Gershon Baskin

Israeli-Co-Director of IPCRI - Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information



Wednesday, August 13, 2003

With the resumption of violence yesterday, it seems the right time for reflection and thought about where we are and we should be. The Road Map for Peace is as everyone knows, a very problematic document - it has more questions than answers, and is full of contradictions and ambiguities.  Nevertheless, the Road Map does make some attempts to learn some of the lessons for the failures of Oslo - for example the end game of the two state solution is clear both in the words of the document and in the words of President Bush.  There is a mechanism for a process of monitoring and verification of implementation, and some element of coercion towards compliance. The process also has the full backing, commitment, and support of the US President in a way that no US administration since Carter has shown.

The implementation by the two parties - the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, has been far from satisfactory. Once again we have entered into a new peace process with verbal commitments and undertakings that are not being implemented. From the outset there has been an open argument between the parties on whether or not the implementation should be sequential or parallel. The Israeli side has claimed that first the Palestinians must implement their commitments and obligations, particularly in the area of dismantling terrorist groups and confiscating and destroying illegal weapons, and only then, Israel will begin to implement its obligations.  The Palestinians have claimed that the implementation must be parallel with Israel dismantling illegal settlement outposts, freezing all construction in settlements, removing roadblocks, transferring Palestinian towns and cities to the Palestinian Authority, and returning Palestinian life back to normal as it was prior to September 28, 2000. The Americans, while not making a clear determination on which interpretation of implementation is correct, have been pushing both sides to move ahead with implementation.

The internal Palestinian negotiations that brought about the Hudna - or ceasefire,  - with the Hamas and Islamic Jihad agreeing to cease its attacks against Israel was violated with yesterday's two suicide bombings in Rosh Haayin and in Ariel. The bombings took place during US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns visit to Jerusalem and shortly before his visit to Ramallah. This is hours before Israel was to release another group of Palestinian prisoners who were granted clemency by the Israeli President. Now Israel has frozen the release of those prisoners, the upcoming planned Abu Mazen - Sharon meeting is in question and the fate of the Hudna lasting longer is in question. The Hamas and Jihad claim that the attacks come in response to Israel's continued attacks against the Palestinians - in particular last weeks raid of a bomb factory in Nablus in which three Hamas members were killed along with an Israeli soldier. The Israelis claim that information about the Hamas bomb factory was given to Palestinian Minister for Security, Mohammad Dahlan, and that no action was taken by the Palestinians. One senior Israeli officer yesterday morning said me: "Do they expect us to do nothing when the Hamas are making plans for major suicide bombings against us?" Should we not take action to protect ourselves?"

While it must be recognized that there has been significant progress made so far by both sides in beginning to implement the Road Map, there have also been serious elements of non-implementation as well. On the up side, very significant political and economic reforms have taken place on the Palestinian side. The appointment of a new government with a Prime Minister and Parliamentary approval by the Palestinian Legislative Council, the deep revisions and reforms in the Palestinian Ministry of Finance - monetary, fiscal and budgetary controls that have been implemented, the beginning of revisions in the Palestinian security forces, a significant lessening of incitement against Israel in Palestinian media - electronic and written - these are all extremely important to the future success of Israeli-Palestinian peace making.  On the Israeli side, the acceptance of the Road Map along with continuous public statements about the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state, the beginning of removing illegal settlement outposts, and the beginning of the release of Palestinian prisoners (although not part of the  Road Map - a welcome step).

On the down side the list is much longer: the Palestinian Authority has done virtually nothing to dismantle the illegal militia heavily armed throughout Palestine, the Palestinian security forces are still not under a single unified command controlled by the Palestinian government, the Palestinian Security forces have done much too little with intelligence information regarding continued attempts by suicide bombers to penetrate Israel, and incitement against Israel is still too wide spread in the Palestinian media.

On the Israeli side, the actions taken against the illegal settlement outposts continue to raise questions about the lack of the rule of law in Israel. New tenders have been issued for the construction of new housing in settlements even in the Gaza strip. The continued construction of the fence and wall on Palestinian land, creating enclaves and cantons of Palestinians separated from the lands and enclosed in cities and villages that will impact very negatively on their daily lives. The continued closures and blockades that hamper Palestinians' ability to move even within their own territories creates growing anger amongst common Palestinians. Closed Jerusalem institutions have not been reopened. Normal Palestinian life is far from what should be and most Palestinians are still living in situations of extreme limitations of movement and freedom.

The two terrorist bombings should provide a reminder to everyone in Israel of the great price we will continue to pay if the two Governments fail to implement their obligations. This is also the message that the Palestinian public should have understood last week went the Israeli army attacked the suspected Hamas bomb factory in Al Askar refugee camp in Nablus. The publics of both sides will pay heavily if our governments do not implement their commitments under the Road Map. If Israel now responds militarily against Palestinian targets, including against Arafat himself, we will be witness to a new cycle of violence and revenge that will plunge the region into new depths of death and suffering.  If the Palestinians do not now implement their primary commitments of creating one unified security force and they do not begin to dismantle the terrorist organizations in Palestine, they too will be responsible directly for the new wave of violence and revenge.

What must be done?

The sides must carefully and meticulously implement their commitments as stated in the Road Map.  The Palestinians must comply with: "Rebuilt and refocused Palestinian Authority security apparatus begins sustained, targeted and effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure.  This includes commencing confiscation of illegal weapons and consolidation of security authority, free of association with terror and corruption." "Palestinians undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis everywhere." This is quite clear and explicit. Under the Tenet Report a comprehensive book of standard operating procedures for the Palestinian security forces was prepared detailing every step that must be taken. There will be no progress on any other issues unless the Palestinians begin seriously to undertake these tasks.

It is clear that the Palestinian leadership of Abu Mazen fears opening a civil war within Palestine.  It is clear that the Hudna was meant to give time to Abu Mazen and his government to base itself within the society and to gain strength in the eyes of the public. Public support for Abu Mazen and the Road Map has been on the rise.  Abu Mazen and his government had been hopeful that Arik Sharon and the Israeli government would be more understanding of the difficult situation on the ground in Palestine and the need for Abu Mazen to show the Palestinian public that there is a new and real chance to achieve peace.  This has not occurred. Life has not returned to normal for most Palestinians.  They continue to feel threatened each day, they continue to see expanded settlement activities, they continue to see the wall/fence strangle them and their communities, they continue to see Israeli forces in their towns, cities, villages and refugee camps, the continue to see more and more Palestinians arrested in Israeli prisons.

The Palestinian and Israeli publics do not see reality through the eye glasses of the other side. The Israelis claim that they have not seen any real moves on the Palestinian side to change the security situation. They perceive the Hudna as a tactical time-out during which time the Hamas is heavily engaged in rearming itself, preparing new bombs and improving old ones. The Palestinian public does not hear the same reports on this that the Israeli public hears each day in the news and from Israeli politicians and military personnel.

According the Road Map Israel's obligations are equally clear: "GOI [Government of Israel] takes no actions undermining trust, including deportations, attacks on civilians, confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and property, as a punitive measure or to facilitate Israeli construction; destruction of Palestinian institutions and infrastructure and other measures specified in the Tenet Work Plan." "GOI immediately dismantles settlement outposts erected since March 2001.  Consistent with the Mitchell Report, GOI freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements)." "As comprehensive security performance moves forward, IDF [Israeli Army] withdraws progressively from areas occupied since September 28, 2000 and the two sides restore the status quo that existed prior to September 28, 2000."

We have always known and stated that without a forceful international presence led by the United States the chances of advancing any new peace process will be very small. We believe that relying on the two parties to implement their obligations and setting up an Israeli-Palestinian bi-lateral peacemaking process is not possible or advisable at this time - this must be one of the lessons learned from the failed Oslo process. There is a strong rationale backed by research for tri-lateral engagement (Israel, PA, international led by the USA) at all levels of the Road Map process.  The model that best demonstrates this was formerly called the Joint Water Committee.  Over all of the months of violence, terror and fighting since September 2000, the Israelis and Palestinian continued the work of the joint water committee because the United States took upon itself the convening, facilitation, and management of the work of this committee.  It became a trilateral water committee with the US leading the process.  Even two political declarations were issued by the Israeli and Palestinian water authorities during this period.

We are aware that the common wisdom of the two parties and of the US is that if the two sides can move ahead themselves, then this should be preferred.  We beg to differ. The process will be ensured a much higher possibility of success and progress if the international community led by the US takes charge of the process with the same and higher level of commitment shown by President Bush until now. Even meetings of the two Prime Ministers should be facilitated, convened and managed under the auspices of the special Ambassador for monitoring (or someone else selected by the President).  All working groups and other similar meetings between Israeli and Palestinian officials, including Ministers dealing with security issues, should be convened and facilitated by senior US appointed personnel. The logic behind this is that the still high level of distrust and lack of positive views on what is possible to achieve on the ground must be mitigated through the strong US commitment and role in guiding the sides through the process, at least until they reach more stable and safer ground.  There are still too many possibilities for complete breakdown and resumption of violence.  We can not afford such setbacks today.

The differences of opinion on every aspect of the implementation of the Road Map still requires that the sides engage primarily in small steps to move forward. The sides are just beginning to fulfill their obligations under the Road Map.  The issues of prisoner release and settlement outpost removal are the kind of politically sensitive issues that can still derail the entire process.  The cancellation and then the subsequent rescheduling of meetings between the Prime Ministers is the kind of back-and-forth steps that bring about a weakening of the publics' faith in the process and the ability of their leaders to maneuver a course out of the flames. The process itself needs stability that can only be ensured through the US engagement as a trilateral process. And of course the new round of violence is a warning light flashing brightly of the dangers of collapse of the entire process.

There is a myth left over from the Oslo Process that the Joint Security Patrols and the general model of joint committees created between the sides (some 26 joint committees under Oslo) was a successful model.  The truth is that this model completely failed.  At every point of crisis in the Oslo Process, when the joint work should have resolved conflicts or mitigated them, the joint bodies ceased to function. When violence erupted and the joint patrols were most needed, the joint patrols were abandoned by the sides themselves. The only joint body that continued to work was the joint water committee - which continued only because of the decision of the United States to run this body as a trilateral body.  We urge the members of the Quartet and mainly the US Government and the Governments of Israel and Palestine to look at the tri-lateral model and to see how it can be applied to all levels of Road Map implementation now!  We strongly believe that this is one of the only ways to save the Road Map process from the same fate of the Oslo agreements. 

It would also be extremely valuable if the US and the Quartet placed down specific benchmarks for implementation with reciprocal steps to be undertaken upon completion of each step.  The process should be filled with "carrots" while a big stick is also held above the two sides. For example, if the Palestinians fulfill "a", Israel will release 500 prisoners, if the Palestinians undertake "b" successfully, Israel will withdraw from "x" city.  This should be well thought out and put down in writing so there are specific tasks to be undertaken and specific "rewards" to be received - from both sides.

Lastly, like Oslo, the Road Map process lacks transparency and public involvement and understanding of what is going on and what should be happening. One of the failures of Oslo lies in the overly secret nature of the process and the lack of public involvement, debate and scrutiny. The Road Map is following the same path and this is very dangerous. IPCRI has proposed the establishment of a public Road Map Watch group that will be engaged fulltime in monitoring the process and engaging the publics in open debates and dialogue on the implementation of the peace process.  We are searching for funding and hoping that support will be forthcoming in the near future.




Gershon Baskin, Ph.D.

Co-Director, IPCRI