The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition

A third-party presence is vital



Too much of what has happened in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship since the election of Mahmoud Abbas is reminiscent of the failed Oslo process. The same euphoria has appeared just look at the Tel Aviv and the Palestinian stock markets. The same voices of self-assurance and self-reliance that "we can do it by ourselves" are heard.

But we've seen this movie before.

There are many lessons to be learned from the Oslo process that have not been learned. One of the clearest is that we cannot do it by ourselves. There is absolutely no basis to trust each other. All of the confidence-building measures in the world will not overcome four years of mutual blood-letting.

Both sides breached the Oslo Agreements, almost from the very beginning, and there was no mechanism to resolve emerging disputes. The Oslo Agreements contained dispute-resolution clauses, but they were rarely, if ever, implemented.

These called for negotiating disputes; if unresolved the parties were to go to mediation, but they never defined "mediation," or selected a mediator. After trying mediation they should have gone to arbitration but they never defined the rules for arbitration, or agreed upon an arbitrator.

So disputes remained on the table. Breaches of Oslo became more significant than what was implemented. With so much ambiguity and no one to judge or to facilitate negotiations, mediation or arbitration, what became of the agreements was what we have experienced over the past four and a quarter years.

Is that where this renewed process will also end up?

The most vital element of a renewed political process is security. Everything is linked to security. The release of prisoners, freedom of movement for people and goods, economic development, the legitimacy of both Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and PA President Mahmoud Abbas all are inextricably linked to the question of security.

The success of any new security regime is perhaps foremost dependent on the political will of the Palestinian leadership rather than on their ability. But almost equally important is the security coordination that will develop on the ground between the Palestinian Authority and Israeli security apparatuses.

Renewed security coordination began on Palestinian election day. Israeli and Palestinian officers returned to the same room in Beit El where they had sat together on a daily basis until September 2000. The reports of successful coordination only reinforced the sense that they could pick up the pieces from where they fell more than four years ago.

But, predictably, with the very first crisis after a 10-year-old Palestinian girl was killed by Israeli or Palestinian fire it is still not clear and after Palestinian police deployed in Gaza, and rockets continued to fly, mutual accusations and acrimonious tones flew with greater velocity than the rockets.

Israeli-Palestinian bilateral security coordination is a recipe for failure. Even during the best days of Oslo the bilateral security coordination would receive barely a passing grade. The coordination and cooperation in the field of intelligence was more successful, primarily because of the relatively high level of trust that existed between the Shin Bet and the Palestinian intelligence forces.

But today, there is no way direct Israeli-Palestinian intelligence coordination and cooperation can work.

Israel will not pass intelligence information directly to the Palestinians for fear of "burning" sources. Palestinian security forces will never meet Israeli expectations.

WE HEAR that Israel does not expect 100% results, but it does expect 100% effort. What are the criteria and who will be the judge? What should occur if and when terrorists succeed in killing Israelis? What mechanism can prevent an escalation of violence?

There are no magic answers, but there are some preemptive steps that could help: There is an urgent need for a third-party coordination mechanism on the ground to assist, facilitate, manage and, if need be, enforce a regime of security coordination.

A coalition of third parties led by the US, including Egypt, Britain and Jordan, should establish joint operation rooms in Gaza and the West Bank with sufficient capacities to assess, on a daily basis, field-level incidents. The joint operation rooms, with Israeli and Palestinian liaison officers on site, would assist in coordinating security relations, mediating disputes and ensuring that any security event is assessed and treated directly and effectively, preventing any chance of escalation.

This would not be a peacekeeping force of hundreds or thousands but a small and efficient team of security experts, led by the US. They would be committed and mandated to ensure that security understandings are met and that the spoilers do not have the power to prevent what the large majority of Israelis and Palestinians want movement back on the road map to peace.

The writer is the Israeli co-director of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. www.ipcri.org