Optional and problematic

The second phase of the roadmap was always the most problematic part of that document, particularly to the Palestinian side.

Phase II calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state with provisional borders for a transitional period. From a Palestinian perspective, this has serious problems, but the Palestinian side was able to live with the document because it stipulates that the clause about "provisional borders" was optional and would be implemented only if the parties agreed. In other words, the second phase does not have the same level of binding commitment that the first and last phases embody.

Palestinians at all levels were very clear in rejecting this part of the roadmap. No contradiction was seen, however, in accepting the roadmap in general and committing to implement the obligations on the Palestinian side while maintaining reservations over this optional phase.

The reason for rejecting phase II was the fear that the "provisional" borders might become permanent, especially in light of the Palestinian experience with the "transitional" phase of the Oslo agreement. The Oslo process was supposed to last four years, but has continued until now. This was one of the major causes for the eruption of violence and confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians.

Secondly, any provisional border arrangement will imply tolerance for Israel’s illegal settlement expansion at least in parts of the occupied territories. This, in other words, would only accommodate Israeli settlement policy.

The motivation behind the idea of a state on provisional borders was the fact that the issue of borders is one of the thorniest issues in negotiations. Yet Palestinian objections to the idea stem from the fact that Israeli settlement expansion is partly motivated by an attempt at shifting the demarcation of possible borders in Israel’s favor in any two-state agreement. Consequently, delaying negotiations and the determination of borders will only allow Israel to get away with its attempt to maintain its illegal occupation on at least some of the occupied territories that are supposed to form part of the future Palestinian state.

In fact, the border issue ought to be the first that is negotiated. Fixing the borders at the outset will pacify some of the tension, especially that created unilaterally and by force created by Israel’s "facts on the ground" in order to preempt negotiations for two states.

The parties must either adhere to international legality and the agreed terms of reference for the peace process, including the relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council such as 242, which consider Israeli control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem illegal, or to the roadmap, which calls for "ending the occupation that started in 1967".

Without either, there can be neither peace nor progress toward peace. With the problems inherent in phase II of the roadmap, it would make sense for the parties to skip that phase and go straight to phase III and final status negotiations.