After the overwhelming Palestinian success at implementing the ceasefire amid international concern, and with the passing of a very quiet few weeks in which the Palestinian side brought an almost total halt to military activities against Israelis, Palestinians are looking forward to the next step. From a Palestinian perspective, the current ceasefire can only be consolidated and maintained through a political process that re-instills the Palestinian people with the hope that it is possible to peacefully negotiate an end to the Israeli occupation.
Palestinians consider it odd that Israel continues to count tens of Palestinian “terrorist acts,” considering the complete lack of casualties on the Israeli side. Meanwhile, another crucial component of consolidating the ceasefire is Israeli reciprocity. Palestinians should be assured that this is not a unilateral ceasefire but rather a Palestinian initiative that will also bring an end to Israeli violence and restrictions.
During the last few weeks of Palestinian ceasefire, the Israeli army has continued its offensive operations in Palestinian areas, maintaining Israeli tanks in areas under Palestinian control and invading periodically to kill, arrest and demolish. The most recent incident occurred in Gaza, where three Palestinian teenagers were killed and their bodies then mutilated gruesomely by the Israeli army.
Moreover, the Israeli policy of restricting the movement of Palestinians, pursued with growing intensity by Israel for over one year, has continued in spite of the successful ceasefire. All of these events leave Palestinians with grave doubts over the possibility of consolidating this ceasefire.
While United States special envoy Anthony’s Zinni’s recent visit to the region renewed Palestinian hopes, unfortunately, he has already departed again without any hint of launching the political process that many were hoping for. He did not even suggest a timetable for implementation of the other components of the Mitchell report, which include confidence-building measures, cessation of Israeli settlement activities, implementation of those articles in the Palestinian- Israeli interim agreements that have not yet been implemented, and resumption of talks on final status issues from where they left off.
It is possible that Zinni has once again bought the Israeli argument that a successful ceasefire has not yet happened, but it is also possible that he failed to convince this Israeli government of the need to move forward and fulfill its obligations as per the Mitchell report.
The time is right for either an American or an internationally coordinated effort to attempt to fill the current vacuum with a political initiative. There is a great need to build on the current ceasefire, which is the first of its kind since the beginning of the Intifada fifteen months ago. If this vacuum is not filled with a political initiative, then chances are great that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will once again succeed in renewing confrontations between the two sides. Without an end to the Israeli siege and other provocations, the Palestinian Authority will be unable to justify its position, its hold on the ceasefire will loosen and the current opening will be lost.
Mr. Ghassan Khatib is a Palestinian political analyst and director of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.