A new chance for peace

The latest declarations made by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom did not come as a total surprise, but as a result of several internal and external factors, such as Palestinian steadfastness and sacrifices which proved to Israel that it will not triumph in its battle against Palestinians.

No Palestinian deludes himself into believing that Palestinians can win the military battle against the Israeli army which has the most modern and deadly weapons. At the same time, Israeli leaders must not think they can break the Palestinian will and longing for freedom and independence.

In Italy, Israeli leaders declared they were in favor of a cease-fire and said they were ready to halt the construction of the wall of separation and to modify its path. This is the first time ever since Sharon came into office that Israeli leaders (extreme right wing) show such willingness that will enable PM Ahmad Qorei to convince the Palestinian factions to respect the cease-fire.
However, the cease-fire must not be an end in itself; it is the entry gate towards implementing the road map, starting talks on the establishment of a fully independent and sovereign Palestinian state, ceasing construction works on the wall, removing those parts of it that separate between Palestinians and their lands, halting settlement expansion and withdrawing to the 28th of September 2000 lines, in order to pave the road for a withdrawal till the 1967 lines.

Amongst the internal Israeli factors that lead to such a change in position are the dwindling economic situation (such as the looming catastrophe if the Israeli Workers Union, The Histadrot, goes ahead with its general strike next week) and the declarations made by four Israeli Generals (previous leaders of the Israeli Security Apparatus) who warned that their government’s current stances will lead Israel towards the brink of hell. They called on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza, to remove settlers and to recognize the independent Palestinian State. Moreover, Lieutenant-General Moshe Ya’alon, IDF Chief-of-Staff, set a furor in Israel when he publicly criticized the government, accusing it of having lost all political insight and of forcing its soldiers into a lost battle against Palestinians that will not achieve anything.

On the external level, one of the most important factors was the American administration’s pressure exerted in private against the Israeli government, while at the same time providing public support to Israel at the UN.

It has become clear that the Americans miscalculated the situation in Iraq. The Iraqis did not greet the allied forces with roses, as Defense Secretary Wolfowits predicted. Instead, Iraqi resistance to the occupations forces increased and more than 9000 American soldiers were injured in Iraq (according to Mark Benjamin, AP, 14.11.2003), based on the latest statistics made public by the Pentagon. Moreover, and according to the same source, 197 Americans were killed, and “the American forces had to evacuate 6861 soldiers deemed unfit health-wise to continue the fighting”.

The increase in Iraqi resistance and in the number of US casualties led the US administration to quickly review its position (especially after it failed to bring international forces to Iraq). Paul Brimmer (the US Administrator in Iraq) declared that a new interim Iraqi government shall be formed before June 2004 in an attempt to lessen the anger of American allies (namely the EU) and to facilitate UN work in Iraq.

Colin Powell flew to Europe in an attempt to bridge the gap the war in Iraq created between Europe and the US. Then the US asked Silvio Berlusconi to invite Sharon to Italy and to convince him to return to the table of negotiations and to accept a cease-fire as the situation has become very grave. Italy, which heads the EU at the moment, supports the pressure the US exerts on the concerned parties to resume Middle East peace talks.

Moreover, Collin Powel and EU foreign ministers agreed to provide support to the new Palestinian government and to give it a chance. They opposed the construction of the Wall and of settlements and underlined the need to resume talks in order to implement the road map.

Strategic Planning Departments in Israeli security apparatus fear the consequences of a quick American withdrawal from Iraq. They expressed their fears in the editorial column of “Yediot Aharanot” newspaper on 17.11.2003 in which they said: “even if the Americans say they will withdraw once a temporary sovereign government is formed in Iraq, the truth is that the US Administration is planning for a quick withdrawal from Iraq. But such a withdrawal will only encourage “terrorism” and “reward” it, it will seem as if terrorism has won the battle. This will have an effect on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Therefore, political negotiations must resume.

Again, a light can be seen at the end of the tunnel. Matters should be run wisely. Arab countries must insist that the road map be implemented. Why? Because they will benefit from this occasion in order to restore some balance to their relations with the Americans, a balance lost when the American occupation in Iraq started.

Sharon is in a real stalemate, economically, politically and militarily. But this time, neither the international context nor the local will help him get out of it.