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Dennis Ross: Israel Needs a Palestinian Partner

11/05/2003

In the Wall Street Journal (see below) Dennis Ross writes that Israel needs a Palestinian partner, and that Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei had better be that partner, because there will not be a chance for a third Palestinian Prime Minister.

Certainly, Israel needs a Palestinian partner to carry out the roadmap. But the Palestinians equally need an Israeli partner, and that partner is not in evidence. The failure of Abu Mazen and the chaos in the Palestinian Authority is not Israel's fault, but Israeli actions certainly didn't help. Ahmad Qurei or anyone else cannot survive without the support of the Palestinian people, and they cannot get support for moderate policies unless there is some sign that these policies will pay dividends in Israeli concessions.

During Mahmoud Abass's (Abu-Mazen's) term, Israel didn't budge on any issue of concern for Palestinians, even on issues of marginal strategic value or no value at all. At the end of the day, despite great fanfare, it seems that none of the illegal outposts were eliminated, and in fact Israel has recently granted infrastructure support to eight of them. Israel didn't make any real concessions on release of prisoners either. There are still lots of prisoners who are being held under "administrative arrest" with no charges brought against them, including kids who got jailed for throwing rocks. Work on the security fence/barrier/wall continued virtually unabated. Assassinations and incursions and closures likewise did not really abate, except that in a few cases permanent check-point barriers were replaced by mobile ones. There were some improvements in day to day life as closures were lifted and workers were allowed into Israel, though some of the changes were made after Abu-Mazen had resigned.

Abu Mazen was undoubtedly tripped up by his own Fatah movement at the instigation of Arafat, but he was vulnerable to those tactics precisely because he had nothing at all to show in the way of Israeli concessions. The kiss of death was delivered when he had to come away from Washington with no promise of concessions on the prisoner issue.

All of those concessions are tactical ones, not strategic changes. What Israel demands from any Palestinian PM is suppression of terror groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fateh Tanzim. This may require a civil war. Nobody in Palestine will support Abu Mazen or Abu Alah (Ahmed Qureih) in such a civil war unless it is clear that "sacrificing" the extremists will bring about a reasonable Israeli settlement. So far, Sharon's government seems more interested in settlements then it is in a settlement. There is no indication that Sharon is willing to give up Gaza, much less Ariel, and there is every indication that the Palestinian "state" that he envisions will consist of about 60% of the land of the West bank. No Palestinian PM can get behind that program or lead his people to support peace based on that program.

As for Qureih being the last chance of the Palestinians, that is far from certain. Both the USA and the EU have apparently invested too much in the Palestinian issue and the Palestinian authority, so it is unlikely that they will simply give up. If Ahmad Qureih is a last chance for the Palestinians, then what? Does anyone imagine that the current situation can be permanent? Not likely. Can Ariel Sharon or Dennis Ross wish very hard and make the Palestinian Authority go away? Not likely. So after the last chance, there will be another and another. There can be no progress, however, unless there are peace partners on both sides.

Ami Isseroff




Wall Street Journal
November 5, 2003
Israel Needs a Palestinian Partner
By DENNIS ROSS

Rarely has the reality between Israelis and
Palestinians appeared to be so bleak. Terror continues
unabated. The Israeli siege of the territories is
tighter than ever. And, with the U.S. preoccupied with
Iraq, there is no ongoing diplomacy.

Israel faces the unpleasant reality that there is not
a lot more it can do militarily against Palestinian
terrorists. It has already shut down nearly all
movement in the West Bank; it maintains a presence in
nearly every West Bank city; and it carries out daily
raids against all known and suspected Hamas, Islamic
Jihad, and al Aksa Martyrs' Brigades leaders and
operatives. To make the closure of the West Bank more
complete, Israel has been forced to call up a limited
number of reserves. No doubt, there would have been
many more successful terror attacks without this
Israeli posture. Unfortunately, the terror does not
stop, and the lesson from the past is that it only
will when Palestinians assume the responsibility of
policing themselves and making clear they won't
tolerate acts of terror from these groups. According
to leading members of the Israeli military, including
apparently the chief of staff, Israel must find a way
to relieve the siege of Palestinians if that is to
happen.

More than anything else, Israel requires a Palestinian
partner. Mahmoud Abbas certainly seemed to be that
partner. But he resigned after three months, the
victim of Yasir Arafat's opposition and his inability
to build his authority by showing his way -- not
Arafat's -- worked. While he blamed both Israel and
the U.S. for not doing enough to help him produce
change on the ground for Palestinians, he reserved his
most bitter denunciations for Arafat. He had hoped to
circumvent Arafat using Arab and international
pressure. But that too was unavailing because neither
the Arabs nor the Europeans gave him the kind of
backing that he needed.

Following Mr. Abbas' resignation and the suicide
bombing in Haifa on Oct. 4 , Arafat appointed an
emergency prime minister, Ahmed Qureia. Mr. Qureia's
term as emergency prime minister expired this week and
he is now expected to present a new cabinet for
approval to the legislative council as early as today.
Ahmed Qureia, or Abu Ala as I have always known him,
is no less desirous of stopping the violence and
restoring normal life for Palestinians than Mahmoud
Abbas. He, too, is strongly committed to living in
peace with Israel, not as a favor to the Israelis but
as a necessity for Palestinians. Israelis, including
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, know and respect Abu Ala,
but will insist on full , not half measures, against
Hamas and Islamic Jihad before responding to him --
and Arafat effectively blocked such measures when Mr.
Abbas appeared ready to take them.

Can Abu Ala succeed where Mahmoud Abbas failed? It
won't be easy. Arafat will remain an impediment.
Unlike Mr. Abbas, however, Abu Ala will not seek to
circumvent Arafat, but to co-opt him. That is the way
he has always dealt with Arafat. But to co-opt him he
must deliver something to him. And, ironically, he
cannot do so unless he is also able to co-opt Mr.
Sharon.

What Arafat most wants right now is a "two-way"
ticket. Mr. Sharon has been willing to allow him a
one-way ticket -- meaning, he can leave the West Bank
but not come back. Arafat wants to be free to travel
and return to the West Bank and Gaza. Abu Ala knows
that if he can deliver this to Arafat, he can exact a
price of Arafat's support for the security steps that
must be taken against Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He
certainly knows he has no chance of convincing Mr.
Sharon to accept the two-way ticket absent
demonstrable and credible action against these groups.
Even then, Mr. Sharon's instinct will militate against
such a deal, in no small part because he will, in
effect, be countenancing indirect dealings with
Arafat.

and yet , this possibility should not be dismissed.
Making peace right now is not the issue. Stopping a
daily war that is imposing a terrible price on both
sides is. If given a choice between doing that or
having the next six months look like the last two
months, Mr. Sharon may be open to a deal with Abu Ala.
But the latter will need all his remarkable skill as a
negotiator to convince Mr. Sharon that he will deliver
not a cease-fire so the terror groups can regroup, but
a blow to the very capability of Hamas and Islamic
Jihad to wage terror -- and Mr. Sharon won't simply
take his word for it , he will require demonstrations
of this intent.

Abu Ala must also be able to persuade Arafat that this
is his last best chance to preserve at least his
symbolic role as Palestinian leader, pointing out that
Israeli anger and desperation will at some point soon
produce "removal," and not the two-way ticket he
offers. And, finally, Abu Ala would be wise to keep in
mind -- as all Palestinians and Israelis must -- that
this is the last chance for a Palestinian prime
minister. If after Mr. Abbas' failure, Abu Ala , too ,
can't make it, there won't be a third prime minister
candidate who anyone will take seriously. No prime
minister means no Palestinian reform, no Palestinian
partner, no diplomacy, and no security. But it does
mean that the security barrier, what the Israelis call
the "fence," and the Palestinians the "wall," will be
the future. Maybe that reality will give Abu Ala a
chance to succeed.



Mr. Ross, director of the Washington Institute for
Near East Policy, was special Middle East coordinator
in the Clinton administration and director of the
Policy Planning staff during the first Bush
administration.

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