Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow – the Life and Times of the Road Map

Gershon Baskin*

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

The entrance of the Geneva Accord together with the Ayalon-Nuesseibeh initiative have breathed a new and fresh breath of life to the Israeli-Palestinian discourse that has been virtually void of any real hopes for peace for more than three years.  As an active participant in the advancement of Israeli-Palestinian peace, I support both of these initiatives and urge you to support them as well. The details within each initiative are far less important than the fact that they are both based on agreements and understandings between credible and significant Israelis and Palestinians. Neither of these initiatives will become the formal agreements that will hopefully eventually be reached between the sides, but both of them demonstrate the broad outlines of what the future agreements will most probably look like. Arguing about the details now is futile and takes vital energy away from the main task ahead of us – changing public opinion in Israel and Palestine and rebuilding constituencies for peace.

With the current leaderships in Israel, Palestine and the US, the Road Map for Peace remains the only accepted political process for moving from a state of violence towards peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  The Road Map for Peace has been endorsed and accepted by the Government of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the Quartet led by the United States.  In a paradoxical way, the existence of the Geneva Accord has breathed new life into the Road Map. Although the Road Map was officially launched in June 2003, it is fair to state that we are still in the pre-implementation stage and that almost all that has transpired since June has brought us backwards rather than moving forward. 

We are once again facing the re-launching of the Road Map, and in doing so, we must recognize that the time-table, that was far from realistic when the document was first published, is even more out of tune with reality today. It is unlikely that it will be possible to move into Phase II until after the US elections in November 2004. If there is a new administration in Washington, then moving into Phase II, with the convening of an International Conference, will most likely happen only after March 2005. During the full year ahead of us every effort should be utilized to fully implement Phase I of the Road Map.

In order for the Road Map to have a chance of survival and lead to the fulfillment of the vision presented by President Bush in June 2001, the parties must demonstrate their political will and commitment by deeds and actions more than by words and declarations.  The Palestinian Authority (PA) must take real and immediate action against terrorist groups and terrorist infrastructure and the Government of Israel (GOI) must take real and immediate action to allow the Palestinian people to return to normal life as soon as possible and to dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001 and freeze all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements). These two elements are the heart of Phase I of the Road Map.  It is clear that real actions of implementation by both parties will immediately enhance the mutual implementation of the Road Map.   

The fall of the Abu Mazen Government and the process of the selection of the Abu Alá Government have proven beyond any shadow of a doubt that Yasser Arafat is still in charge in Palestine. All the attempts by the US and by the Government of Israel to declare the irrelevancy of the man coupled with the actions taken to isolate him have, as predicted by any person who has the slightest understanding of Palestinian political culture, backfired and boomeranged. Yasser Arafat is more popular and probably politically more relevant that he has been since the beginning of the Oslo Process. Facing this reality doesn’t automatically translate into new political realities. Yasser Arafat will remain persona non grata by the Government of Israel and by almost all of Israeli society unless he decides to prove by actions that he is a partner for peace.

I have never been a great fan of Yasser Arafat and I have always been more than skeptical about his political will to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I state this preface because I believe that the history of the past 6 months begs the question once again – as long as Arafat is alive and is in charge – can he be a partner for peace? I don’t have a definitive answer, but I have been pleading with senior Israeli officials, Ministers in the Government, the Israeli National Security Council, Members of Knesset and senior IDF and other security officers, that discrete understandings must be reached that will enable Arafat a relatively short period of time to prove, once again, if he can deliver the goods and become a partner for peace. The tactical means that I recommend is for Israel to engage officially and formally the Palestinian National Security Council.  This body, now re-established, is headed by Arafat. All the heads of the various Palestinian security bodies are members, along with Abu Al’a and the Finance Minister Salam Fayyad.  The Government of Israel could decide that the establishment of this body (the PNSC) is in fact the implementation of part of the Palestinian security requirements under the Road Map, namely the unification of all of the security forces under one clearly defined political authority. The Road Map specifies that it should be under the authority of the Minister of Interior. Here, the main thing is not under whose authority the unified command will be, but will this body act against terrorism, its infrastructure, organizations, illegal arms, and general lawlessness?

By engaging the PNSC, Israel should let it be known that should real actions be taken against terrorism and its infrastructure, then Israel would gradually rehabilitate its former relationship with Arafat and Arafat would once again attain the position and stature deserving a responsible leader, statesman, and partner for peace.  It must be clearly understood that the test is in actions and not in words. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been too full of words and too short on actions. Now is the time for actions. It is by no way clear if Arafat is up to the challenge and if he has the political will to be seriously engaged in peace making.  It is clear to me that there needs to be a process of building political will. And as the Road Map is a performance based political platform, there is room and a need to detail and specify what steps taken by one side would lead to reciprocal steps taken by the other side.

From the Palestinian point of view, the lawlessness of the past three years is intolerable. Any Palestinian government that claims legitimacy to govern should not tolerate the existence of militia, gangs, illegal weapons, threats against politicians and individuals, production of rockets and missiles in illegal shops, smuggling, and the list goes on and on. The Palestinian Authority government must govern and governing means first and foremost establishing the rule of law within those territories where it claims to govern. There is no doubt that Israel does not help in the process of establishing a rule of law when Palestinians are locked into village and city-sized prisons, unable to move about freely. The almost 200 roadblocks and check points all around the occupied territories must be removed. However, the removal of these checkpoints and road blocks is inextricably linked to Palestinian Authority actions in implementing the security obligations of the Road Map. There is no escaping this. 

We have spoken to the Government of Israel and have recommended that the efforts of Abu Al’a now to achieve a new Hudna with the Palestinian factions not automatically be viewed as working against or not in line with the security obligations of the Road Map.  Israel believes that an internal ceasefire between the PA and the Hamas and Islamic Jihad means that taking action against the infrastructure of terrorism will not happen and that the ceasefire will be exploited to rearm and regroup for further attacks against Israel. This is a real possibility. There is a built-in contradiction in the process of making a ceasefire while remaining committed to dismantle the infrastructure. Why would Hamas and Jihad agree to any ceasefire if they know that down the road(map), the Government of Palestine will take harsh action against them?

I would respond by saying that what is needed now is a renewed period of calm and quiet when people are not being killed, on both sides, in order to regroup and rearm – politically – towards the rebuilding of cooperation and partnerships through the development of trust, through mutual and reciprocal actions (again – not words and declarations), that will enhance and strengthen the rule of law in Palestine, the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority in the eyes of the Palestinian people, and the legitimacy of peace making in the eyes of Israelis and Palestinian alike. The dismantling of the terrorist infrastructure must remain as an urgent and mandatory task. The implementation of this task should take as long as declared necessary by the Palestinian Authority. Abu Al’a believes that the dismantling of the terrorism infrastructure is mainly a political act of dismantling the will to attack Israel and then embracing the factions to take part in internal Palestinian politics. I have little faith that this is what will happen.  I believe that even if there is a ceasefire, inevitably there will also be continued terrorism against Israel and then the Palestinian Authority will force itself to take real actions such as collecting illegal arms and arresting law breakers.   

At the same time, if the quiet and calm remains and there are apparent efforts being taken by the Palestinians to keep the quiet and prevent acts of terrorism, then Israel must demonstrate too its good will by seriously undertaking and implementing its obligations under the road map. Israel too deserves a rule of law and the existence of illegal settlement outposts has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and everything to do with the lawlessness of Israeli society.  Failure to remove illegal settlement outposts is a breach of trust, not only with the Road Map, but more importantly, between the Government of Israel and the people of Israel, and I, as one of the people, demand that the Government of Israel respect the law as they demand from all of the citizens to do so.

There must be much greater transparency in the Road Map process than there has been until now.  In meetings with US Road Map monitors, I was given details of how the Palestinian Authority government under Abu Mazen did not implement specific tasks, limited ones, in the areas of security that they had agreed to implement. I learned that the breakdown in the renewed security cooperation was largely due to the failure of the Palestinian security forces to do what they said they would do. In the end, when real information about a specific “ticking bomb” was given to the Palestinian security heads, they failed to take any action, knowing what the result would be – because Israel informed them, through the Americans, exactly what they would do. In the end they did it and all security cooperation broke down and with it the Abu Mazen government and the Road Map.   Very few Palestinians I know had any of the information mentioned here (and I have it much greater detail). From the Palestinian point of view, the end of the Abu Mazen government and the Road Map, at that time, was mainly and mostly the responsibility of the Government of Israel.  It is true that the Sharon government did much too little to aid Abu Mazen and his government and the Road Map process. Israel, for example was given a list of some 25 checkpoints and road blocks within the West Bank that the US requested be removed in the first days of the Abu Mazen government. Israel removed only five and some of these were simply moved from one place to another and not really removed (much in the same way that actions were taken on the illegal settlement outposts).

I believe that in a very transparent way the parties, with the assistance of the international community, must devise much larger “carrots” in this process and not always rely mainly on the “sticks”.  It should be clear to the Palestinians, the leadership and the people, that if steps “a” “b” and “c” are implemented by the Palestinians, Israel will respond, in kind, and reciprocally by implementing steps “d” “e” and “f”.  This information must be public and reporting on implementation must be public as well. The exposure of this kind of information could have a positive effect in creating internal public pressure on each side to help enforce proper and full implementation of the process – something that has not existed in the process until now.  We must always think about how to create interests and means for internal pressures within Israel and within Palestine to implement properly and fully what the two sides have agreed to implement.

I firmly believe that real steps must be taken with the assistance of the US and others to help facilitate the process. We don’t only need monitors here reporting what is or what is not being done.  We need senior US personnel with Presidential Authority to engage in real steps that will facilitate the implementation of the Road Map.  For example, hot-line communications should be established and used (tri-laterally – Israel, Palestine, US Monitor Chief) from the highest levels – Prime Ministers’ offices – to field levels – commanders and security forces. The use of the hot-line communication should be facilitated in times of crises by the third party to ensure, immediately, in real time, that the crises do not escalate beyond control.

The Third Parties must assist in re-establishing cooperation not only in military and security related areas, but also in civic related areas – such as reconvening the Joint Economic Committee and its 13 sub-committees.  This will not happen on its own.  There must be initiatives undertaken and credible third parties, like the EU or some of the States of the EU who view themselves as credible players, should undertake initiatives, coordinated with the US to play a positive role in rebuilding a peace process.

If the security situation on the ground does improve significantly and if there are signs that the Palestinian Authority is taking action against terrorists infrastructures, Israel should freeze the construction of the security fence/wall.  Because I, in principle, and on record, have stated in the past many times that I am against the fence, I won’t go into great detail on this issue.  In light of the current lack of security and lack of real action against terrorists and terrorism, there is little sense in trying to convince any Israeli policy maker that they should freeze the construction of the fence.  All demands from the public are quite the reverse with calls for speeding up the construction. If the situation does not change, there new reality of walls and fences will become a long time fixture of the increasingly ugly reality of this land. Those of us who are against the fence, from a practical and ideological point of view must also face the reality that the fence will serve a real security function if other steps against terrorism are not taken. Nevertheless, it must be stated clearly and out loud that if there must be a fence, then it must be on the Israeli side of the green line and not deep within Palestinian territory. The current line of the fence will include more than 86,000 Palestinians on the Israeli side of the line (without including the Palestinian of East Jerusalem where an additional 30,000 – at least – will be added to Jerusalem). If the security situation continues to deteriorate, the Israeli settlers, settlements and soldiers will become more obvious and accessible targets for attacks.  Without a successful political process, the attacks will not end, they will simply move eastward according to the geography of the fence.

Lastly, a few words on the post-Arafat era that so many people have spoken about in recent weeks upon reports of Arafat’s illnesses.  I was invited to participate in an Israeli discussion with mostly former Israeli security officials on the post-Arafat era.  In my view, the most interesting part of the discussion focused on the question of whether or not Israel could influence the outcome of who will be the future leaders of Palestine. Most people intelligently agreed that Israel should not intervene in any way and that any Israeli intervention would work against Israel.  I said that the most important Israeli “intervention” would be in what Israel does prior to Arafat no longer being here. In my view, one of the most determining factors of what kind of leadership will emerge in Palestine after Arafat is to what extent there is a positive political process going on between Israel and Palestine or the reverse, to what extent we will still be engaged in a bloody conflict.  If Israel is interested in a more moderate and practical leadership emerging in Palestine after Arafat, then the steps that are taken today towards peace making will have more importance than anything else that Israel could do. 

In that regard, I believe that it important to move Palestinian national elections forward from Phase II of the Road Map to Phase I.  This is something that will serve the best interests of both Israel and Palestine.  Palestine needs new legitimate leaders. Real, open and democratic elections are the best way to create legitimate governments and leaders.  The elections will also serve as the big “carrot” for the Palestinians because elections cannot be held while Israel is blockading all of the Palestinian cities and towns.  In order for preparations for elections to begin in full force, Israel must redeploy to the lines it held prior to September 28, 2000 – according to the Road Map.  This will happen only if the security situation significantly improves.  The election process has benefits for all. It is very important that Israel announce that it agrees to move Palestinian elections forward to the time when the Palestinians implement their security obligations and the security situation improves significantly.  Abu Alá has spoken about June 2004 for elections – that might be too early, but a target date should be set.  The election process and the election of a new leadership and a newly legitimate old leadership will also have a positive impact on internal Palestinian processes in the post Arafat era.

Gershon Baskin is the Israeli Co-Director of IPCRI