Parity and compromise

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The roadmap document proposed by the United States government is the major initiative being discussed in Middle East diplomacy. While it would be easy to come up with a much more dramatic and bold process towards peace, this plan does distinguish itself in that it defines its ultimate goal as ending the Israeli occupation and establishing an independent and viable Palestinian state. Given that, I explore here more incremental ways of transforming this roadmap to make it a viable peace plan.

Maintaining the principle of reciprocity and parallel compromise is the most obvious first step towards peace. The roadmap to date contains too many incremental steps that rely on each other before the implementation of significant compromise on the part of Israel. In a workable document, each stage should lead to the betterment of the living and economic conditions of both peoples, thus emphasizing a cooperative spirit, not one based on force or domination.

It is not satisfactory to define the role of Palestinians as “ending violence and terrorism” and the role of Israel as “doing what is necessary for a democratic Palestinian state to be established,” as does the current roadmap. These unbalanced assertions place the onus of the responsibility on Palestinians (as if they were occupying Israel) and preempt the rest of the roadmap with the idea that Israel can get by with resting on its laurels.

Both parties must embark on the roadmap process (Stage One) by agreeing to stop the use of violence, end the Israeli occupation in Areas A and B (areas designated by previous peace agreements) and stop all Israeli measures that impede the freedom of movement and ordinary lives of Palestinians. Both parties should refrain from any activities that will prejudice the final conclusion of talks, including Israeli settlement activities. The goals at this stage include improving Palestinian economic conditions and allowing the continuation of the Palestinian reform plan.

In order to put the roadmap in an internationally legal framework less subservient to the regional imbalance of power, there should be an international conference held to gain world momentum and the United Nations Security Council should issue a resolution adopting the roadmap peace plan.

Both leaderships should issue statements renouncing violence and committing seriously to preventing violence and pursuing this peace plan. The Palestinian leadership will renew its recognition of the state of Israel, which in turn will affirm its recognition of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and establish an independent sovereignty state. In addition, and further giving this roadmap a legal backbone, each party will separately express its commitment to abide by international humanitarian law.

With international humanitarian law and legal precepts governing expectations for both armed Palestinian activists and the security branches of the Palestinian Authority, it is much easier politically to “reconstruct the Palestinian security apparatuses under the supervision and assistance from the Quartet Committee and return to the commitment to the signed agreements, including a halt to all kinds of military activities outside the law and a total halt to violence.”

In addition, this formula demands no less of Israel than of Palestinians.

Here, the Quartet Committee should work out a detailed plan for simultaneous operations to end the Israeli security presence in the Palestinian Authority areas and Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement (which also hinder the movement of the security forces), and allow Palestinian security to re-shoulder security responsibility in those areas. This mechanism should facilitate both the ending of Palestinian violence and Israeli military attacks, including assassinations, arrests and home demolitions.

There is currently an overwhelming Palestinian consensus that negotiations of substance should not be held as long as Israel is proceeding with unilateral steps that prejudice the outcome of those talks. Israel must at this point undertake the necessary steps for a total settlement freeze, to be monitored by the Quartet or another party commissioned by the Quartet.

This step and the implementation of an economic revitalization package for Palestinians will perform as public incentive for support of the roadmap. No diplomatic initiative can take hold as long as Palestinian unemployment remains at 60 percent.

The original roadmap contains numerous line items detailing the process of Palestinian reform, including the appointment of a prime minister, elections, the writing of a constitution–all of which are to take place before any substantial movement by Israel. In Palestinian eyes, this micromanagement is both insulting and sets up numerous obstacles to the roadmap as a whole. Each line item can be defined by Israel in such a way as to allow it to stall on its own commitments.

That is not to say that Palestinians could not benefit from technical support, expertise and monetary backing to develop our systems of government and legislation. However, all of this can happen through the support, development and continuation of efforts assisted by the International Task Force, and be undertaken by the various Palestinian departments, ministries and private sector companies.

While the roadmap does stipulate the reopening of Palestinian Jerusalem institutions closed by Israel, it makes no mention of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. As in any conflict, good faith and recognition that this conflict is coming to an end would require a gradual prisoner release. The vast numbers of prisoners is often overlooked as a source of antagonism between the two sides and their release would do much to ease the transition away from conflict to peace.

As the last step in the first stage of the roadmap, Palestinian elections should be conducted under international supervision. Immediately afterwards, the second stage should commence with another international conference to renew the parties’ commitments. All efforts to reinforce calm should continue through the empowerment of Palestinian security and improvement of Palestinian living conditions.

In the last stage, “Palestinians and Israelis will commence negotiations launched at the international conference and sponsored by the Quartet Committee, crafting a permanent and comprehensive final status agreement ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in 2005 through an agreed upon and negotiated settlement between the parties based on Security Council resolutions: 242, 338, 1397, and 194 and the end of the occupation that started in 1967. The refugee issue will be solved in a just and final manner on the basis of Resolution 194, and the issue of Jerusalem will be solved in a manner that considers international legitimacy, the political and religious concerns of the parties and the religious interests of Jews, Christians and Muslims in the world.”

Mr. Ghassan Khatib is a Palestinian political analyst and director of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.

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