[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]

 

January 18, 2007

 

 

 

This Week in Palestine … Behind the News with Hanna Siniora

 

I beg to differ

 

As a result of the recent visit of US Secretary of State Dr. Rice to the region and meetings with President Abbas and PM Olmert, a trilateral summit is being arranged to take place next February. President Abbas in the press conference with Secretary Rice called for serious talks with Israel to resolve outstanding issues and negotiate a two-state solution, at the same time emphasizing his rejection for the call for a Palestinian state with provisional borders. Abbas like most Palestinians from different political factions fear that such a state with provisional borders would in the long term become permanent borders. In taking such a position Abbas will avoid unnecessary attacks by the opposition, even from within the ranks of his Fateh movement. However, that means the present political stalemate will not be broken and the trilateral summit that will take place in February will have no possible major achievements. Prevailing conditions within the Israeli political scene will not allow Olmert to negotiate a permanent settlement leading to a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. Under present circumstances it means that more similar meetings would not lead to real change, and thus would allow the occupation to continue and settlement activity to grow.

 

This is a need for an audacious political move that could be called by Palestinians “the long postponed third phase of redeployment” that never took place after the Wye River agreement. In a sense, this would be a jump to the second phase of the Road Map creating the state with provisional borders. Abbas, if presented with such a possibility can and should be able to negotiate better conditions for Palestinians in East Jerusalem the West Bank and Gaza strip. In order not to be trapped by the separation wall as the permanent borders, Abbas should insist that the Quartet and the Security Council should pass a resolution that clearly defines the separation wall as a “temporary security wall” that has to be dismantled when the two sides reach a permanent settlement in a defined time frame agreed and respected by the parties.

Part of the ingredients to such an agreement should allow Palestinians to resume political activities in East Jerusalem. That means that the Orient House, the East Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce and other institutions should be allowed to operate freely. It is possible to negotiate an autonomous East Jerusalem municipal council to look after the municipal services. To encourage the rebuilding of the economic infrastructure of East Jerusalem, the Kalandia-Atarot industrial park will be jointly operated by Palestinian and Israeli entrepreneurs and converted to a hi-tech park. The Kalandia airport should be allowed to resume operation for short-haul flights to neighboring countries and administered at this stage jointly.

 

East Jerusalem should gradually regain its central status as the cultural and economic hub of the Palestinian people, to allow tourism and pilgrimage to rebound in the Holy Land and ease travel between East Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Ramallah. Access to the Holy places should be guaranteed to all, and the Old City within the wall should be protected and patrolled by a joint police force from the ranks of the local citizens of the Old City. The religious status quo should be observed, respected and codified, no transgressions should be allowed.

 

President Abbas will have the ability to negotiate the control of the borders with Jordan and Egypt and the activation of the Gaza airport and the building of a harbor. A defined transition period should be declared to arrive to a permanent settlement; the length of such period should be part of the Security Council resolution.

 

Access between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank should also be clearly defined and respected. In a permanent settlement such a corridor could be exchanged for adjustment of the 67 borders in an agreement bilaterally negotiated.

 

Is such a scenario possible?

 

At this juncture, a permanent settlement is not possible. In Palestine, the various movements are at loggerhead and this weakens Palestinian demands. In Israel, Olmert is not secure and is still paying the price of the Lebanese war. The USA is mired in Iraq and the EU has not shown political independence. Thus the climate for a final settlement is not possible, partial solutions that can ameliorate the relations and attitudes of both adversaries is the only possibility. If such a course is taken, an opportunity for all Palestinian security prisoners will open for their release in stages. Shalit will enjoy freedom soon, and this process will allow better relations and a period of stability to take shape. The alternative is to call for a permanent solutions, and wait many more years to realize it.

 

Mr. Hanna Siniora is the Palestinian Co-CEO of IPCRI – the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information  www.ipcri.org