The Sharm al Sheikh summit has put the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at a new crossroads. The summit created a situation in which a period of calm and the undeclared ceasefire might be sustained and be developed into a peace process replacing military confrontations with political negotiations. But the lack of substance at the summit and the fragile security situation are both problematic factors. Should the calm be violated, it could undermine the new Palestinian leadership in a way that might bring back the violence with even greater force.
There are several significant considerations that need to be taken seriously by all parties concerned in order to consolidate and sustain the current positive developments. First is a change in the attitude and behavior of the international community. An effective third party role must be developed, and that includes further changes in the American attitude and behavior with more direct involvement in guiding, encouraging and pressuring the parties to move ahead.
The criteria that should guide these efforts must be the roadmap and aspects of international legality embodied in it. Without such a third party role, the strong elements, especially in Israel but also in Palestine, that are not happy with the current calm will continue to try to sabotage it.
The second requirement is linking security progress and the calm with a political process. It will be difficult for Palestinians to stand by and watch calmly as the "peaceful" Israeli acquisition of Palestinian territory continues apace with the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements and the walls that are constructed inside Palestinian territories.
The point here is that time can be a negative factor for the Palestinian side, if it continues to be used by the Israeli occupying forces to further alter the reality on the ground in a way that will prejudice the future aspirations of the Palestinian people concerning an independent state. Only by stopping the illegal creation of facts on the ground does time become a neutral factor.
The third significant requirement to ensure the sustainability of the Sharm al Sheikh understanding would be to undertake quick measures to alleviate Palestinian poverty, reduce unemployment and allow for an economic recovery so the Palestinian people will feel they have a real stake in the new situation. It’s worth reiterating the significant statistical correlation between the increase in poverty and the increase in extremism and radicalization in Palestinian society.
There have been previous occasions in which the two sides more or less reached the point we are at now. But it wasn’t sustained. This time, learning from those previous lessons can make a difference. Israel can’t continue with its insistence that it must have a perfect security situation while continuing its tactics of delaying any political prospect as a way to ensure this. More security will come when political achievements are made. And by the same token, Israel can’t continue the same tactic of insisting that any economic improvement will depend on more progress on security issues.
Such approaches and tactics have backfired before and will backfire again. And this is where the role of the third parties comes in, third parties who should be guided by the roadmap where the first phase is clear in its comprehensive approach that includes all these different legitimate requirements. If taken comprehensively, the roadmap will satisfy the two sides and consequently ensure the sustainability of the current situation. Stalling over reaching specific agreements and allowing the implementation of certain minor measures to consolidate the achievements made so far, such as removing restrictions on Palestinian movement, allowing workers to reach their places of employment, ending the arrest campaigns, releasing prisoners etc., can strengthen the already existing suspicion among many Palestinians that all Israel wants is security, for which there is no intention of paying any price in return.