good-will clauses", "implementation committees" and "constructive ambiguity" that in our case tend to become "destructive certainties". Still, there is reason for optimism in the introduction of this new element in the Israeli-Palestinian system: an active, on-the-ground, third party role. In this context, the Rafah crossing should be seen as a "mini-pilot" toward crucial Palestinian success in Gaza.- Published 28/11/2005 © bitterlemons.org

Moty Cristal is a political analyst and a negotiation consultant. He is CEO and founder of NEST Consulting.

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