The Road to Peace

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It looks like it might be the end of the road for the Road Map for Peace. The short-life span of the Road Map can be attributed to many causes including the main one –” the parties did not implement their commitments and obligations –”both of the parties. Like a dejavu of the entire Oslo process, each side finds it much easier to blame the other side for non-implementation of their obligations than to take full responsibility for the non-implementation by itself. But unlike Oslo, it may be that the implementation of the Road Map was impossible from the outset and herein lays its primary weakness.

The first problem with the Road Map is that Israel views the entire process as one in which the Palestinians must first implement their security commitments and only then Israel will begin implementing its commitments on removing illegal outposts and freezing settlement building. Israel is also required to return Palestinian life to normalcy, meaning the removal of check points and barriers within the occupied territories and redeploying the IDF to positions held prior to September 28, 2000. Israel’s implementation thus far has been limited to relocating several checkpoints and to periodically issuing an increased number of work permits for Palestinian laborers and merchants to enter Israel, only to be withdrawn after each terrorist attack. Israel asserts that the Palestinians must implement their security obligations prior to any real Israeli implementation –” meaning that the Palestinians must now dismantle the terrorist infrastructure and organizations.

As a student of conflict resolution and peacemaking, the Israeli demand makes a lot of sense. One of the main (of many) reasons for the failure of the Oslo process was the continued existence of an armed struggle reserve capability, kept in place by Arafat, to be used as determined necessary at anytime throughout the process. As a result of so many Israelis becoming victims of terrorism and in light of the US led world war against terrorism, it seems more than logical to demand that before any real peacemaking can be made, the Palestinians must first make a commitment, through actions, to remove the terrorist threat. Only then, according to this logic, would Israel be in the position to make what it perceives as real concessions and take on great security risks by withdrawing from strategic positions held within the occupied territories.

The problem with this logic is that there is no Palestinian leadership today that believes that it is possible to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure and organizations without leading to a Palestinian civil war, and no one is willing to lead Palestinians into a civil war. So the Palestinian plan has been based on achieving a ceasefire, first by internal agreement with the Palestinian organizations and terrorist groups, and then with Israel. The Palestinians assess that a mutual cessation of violence will create an environment that would enable Israel to implement its commitments and as a result there would be greater confidence and support for the Road Map process on the Palestinian side. Abu Ala believes that he would, through a political process, including national and local elections, be able to co-opt the opposition (Hamas and Jihad) into becoming the Palestinian equivalent of the Northern Irish Catholic Sinn Fein while leaving the Palestinian equivalent of the IRA behind in the annals of history. Neither Israel nor the US buys this plan and course of action. During the last three-day Herzliyeh conference, one Israeli leader after the other repeated the mantra: first security and then peace, and not the reverse.

So now with growing Israeli, Palestinian, and US assessments that the days of the Abu Ala regime are numbered and with a continuation of the Israeli and US assessment that Arafat is not a partner (by Arafat’s choice by failing to choose to rule), Sharon with the help of his deputy Olmert have declared their plan. Israel will redeploy unilaterally along defensive borders that it determines and at the same time remove settlements that Israel determines are located in areas that are going to be within the areas of a future Palestinian state, as Sharon sees the borders of that future state. The unilateral actions might include Israeli annexation of Palestinian lands determined by Sharon to be excluded from any possible future Palestinian state (this was the veiled hint in the Sharon speech of last night).

Sharon is playing a leadership role under difficult circumstances. Some would say: why doesn’t he show real leadership –” Ben Gurion type leadership – and go directly to the end game –” negotiate the permanent status agreement and the end of conflict? Those who ask this question simply have no understanding of Sharon and of the psyche and political assessments of the vast majority of the Israeli public. Sharon will not negotiate any permanent status agreements prior to the clear commitment of the Palestinians, through actions not words – that prove they are truly heading towards peace. The Israeli demand, and no less than this, to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure and organizations is what is required to demonstrate that the Palestinians have really made the decision that peace is the only option –” or as the great Anwar Sadaat said: No more war, no more bloodshed!

The Palestinians will not do what Sharon demands because they perceive this as surrender, humiliation and likely to lead to civil war –” a war that they are not willing to launch for the kind of illusive promises they find in the Road Map. Palestinian politics have always sought and preferred consensus rather than internal strife. They are certainly not going to risk civil war for something so intangible as a verbal declaration from Sharon that Israel will make painful concessions. There is no Palestinian Ben Gurion on the horizon who would be willing to sink the Palestinian Altalena –” as so many Israelis demand. It simply won’t happen.

So it seems that the Road Map for peace is un-implementable. Perhaps this is the main reason why the Quartet has disappeared and why Ambassador John Wolf and his team of monitors have left the region. They too understand that the plan that they created cannot be implemented as they had hoped. Their despair has left a dangerous void that will be filled by all kinds of unilateral steps that will not enhance the chances of creating peace. I hear more and more Israelis and Palestinian say that we must come to the conclusion that peace is not possible. Palestinians translate this into the adoption of the one-state option –” a plan that will in my view lead to decades of cross-communal conflict and bloodshed that will turn Israel and Palestine into Sarajevo (in Israel/Palestine we have had some 3200 deaths in three years, in Sarajevo the conflict cost some 250,000 casualties before people came to their senses. Israelis translate their despair into higher fences and wall and into unilateral redeployments. Perhaps there are more options?

Other Options?

The Road Map for Peace could be replaced by several adjustments to it converting it into a Road for Peace that might be more implementable. Taking into account the assessments above, we must find a way to break the inextricable link between Israeli and Palestinian views on what must come first. The Israeli-Palestinian version of the chicken or the egg is irresolvable so we must find a way to address the fundamental needs of both sides thereby enabling them to implement what the Road Map demands and what both parties have agreed to do. It seems to me that the best way to advance is to make the Road Map much much more explicit. The end game simply must be spelled out in much greater detail, including a target dateline for implementation. Sharon and Abu Ala must enter into immediate and intensive virtual permanent status negotiations. They must arrive at their own version of Geneva. It would be declared and understood from the beginning of those negotiations that once a declaration of principles on permanent status had been reached and an agreed timeline for implementation had been signed, then they would return to the Road Map and implement all of their commitments and obligations to the fullest and without delay.

During the period of negotiations, a mutual cessation of violence would be observed. Any breakdown of the cessation of violence would not endanger the end of the negotiations on the virtual permanent status declaration of principles. The virtual permanent status declaration of principles would replace Phase III of the Road Map and would be implemented in accordance with the Road Map following the successful full implementation of Phase I and II. The United States would facilitate and aid in the negotiations of the virtual permanent status declaration of principles. The United States would provide the parties with the guarantees and assurances necessary to facilitate reaching an agreement. The United States would return to Israel/Palestine with a robust monitoring and verification team to assist and facilitate the implementation of the Road Map.

Under these terms the Palestinian Authority could no longer claim that the vagueness of the Road Map is a disincentive for implementing their security obligations. The Government of Israel would have less hesitation in implementing its commitments on settlements and redeployment because these would be linked to the virtual agreement and in this way would enable Sharon to confront the painful concessions that much of the public will feel within a framework that is more likely to bring about the hoped for peace. The Israeli implementation would be linked to Palestinian performance which would also provide greater assurances for leading towards peace.

Unilateralism –” The Last Option

While it is clear that if the Road Map does fail and Sharon actually does implement unilateral steps, first of all any Israeli redeployment and removal of settlements should be viewed favorably. This would be a step in the right direction. If unilateralism does become the only game in town, then efforts should be made for a series of coordinated unilateral steps that would ease the tension and protect human lives on both sides. These steps could be coordinated between the parties directly, something unlikely to occur. The other alternative is for them to be coordinated through the United States. In this case, there would have to be an American acceptance that the Road Map is dead and that at least until after the new administration is in place in Washington, either in November 2004 or after January 2005 (depending on the outcome of the elections), that the main task is to keep the level of violence as low as possible and to prevent unilateralism that will pre-empt future possible agreements.

So in short the following is a recap of my suggestions:

Make adjustments in the Road Map including:

– Direct US assisted negotiations on a virtual permanent status declaration of principles that would replace Phase III of the Road Map.

– Mutual cessation of violence during the negotiations of the virtual permanent status declaration of principles.

– Postponing the full implementation of Phase I of the Road Map until after the virtual permanent status declaration of principles is completed and agreed upon including a time line for implementation.

– Elements of Phase I should continue to be implemented including the removal of illegal outposts (because they are against Israeli law and Israel is a State governed by the Rule of Law); and Palestinian reforms, such as election reform, constitutional reform, financial and security reforms –” because they are fully within the interests of the Palestinian people to do so.

– Preparations for Palestinian elections and conducting Palestinian national elections should be moved from Phase II to Phase I if the conditions are right for doing so –” this is in the interests of both sides.

– Once the virtual permanent status declaration of principles is reached, both sides would rapidly and immediately implement all of their remaining commitments in Phase I with US assistance and US monitoring and verification enabling them to move through to Phases II and III of the Road Map.

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