Peace by Pieces
It took weeks of negotiations for Israel to hand over the Palestinian cities of Jericho and Tulkarem to the Palestinians. Months have passed since Sharm el Sheikh and we still haven’t reached any real rebuilding confidence and trust between the sides. The negotiating agenda hasn’t come near to discussing how to return back to September 2000, as stated in the first phase of the Road Map. The release of Palestinian prisoners by Israel was supposed to be an Israeli good-will gesture but has turned into another conflict issue and common understanding on it seems very far away. Months have passed and we are still waiting for the first signs for peace. Have we been naively optimistic believing that with the new changes and the new era, the situation will improve? The situation is still so fragile and volatile, and both people have not seen any benefits from all of the flowery words and promises still waiting to be fulfilled.
Some actors in the International community haves tried to move the process forward, but these efforts have brought about little impact. In Sharm el-Sheikh, the Palestinians and Israelis successfully convened their first meeting under the environment of promising change. The only substantial outcomes of the summit were the mutual declaration by the two leaders on total cessation for all kinds of violence between the two sides and a return of the Ambassadors of Jordan and Egypt to Tel Aviv.
Now we are back to talking about the Road Map and when it will begin? The Palestinians believe that the Road Map has already commenced, but Israel is speaking about "the pre-road map phase" during which time the Palestinians are expected to prove that they can be trusted. It seems that Israel’s determination to delay the Road Map process is indicative of a decision to postpone the creation of a Palestinian State with provisional borders as offered in the Road Map. Acting outside of the Road Map, Israel is demanding that the Palestinians fulfil their obligations while stating that Israel will not implement its obligations until the Palestinians have completed theirs.
The Palestinian President achieved success in bringing all the Palestinian factions and movements to announce the end of the armed Intifada and to declare a period of calm, but that too has not evoked a parallel Israeli response. The American administration supports Israel in its assessment that the Palestinians must prove themselves first, while Israel is only being asked to ease the situation on the ground for the Palestinians, but this only in accordance to unilaterally determined Israeli security considerations.
The Israeli Government has to stop hindering Mr. Abba's credibility and capabilities. While the Palestinians are making progress on their obligations, particularly in the area of security, Israeli actions of creating new realities on the ground are inconsistent with a two states future. The policy of building new settlements and the expansion of others, especially in Jerusalem, must be ceased by Israel or stopped by the international community. Israel must commence with its military withdrawal and remove the checkpoints within the Palestinian territories. Israeli actions on continuing the construction of the separation barrier and wall on Palestinian territory must also cease. The political process cannot survive another policy of peace by pieces.
Both leaders have to meet, this should have happened already many times on a regular basis. The meetings of the leaders must include agreed agendas for tackling the real conflict issues. There must be a fixed timetable for negotiations, both for the process itself and for the implementations of the agreements. This will not happen without active third parties. The two sides don't trust each other. Trust will only be built by making agreements and seeing their implementation. Trust building is not a separate issue itself detached from the political process. Third parties are needed to facilitate negotiations and to assist in the implementation of agreements, including the important role of monitoring and verifying the performance of the sides.
President Bush talks about the creation of a viable Palestinian State with territorial contiguity, but with Israel’s continued settlements program there cannot emerge such a state. Both President Bush and Secretary of State Rice have promised a higher level of U.S. engagement in the peace process, but on the ground the American involvement is almost absent. The American administration has appointed General William (Kip) Ward to work with the Palestinian security apparatus, but beyond that the American administration hasn’t clearly defined his mission. The Road Map speaks clearly about a process of monitoring the performance of both sides, but never defines what and how to monitor and to whom the monitors should report. No answers have yet been given to this most basic element of the Road Map. The absence of serious third party involvement, especially by the Americans engaged in negotiation facilitation, mediation and arbitration, ensures that the daily tensions, which are a given at the current time, will prolong the current period of no progress.
The US has rejected the idea of creating a high-powered negotiator, similar to Dennis Ross in the Clinton years, though they may establish an office within the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs to monitor events. "Everyone is looking for the United States to go back to our traditional role of delivering the Israelis," a US Administration official said "such pressure will only fail, especially because Israeli PM Ariel Sharon is in difficult political straits, a special envoy is a "tactical question" that is not called for at this point”. Needless to say, Israeli officials support the U.S. approach, "believing high-stakes meetings and summits make the process more complicated and can lead to grandstanding", "The United States cannot replace the parties," Israeli Ambassador Danny Ayalon said. "Real progress follows after the parties take the necessary steps".
The London conference final statement said that the path to peace requires direct talks leading to "a safe and secure Israel and a sovereign, independent, viable, democratic and territorially contiguous Palestine, living side by side in peace and security". To reach that, Israel has to begin living up its commitments in the "Road Map" including the freeze of settlements growth. Israeli officials say they have reached an understanding with the Americans that would allow for settlement growth within existing construction lines. US officials confirmed that and added that the administration is more concerned about "outward physical expansion" of settlements.
PM Sharon makes different statements regarding his disengagement plan, once he describes it as a unilateral step and not part of the "Road Map", and sometimes he describes it as part of the Road Map. He is consistent in urging the Palestinians to accept the disengagement plan as part of the "Road Map". I believe that the Palestinian position should be to reject the disengagement as part of the "Road Map". The disengagement cannot replace Israel’s obligations within the Road Map. If Israel wants to be more “generous” and unilaterally disengage from Gaza, let it be. If the Road Map is allowed to be open to each side to unilaterally interpret its meaning, the Palestinians will be the losers as they were throughout the Oslo peace process.
It is a fact that the Road Map was designed at a different time under different circumstances. The Road Map must take into account the recent changes. The most essential element in the Road Map is its timetable for implementing the parallel obligations of both sides. These obligations must be monitored and verified and mechanisms for enforcement and dispute resolution must be developed and implemented. There is no time to waste. Procrastination will lead to another failed process and the end result will almost definitely lead to another round of violence.
The last months have been a tragic loss of time and energy, almost nothing has moved and nothing will move without serious intervention by third parties, even if the two sides fully believe in the need to move forward (which is questionable). Since there is universal agreement, including from the US and Israel, and in accord with the Road Map, it is in the interest of all concerned for creating a real peace process, a sovereign Palestinian State must be established even before reaching the final status negotiations. In this way, further Palestinian-Israeli negotiations would be conducted on a state-to-state basis with Palestine acting as an equal political entity, and not a non-state actor negotiating for a state.
Both sides are not benefiting from the policy of peace by piece. The “end game” of the conflict is well known to both sides as is the process on how to get there. Neither side should be allowed to delay in the implementation of their obligations.
Khaled Duzdar is the Palestinian Co-Director of IPCRI’s (Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information) Strategic Affairs Unit (SAU) http://www.ipcri.org