The Disengagement Confusions

Gershon Baskin*

 

April 23, 2004

 

More than 20 Palestinians have been killed in the past days by the Israeli army. Not all of them were armed fighters and they included several young children. Hundreds more have been wounded. This kind of violence is likely to continue and even increase as the Israeli disengagement plan moves forward. Israel is concerned that its withdrawal from Gaza may be interpreted by the Palestinians as a sign of weakness – “Israel is running away under fire from the Palestinians”. So in order to make sure that everyone knows that Israel is not afraid and is not running away from Gaza, Israel has decided to show its strength and its ability to use its force, almost indiscriminately. How else could the death of so many children and civilians be explained?

 

President Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have all agreed that the unilateral Israeli disengagement must fit into the Road Map for Peace. The Road Map is just one of many failed attempts of creating and sustaining an Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The Road Map did have its advantages and good points, amongst them a phased performance based plan with an international monitoring arrangement and a defined and set final outcome. The main problem with the Road Map, like with just about every other Israeli-Palestinian peace program is that no one actually implemented it.

 

Now, months after the Road Map had been left to rest (RIP), we have been informed that the Israeli plan to withdraw from Gaza and from a small part of the West Bank, which is being negotiated between the US and Israel, is now part of the Road Map.  I am honestly confused. I know the Road Map very well. (see http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2003/20062.htm) The Road Map consists of three distinct phases: Phase I: Ending Terror And Violence, Normalizing Palestinian Life, and Building Palestinian Institutions -- Present to May 2003; Phase II: Transition -- June 2003-December 2003; and Phase III: Permanent Status Agreement and End of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict -- 2004 – 2005. Where the Israeli disengagement fits in I have no idea.  Just as a guess, I suppose it could fit into Phase II, but Phase II states in the first paragraph: In the second phase, efforts are focused on the option of creating an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and attributes of sovereignty, based on the new constitution, as a way station to a permanent status settlement. As has been noted, this goal can be achieved when the Palestinian people have a leadership acting decisively against terror, willing and able to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty. With such a leadership, reformed civil institutions and security structures, the Palestinians will have the active support of the Quartet and the broader international community in establishing an independent, viable, state.”  Is the Israeli withdrawal the beginning of the creation of the Palestinian state in agreement with Israel and the members of the Quartet, as stated in the Road Map?  I doubt it.  Where does this fit into the Road Map? I have no idea, but if Bush, Blair and Sharon all agree that it does, who am I to question their wisdom?

 

As far as I can understand, the Road Map is being rewritten and rearranged. Maybe it is for the best, because once it is opened up then anyone of us can suggest revisions. Maybe, in the end, we will come up with something that is more implementable.  If you recall, there was a major “misunderstanding” with regards to the implementation process of the Road Map.  The argument was: is implementation supposed to be parallel – meaning both sides simultaneously implement their obligations without direct relevance to the speed of implementation of the other side; or is the implementation supposed to be sequential – meaning that first the Palestinians implement their security related obligations and only after that Israel would begin to redeploy and to dismantle illegal settlement outposts? Well the argument is somewhat moot because it was neither parallel nor sequential – there simply was no real implementation at all.  Each side did take a few steps in the right direction.  Actually, the Palestinians took more steps like creating the post of Prime Minister (which it seems they are now about to reverse), reforming the Finance Ministry, the payment of Palestinian police and soldiers through bank accounts, preparing for elections and for a new Constitution, etc. etc. The problem is that the main obligations that they were supposed to implement concerning security were left mostly on paper. Israel too made a travesty of its obligations especially on the issue of removing and dismantling illegal settlement outposts.

 

For various reasons it seems, in retrospect, that the sides simply did not have enough incentives to implement the Road Map.  There was so little confidence on both sides regarding the chances of implementation of the other side that they both decided to wait it out and see what would be the reaction of the Quartet.  The reaction of the Quartet was somewhat similar to that implementation of the Road Map by the parties.  The US monitoring team came and left almost without being noticed at all.  The other three members of the Quartet caved in to US demands to lead the process and when the US exited the triplet was not to be seen either.

 

Now enters the process of unilateralism, Israeli withdrawal, disengagement and redeployment negotiated with the US and not with the Palestinians. This is being called compatible with the Road Map.  In response there may be several possible Palestinian unilateral steps such as doing away with the post of Prime Minister and returning all authority to the Palestinian president, possible unilateral declarations of independence, etc. etc.  It is doubtful however, that anyone will say that these steps are compatible with the Road Map.  But it is clear that this playing around with the Road Map as if it was a puzzle with many unconnected pieces, does allow for others to play at it as well.  I at least feel free to engage in this exercise.

 

So let’s see what we can come up with.  The first thing I would suggest is to move the International Conference of Phase II up to now – a kind of pre-Phase I period.  In the Road Map it states:

I would suggest that the International Conference be convened immediately, or at least as soon as possible and not “after the successful conclusion of Palestinian elections” but prior to those elections with the main task of the International Conference to set into motion the steps necessary to hold Palestinian elections.  In addition to completing the new elections law, the Constitution, the voters’ registration process, steps must also be taken to facilitate an Israeli withdrawal from the cities and towns and the return to law and order on the streets of Palestine.  International election observers are necessary but they would not be enough.  There will also be a need for international peacekeepers or police in order to facilitate the Israeli withdrawal and the transfer and take over of police responsibilities by the Palestinian Authority.  If democracy is truly a motivating force for the American President and if democracy is a precondition for peace as so many Israeli leaders state, then everyone should grab on to this proposal and turn it into reality.  I would suggest that the parties request the assistance of the US, NATO, the EU, Egypt, Jordan, Canada and Turkey.  I am sure that if requested to assist, they would do so.

Soon after the successful conclusion of Palestinian elections, the newly constituted Palestinian government and the Government of Israel should attempt to resume the political process through third-party assisted direct negotiations on the implementation of the rest of the Road Map. There must be a process for resumed negotiations in order to ensure that the Israeli disengagement from Gaza and parts of the West Bank will be orderly and will serve the interests of peace making and building stability.

There is always the possibility of completely scrapping all of these interim measures and moving right ahead to permanent status negotiations, but that seems to me to be even less likely than me becoming Prime Minister of Israel. So I will continue to suggest that we be creative in our thinking within the framework of what might be possible. In that spirit, I invite all of the readers of these ideas to add their own suggestions – let’s see what we can come up with.

 

 

Dr. Gershon Baskin is the Israeli Co-Director of IPCRI – the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information
http://www.ipcri.org