The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition

Provisional borders, not a provisional state

The difficulties in the negotiations over the transfer of Palestinian cities back to Palestinian control demonstrate the fragility and volatility of the entire process.

Israeli and Palestinian commitments were made at the Sharm e-Sheikh summit last month to get back into a peace process. The slow pace of progress indicates an Israeli decision to demonstrate the highest level of caution possible before once again enabling Palestinians to resume security functions which can determine life-and-death realities for Israeli citizens.

At the same time, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas is facing rising frustration from his people because the promised changes on the ground have not yet appeared. Israeli actions to ease Palestinian movement and release prisoners have been disappointing to Palestinians and the lack of real changes threaten Abbas's legitimacy.

Both sides must take steps to prevent the process reaching another bloody dead-end. To move forward, Palestinians must go beyond the tahadiyeh (lull) agreement among the Palestinian factions. If this is done, Israel must speed up the process.

At an Israeli-Palestinian strategic team meeting conducted by IPCRI (the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information) last weekend with the support of the Adenauer Foundation, joint proposals for achieving progress were developed as policy recommendations to Israeli and Palestinian decision makers.

The team, including security experts from both sides, suggested that the Palestinian Authority should issue a directive stating that during the next three months the weapons and combatants of all forces from Fatah, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad be integrated into the official security apparatus of the Palestinian Authority. By law, they will be subordinate to PA authority. Following the three-month period, anyone who continued to hold unauthorized weapons or engages in unauthorized military activities would be arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated by the PA. The implementation of this law would be monitored by an agreed-upon third party.

Implemented by the Palestinians, this step would be a significant confidence-building measure regarding the reliability and seriousness of the Palestinian government. It would also answer directly the road-map demands to dismantle the terror infrastructure, but in accord with Palestinian terms and interests and not solely as a response to an Israeli or US dictate. It makes Abbas's declaration of "one authority, one gun" into a reality.

MEANWHILE Israel should crystallize its intentions regarding the road map. If the Palestinians implement the above suggestion, along with the other political, economic and security reforms already under way, there will be no valid excuse not to resume the road map. Israel has three main obligations: redeploying to the September 2000 positions, freezing all settlement building and removing unauthorized outposts.

Very soon the dilemma will emerge among Israelis and Palestinians regarding how to relate to the "option of creating a Palestinian state with attributes of sovereignty with provisional borders."

There are a lot of reasons for supporting and opposing this option. Abbas and other senior Palestinians have voiced opposition to the concept of a Palestinian state with provisional borders. They emphasize that there is nothing more permanent than something provisional, and that another interim agreement will needlessly drag out the process by many years. They state that the Palestinians have made a firm strategic decision to move directly to an end-of-conflict permanent status agreement.

On the other hand, at this juncture it seems next to impossible to think that Israelis and Palestinians can resolve the issues of Jerusalem and refugees. Another failed negotiating process could easily lead to a new round of violence.

The IPCRI meeting recommended that both sides support the interim phase, which should be implemented rapidly after both have completed Phase I obligations, including the continued democratization in Palestine.

Implementation should begin with an Israeli redeployment to the positions of September 2000. Following the disengagement from Gaza and the northern West Bank, the newly vacated areas would be designated area "A," under full Palestinian jurisdiction.

The Palestinian state with provisional borders would then be established in all the territories of the West Bank and Gaza plus Palestinian neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, excluding the Old City and the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The settlements would remain under Israeli control until their final status determination. There would be agreed security arrangements for the areas and the roads between the settlements used by Israelis.

THEN THE Palestinians, as a state, would be undertaking their continued responsibilities with a higher level of accountability and responsibility demanded from them by the international community. The new state would gain the recognition of Israel and the international community and would become a member of the United Nations.

Further Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for permanent status would be conducted on a state-to-state basis. The successful functioning of the Palestinians as a state would serve both them and Israel in enabling the two sides to disengage fully in order to develop positive avenues for good neighborly relations.

The international community, through the Quartet, would provide additional guarantees for the continuation of the process so that the interim period would be confined and permanent status negotiations could resume and conclude according to an agreed schedule.

This is how the road map process should move forward.

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