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Looking beyond disengagement

Some of us in Israel and Palestine who would like the disengagement to lead to a new bilateral political process have been meeting to discuss options for moving ahead. Such a meeting was held this past weekend in Jericho attended by 25 Israelis and Palestinians, including some very senior former officials from both sides. The range of options discussed included a continuation of unilateralism all the way to an international trusteeship for the West Bank and Gaza.

Most of us believe that a new bilateral negotiated process on final status issues is necessary, but very unlikely. The complete absence of trust between the sides will not enable them to return to the negotiating table for serious negotiations in the near future. For that to happen there will have to be early signs from the Palestinians on their willingness to relinquish the right of return, and for Israel to agree to the 1967 borders with minor territorial swaps and a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem. There are no secrets here and no ways of getting around what everyone knows is the price for an Israeli-Palestinian permanent status agreement.

On the other end of the spectrum, turning the problem over to the international community and creating a trusteeship in the territories is equally unlikely, and a lot less desirable. The international community is not willing, nor are the Israelis or Palestinians interested in that level of international intervention.

Another option is to go back to the road map. The EU, led by the British presidency of Tony Blair, will take the lead in calling for the sides to return to the road map. We will then get back into the argument regarding implementation. First, the Palestinians and the Quartet will state that the implementation must be in parallel, while Israel will claim it must be sequential - meaning that first the Palestinians must dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and only then Israel will freeze settlements. The Palestinians will claim they have completed their Phase I obligations, while Israel will claim that on the overriding issue of terrorism they have not even begun.

The Palestinians will demand moving immediately to Phase III - or permanent status negotiations. The US and Israel will demand that only after Phase I is complete can we move to the creation of a Palestinian state with provisional borders, as called for in the road map. The Palestinians will indicate that the road map speaks of this only as an option, and that they reject this option.

The Palestinians don't want another interim agreement that will take another 10 years. That is precisely what Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants. The road map calls for the Quartet to monitor the process, but they never created a monitoring mechanism.

ANOTHER OPTION is to continue with unilateral steps. Israel could advance a second disengagement, and then a third and maybe a fourth. Sharon, apparently in order to subdue some of the opposition to the first disengagement, has stated that there won't be a second one, but he also stated that Netzarim is equal to Tel Aviv. If Sharon doesn't have plans to evacuate Tel Aviv, we can easily put this famous statement in the annals of promises made by politicians that they didn't really mean.

A second disengagement would first be directed at Hermesh and Mevo Dotan, two settlements left in the middle of nowhere in the Jenin area. The second disengagement should probably include all of the settlements to the east of the separation barrier. Real estate values have already nose-dived there in recent months because they are on the wrong side of the fence.

A second and third disengagement will be politically easier to carry out if the Gaza disengagement goes smoothly and if the Palestinians take control and prevent violence. A disengagement under fire or one that explodes in our faces will make future disengagements next to impossible.

Next time the government should do away with the disengagement authority and forgo any new town planning and caravillas, and simply give each family of settlers who turn over their keys a one-time, generous payment. Let them all find their way back home to Israel. It will end up costing a lot less money.

If a second and third disengagement is possible, it would help greatly if it were done in coordination with Mahmoud Abbas. If, after a summit between Sharon and Abbas, Sharon were to announce a further disengagement, this could be presented as a victory for peace and non-violence and not another prize to Hamas and terror, as the first disengagement is perceived by most Israelis and Palestinians.

Palestinians can match Israeli unilateralism with their own form of unilateral steps. It would be best if these were coordinated with Israel so we have a new political process that could be called "coordinated unilateralism." It is also very important that the Palestinian Authority take control and claim sovereignty over any territories vacated by Israel.

Palestinians don't have to declare statehood because they did that in 1988 and more than 100 countries recognized the virtual state. They could reissue the declaration, stating that the borders of the state are the 1967 borders and that east Jerusalem is their capital - a statement of that kind would even be helpful as a form of declaration of intent.

AFTER THE Gaza and northern West Bank disengagement it would be wise for the Palestinians to claim sovereignty and ask the United Nations to vote on full membership in the organization for the State of Palestine. The president and government of Palestine should then ask all the nations of the world to establish their embassies in a temporary capital until Palestinians one day raise their flag in east Jerusalem.

The best course would be to move ahead with an improved road map, providing more elaboration on the Bush vision of two states for two peoples - perhaps in the form of a Bush letter of guarantees to Abbas, similar to the Bush-Sharon letter, or in the form of a Bush declaration of principles for his vision, similar to the Clinton parameters.

The road map also needs more clarification and elaboration on the issue of the Quartet monitoring and verifying the implementation. If it is not possible to move back to the road map, the parties should move ahead with additional unilateral and coordinated steps.

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