In recent weeks, an interesting idea has emerged from moderate Arab circles. The same Arab leaders who wish to refocus world opinion on the March 2002 Arab League initiative for a Palestinian-Israeli accommodation are also suggesting a new and very specific order of priorities for dealing with the conflict.
Let the Bush administration in Washington propose and the UN Security Council ratify final borders for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, they argue. And let negotiations begin from this point of departure. Once the borders are agreed, it will be easier to solve the remaining heavy issues.
At some other point in recent history this idea might have had merit. When, for example, President Clinton tabled his plan for an Israeli-Palestinian end-of-conflict agreement in late 1995, it might have been useful to suggest that Israelis and Palestinians drop all other contentious issues and devote their deliberations first to determining their shared borders, based on Clinton's proposal. After all, the Clinton border reflected a substantial narrowing of differences between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders of the day, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat. Perhaps, had they been urged to come to terms first on an agreed border, it would then have been easier to agree on the tougher, "existential" issues like refugee right of return and the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.
Today, the borders-first idea is not really on anyone's priority agenda.
US President George W. Bush is not Bill Clinton. He has never evinced the slightest interest in discussing a two-state solution in any but the most general terms. His power is weakening, and his last two years in office are far more likely to be devoted to Iraq and Iran than to Palestine. Hence, under current circumstances, American sponsorship of a borders-first approach appears to be unrealistic.
Coming from the Saudis and Egyptians, the idea seems to reflect a desperate, panicky search for any sort of gimmick that might somehow extract a peace process from the black hole that is the Israeli-Palestinian situation. The timing of the moderate Arab initiative appears to be linked mainly to the need to demonstrate some sort of achievement so as to get the Palestinian issue off the Arab street agenda and devote Arab energies to countering Iran's bid for regional hegemony, rather than to any genuine devotion to the Palestinian issue.
Meanwhile, back in Israel/Palestine, the Olmert government has no agenda for dealing with the conflict, while things are so anarchic on the Palestinian side that every week now President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) comes up with a new agenda: a unity government, a technocrat government, a referendum, new elections, "bread before democracy".
More than any other factor, then, it is the looming threat from Iran that appears to be dictating the latest Arab peace offensive. In the aftermath of this summer's war in Lebanon, both Israel and the moderate Arab states perceive a need to "clear their agendas" in order to deal with Iran.
In this regard, the most important step Saudi Arabia and Egypt could take in the near future would be to arrange for Israel to open a dialogue with Syria rather than a peace process with the Palestinians. A renewed Israeli-Syrian negotiating framework would be aimed at testing whether the regime of President Bashar Asad is genuinely interested in and capable of delivering on a peace agreement. The ultimate payoff could be to neutralize Damascus as an Iranian ally and geographically detach Iran from direct involvement in the Levant and its conflicts, thereby shortening its strategic reach.
Saudi and Egyptian energies might best be devoted to this task, in Washington, Damascus and Jerusalem, rather than to creating the virtual borders of a Palestinian entity that has failed at state-building and is on the verge of civil war. Not that we do not desperately need an Israeli-Palestinian peace. But a realistic assessment of the Palestinian situation must, for the time being, lead us to the conclusion that the most we can accomplish is to manage this conflict, not solve it. And conflict management in the Palestinian context requires pragmatic, tactical steps--not a sweeping border initiative.- Published 30/10/2006 © bitterlemons.org
The failure of the peace process to produce the desired outcome has provoked much speculation as to why it failed. The different sides to the conflict have different interpretations, mostly blaming the other. But few have questioned the approach on which the process was based.
When the United States and the Soviet Union invited the Israelis and Palestinians to the Madrid peace conference, the basis for the subsequent process, two sets of documents structured that process. One was the letter of invitation and the other the letters of assurances that were given by the US government to the different parties at the conference, primarily the Palestinians and the Israelis.
These documents, which set the frame of reference for the process, determined two phases, the interim and the final. The rationale was that the interim phase would create conditions more conducive to negotiating the final outcome. That included, according to these terms of reference, the substantial aspects of the conflict, i.e., borders, settlements, Jerusalem and refugees.
It is legitimate to question this structure. While the interim phase was intended to pave the road for the final phase, as it turned out the parties to different extents used that period to either prejudice the situation on the ground or promote the kind of final phase they desired.
Israel, for example, intensified settlement expansion in a way that aimed directly at influencing where the final borders would run. At the moment, Israel is constructing a wall along the route Israel wishes to become that border. Such activities, whether now or then, distort future possibilities and thus poison interim stage relations. In other words, a situation is created where the interim stage defeats its own purpose.
Recently, and while the Palestinian leadership was trying to coordinate a political initiative on the eve of the last UN General Assembly session, some Arab countries, led by Egypt, suggested that the terms of reference for the process be restructured to reach agreement on borders first and then work out the necessary steps to reach that point.
It is an eminently sensible suggestion and is based on a strong sense of international legitimacy. International law stipulates a complete end to the occupation. Thus the borders are already determined and any change to these borders not agreed to by the parties is illegal. The roadmap, which was accepted by all concerned parties, also stipulates in its last paragraph that the final objective of this plan is to end the occupation that started in 1967. At Camp David, Israel raised certain concerns about borders that were accommodated by the Palestinian leadership through the principle of a land swap, equal in quality and quantity.
Fixing the borders first will put an end to all the bad faith interim maneuvering and prejudiced practices that are ultimately responsible for producing actions and reactions of a kind that undermine the desire and intention of those pursuing peace.
Settling the issue of borders in advance will not only reduce the tensions and increase confidence, but also allow the two parties to work out non-territorial issues that are of a particularly complicated nature, especially the issue of refugees and Jerusalem. The latter is non-territorial insofar as agreement needs to be reached on how exactly relations between the east and the west of the city are conducted and how free access of all to the city's religious sites is safeguarded, as well as the legal status of these sites.
The only reason not to accept this approach is if one of the parties, to wit, the one in control over the other, does not intend to end the occupation. If that is the case, adopting the above process of borders first will clearly expose that position.- Published 30/10/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the former Palestinian Authority minister of planning, and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.
AN ISRAELI VIEW|
The right concept
by Ron Pundak
When we sat down in Stockholm in the summer of 1994 for the first discussion of what emerged more than a year later as a joint proposal for a permanent settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, we deliberated with two representatives of Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) over the question: how to begin.
In principle, two contradictory concepts were available. One states that the two sides should first jointly define the goal, the end-game, and then fill the agreement with content. The second argues the necessity of reaching agreement on every issue from point zero and building a process from the ground up. At the territorial level it means that the ruling party, Israel, dictates a basic assumption: that the territory occupied in 1967 is not guaranteed in its entirety to a future Palestinian state and that its sovereignty is disputed.
That was the option chosen by PM Ehud Barak in the Camp David II negotiations. From his standpoint, the Palestinians had no "case" for demanding 100 percent of the West Bank. Accordingly, negotiations circled the issue without determining that in principle the Palestinian state would be established through the implementation of UNSC Resolution 242 and on the basis of the Egyptian precedent whereby all territories were exchanged for peace.
In Stockholm, where we encountered this same dilemma, our conclusion was clear: if we want to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, we have to concur from the start that the Palestinian state will be established on all of the territory. This is the Palestinians' basic incentive for an agreement, and from this point of departure we should negotiate the details. Such a negotiating framework needed to be based on an additional set of understandings: that the agreement must deliver security to Israel, that the border would take into account certain Israeli demographic interests and that Israel could not make concessions regarding the Jewish nature of the state.
On this basis, during the preliminary phase of the negotiations over the Beilin-Abu Mazen agreement we took an additional step that helped stabilize the talks. Following upon the understanding regarding the territorial aspect, we sought to examine the nature of relations that we would like to see after peace in the areas of economy, security, culture and border regime. Only after jointly constructing the future environment to which we aspired did we begin to get into the details.
This approach succeeded. Four days before the assassination of PM Yitzhak Rabin we produced a draft that could have constituted the basis for a peace settlement. But Rabin was murdered without ever seeing the draft. Five years later, the Israeli delegation to Camp David operated on the opposite principle: Ehud Barak refused to accept Abu Mazen's proposal to base negotiations on the principle of the 1967 lines and, according to some, doomed the negotiations to failure.
Since that painful failure, and with the exception of a brief episode half a year later that involved the Clinton parameters and the Taba negotiations, it has been difficult for the two sides to effect a new departure. Worse, with the passage of time the lack of mutual trust deepens, with many now assessing that the gap has become unbridgeable. Personally, I don't accept this assumption. Yet it appears that for the two sides, and especially for Israel, it would now be easier to accept an external proposal from the international community--one that would of course be accompanied by strategic assurances.
Under present circumstances, and given the nature of the current political leadership on both sides, it would be difficult to recreate an official negotiating framework based on the Oslo concept. The Israeli side and some on the Palestinian side are more likely to try for an interim agreement that does not even close the territorial file. The Oslo experience, in the course of which both sides abused the agreement's lack of clarity regarding an absolute, defined objective and ended up in violent conflict, proves that in order to reach a solution we need a clear vision of reality.
Today, unlike in the past, the vision of reality with regard to a settlement acceptable to a majority on both sides is almost completely clear. Accordingly, a UN Security Council decision with strong American support would constitute a significant catalyst for a permanent status peace treaty if it replaced 242 and determined that a peace agreement would create a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with equal territorial swaps in areas not exceeding, say, three percent of the territory. Such a proposal need not comprise a precise delineation of the border, which should be determined through bilateral technical negotiations.
Israeli-Palestinian agreement to such a formula could be the first step toward implementing the Saudi/Arab League initiative of 2002. Ultimately it could bring about real peace in the Middle East.- Published 30/10/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Dr. Ron Pundak is the director general of the Peres Center for Peace. Since 1992, he has been intensively involved in track II activities, and was one of the architects and negotiators of the Oslo Agreement.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Why did Oslo fail?
by George Giacaman
It has been oft repeated that had Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and US President Bill Clinton stayed in power, the 2001 Taba talks would probably have led to a peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis.
The point here is not to cry over spilt milk, but to note that the so-called Moratinos Document summarizing what the parties achieved at Taba remains for most European countries and for the Palestinian Authority a benchmark. Any future agreement will not succeed if it regresses from Taba.
To say this, however, occludes the main reason for the failure of the Oslo process and the lesson to be drawn from this failure.
Two main reasons need to be mentioned for that lesson to be clear. The first is that Israel got what it wanted from the Oslo agreement: recognition by Palestinians and the establishment of a civil authority (the PA) to administer the affairs of Palestinians in the form of limited self-rule. It rid itself of the burdens of occupation, both financial and administrative, and the burden of policing the Palestinians, which, as a result of the first intifada, was becoming onerous.
The late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat got part of what he wanted: he was salvaged from political exile in Tunis and he got a foothold in Palestine. Among ordinary Palestinians the hope was raised, but no more than that, of achieving a two-state solution (as they understand it) at the end of the process. But since there was no agreement on the end-result of the process, even in broad outline, since Israel refused to freeze settlement construction as part of the agreement, and given the balance of power between the two sides and the support Israel enjoyed from the US at crucial turns, the process was doomed.
The second main reason for the failure has to do with the success of the state of Israel in neutralizing outside pressure, thanks to its influence on US policy in the Middle East and regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular. This is not a new development, but its main result was that the conflict with Palestinians has become almost completely a domestic Israeli issue, captive to internecine Israeli politics. The short-term interests of Israeli politicians are a priority, and everyone else is transformed into onlookers, observing one Israeli election after the other, hoping against hope that a "peace coalition" will finally emerge.
It should be clear that if Israeli politicians are left to themselves, peace cannot be achieved with the Palestinians. But the lesson has not been learned in Washington. We are now told that the Olmert government is too weak for any "progress" on the peace front, in spite of the Washington's strategic need for such a peace, in the context of its failing policies in the Middle East.
It is clear that incrementalism has failed. It is also clear that "negotiations" as the sole mechanism for progress within the present balance of power between the two sides (political no less than military) will repeat that failure and prolong the conflict.
For negotiations to lead to a credible and stable peace, agreement must first be reached on the broad outlines of the solution. This includes borders, resources, and sovereignty, among others. The recent calls by many Palestinians for the PA to be dissolved have not emerged in a vacuum. Direct occupation is seen as the lesser of two evils in the absence of a serious peace process. Such a process ought to begin at the end. Incrementalism has no credibility.- Published 30/10/2006 © bitterlemons.org
George Giacaman is a political analyst and teaches in the MA program in democracy and human rights at Birzeit University.
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