The abnormal lives Palestinians have been leading under occupation necessitates a sense of optimism that peace is attainable. However, a justifiable and healthy dose of skepticism remains as realities on the ground contradict Israeli statements of goodwill. Moreover, Sharon’s speech bore an abundance of ambiguities and though subtle, it showed Israel remains unwilling to make the necessary compromises and “painful concessions.”
Pressed to address the issue of Israeli settlements, Sharon vaguely uttered that some illegal outposts will be dismantled. Reuven Rivlin, a senior member of Mr. Sharon’s Likud party, stated that at the most 17 makeshift outposts of mainly uninhabited trailers and tents on hilltops across the West Bank will be dismantled, miraculously allowing a Palestinian state contiguous territory. 117 outposts, illegal under both international and Israeli law, have been created since 1998 and house roughly 700 Israeli settlers. The ‘road map’ requires Israel to remove all outposts created since March 1, 2001, estimated at about 60.
Evacuating a single outpost would create a ruckus in Israel as evidenced by the thousands of settlers who demonstrated against the peace plan and accused the Israeli prime minister of treason. Yet, as an obstacle to a geographically contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank, these outposts pale beside giant settlements like Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim, with some 20,000 residents or more. Even though Sharon addressed the illegal outposts only and ignored the peace plan’s call to freeze settlement growth, security around Sharon was heightened due to concerns that fanatical and heavily armed Israeli settlers might attempt an assassination.
Perhaps most significant in Sharon’s speech is his relentless effort to sideline the ‘road map’ as he only refers to Israel’s acceptance of President Bush’s June 24 speech, which called for a provisional Palestinian state with limited autonomy rather than the fully independent and sovereign state sought by the peace plan.
As for Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, the international credibility and support he enjoys will evaporate unless he is able to deliver on his promise to broker a ceasefire with Hamas and Islamic Jihad within the next couple of weeks. While this task is by no means an easy one, given the clearly signaled disapproval of the Aqaba Summit that these groups have shown, there remains an emergent possibility of success. Both groups have intimated their willingness to hear Abbas, who remains confident that he can persuade them to suspend attacks against Israelis.
It is vital that President Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas work together in a spirit of cooperation and not antagonism, if they are going to succeed in delivering to the Palestinian people the dream of a democratic and independent Palestinian state.
The Aqaba Summit clearly showed that President Bush believes in and is committed to the ‘road map,’ affording the “highest priority” towards its implementation. Bush wished to show his commitment by naming national security adviser Condoleezza Rice as his “personal representative” during the negotiation process. Rice will work with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in negotiating the specifics of future agreements. Moreover, Bush appointed John S. Wolf, assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, to head a group of U.S. government officials who will stay in the region.
While Bush’s sincerity at the Summit is difficult to deny, his willingness to challenge Sharon when push come to shove remains untested. What he does the day after to make sure the commitments get implemented will be a key sign towards his long term involvement in the peace process and would dispel fears that he will pullback as presidential elections near.
We must hope that the Aqaba summit leads to something beyond positive declarations, celebrations and photo opportunities and actually translates into action on the ground. It is, therefore, worthwhile to caution against a let down and to call on all parties to aggressively pursue peace.
Ivan Karakashian was born and raised in Jerusalem, and has lived through both the 1987 Intifada and the latest eruption of the conflict. He graduated from the University of Nottingham, England, with a Law degree. The content above reflects the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of MIFTAH.