A train on a circular track

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Initially, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared repeatedly that the roadmap plan went against all Israeli security and national interests, and placed many conditions before he would consider accepting it. Only weeks later did Sharon acquiesce–under great pressure from the United States and because Israel was the only party who had yet to agree to the document. All the eyes of the world were watching Sharon, and in response he had to move forward to relieve that pressure.

In truth, the roadmap is not so bad for Israel. It allows for a very long period of discussion and does not talk about the serious issues before minor steps. All of the really important questions are postponed until an indefinite date. While Sharon could not escape acceptance of the roadmap, he is counting on escaping its implementation, and the roadmap’s many weaknesses make it an easy wager that Sharon will succeed.

For its part, the Palestinian Authority has no other options. It has accepted all proposed solutions: from Oslo to the Hebron accords, Wye River, Mitchell and the Tenet work plan. The Palestinian Authority is traveling down a single track. It argues that Palestinians will accept the roadmap because they will get something from Israel in return: push the Israeli military back to the pre-intifada borders of September 28, 2000 or stop the growth of settlements, for example. The Palestinian Authority wants to put the train back on the negotiations track because it cannot go on fighting Israeli forces and is receiving little support from Arab countries. The leadership feels itself alone against the immense power and aggression of the Israeli occupation. In particular, Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has always believed that Palestinians cannot gain by armed struggle against Israel and therefore, that we must return to the peace process at any price.

But we have tested Israel many times. For ten years, we made agreement after agreement, without implementation. This is the crux of the Palestinian problem–the Palestinian Authority is always accepting intervention from the United States, the European community, or even the Israeli side, and then afterwards can do little but complain that Israel is not committed and settlements are increasing and Israel is confiscating more land. This language of defeat must stop. We cannot waste more time because throughout, Palestinians are suffering. Their problems are not waiting, as we wait for the agreement of the Israeli side.

The mistake of the Palestine Liberation Organization from the beginning was that it agreed to comprehensive agreement and a partition of the solution. In other words, all problems should be settled, and afterwards the two sides would discuss the implementation stage by stage. Only after accepting the roadmap will we talk about solving Jerusalem, the refugees, the borders–all of the final issues. In order to resolve these complicated problems, we will need twenty or thirty years. It is a train on a circular track and eventually we will return to the very first station.

Currently, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas and Islamic Jihad are in dialogue over the implementation of the roadmap. This is something quite normal because Hamas and the Authority are facing the same enemy: both are looking to end the Israeli occupation. While there are differences over the tactics and means, it is very important that the language used to describe these differences is one of “dialogue”. Repeatedly, Hamas says that it will not use armed struggle against the Authority, and Abbas has also indicated that he will not wield violence against the Palestinian factions.

We are, as one Palestinian people, facing great troubles: Israeli occupation, aggression, home demolitions and assassination. We will not add more weight to our shoulders in the form of clashes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. These two parties have become wise in their disagreements and prefer to sit down and talk. Hamas has turned increasingly pragmatic and wants to give Abbas a chance, but it also has its conditions, which mean that Israel must stop at least some of its illegal and unacceptable aggression. If Israel does not concede, Hamas–or any other Palestinian faction, for that matter–will not remain silent.

While the coming days may see some easing of tensions, it is very difficult to imagine that the roadmap will endure. There are hundreds of obstacles before the parties, and the roadmap offers no path for navigating the most sensitive and important issues. We have seen George Mitchell, Anthoni Zinni, George Tenet, Colin Powell, and now George Bush come to the region, but none of their approaches worked. Prime Minister Abbas will be unable to continue along the roadmap if there is no pressure on Israel to evacuate settlements here in Gaza, for example, or declare the boundaries of a Palestinian state. (A Palestinian state surrounded by Israeli forces or full of settlements dividing Palestinian towns is not an acceptable state.) In this, Prime Minister Abbas is making the same mistake the PLO made in 1993 by agreeing to implement the small things now, and ignoring the big problems until later. Israel will force even the smallest negotiations to take much time, and then there will be something–killing, demolishing, assassinations–Palestinians will react and we will be back at that very first station: how to bring about a real and immediate end to the Israeli occupation.

Ghazi Hamad is editor of Gaza’s al-Risala newspaper, currently closed by the Palestinian Authority, and leader of the Islamic Salvation Party.

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