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Israel and Palestine - Developmental Problems of Baby Peace Process Jr.

03/13/2005

The good news is that (so far) relative quiet has prevailed between Israelis and Palestinians. The bad news is that there has been no real progress for a long time, despite lots of meetings and some Israeli and Palestinian gestures. Things that don't happen rarely make news, but they can be cause for alarm. A growing child who does not talk or walk by age 5 should arouse concern in its parents. The renewed peace process, Peace Process Jr., is several months old now, but it is still lying in its crib more or less helpless, at an age when we would have expected it to begin doing things. At least, it smiles occasionally, which is a positive sign, but that is about all it does.

Perhaps it is inevitable that eventually the rejuvenated peace process will founder on the polls-apart stands of Israel and the Palestinians regarding core issues such as refugees, land and Jerusalem. However, the current impasse is not related to those issues. It is due to concrete things that Israel could do, but is not doing, to alleviate the onerous nature of the occupation and to show Palestinians that the way of non-violence advocated by Abu-Mazen can bring real benefits, as opposed to the Intifadah, which brought only poverty, death, suffering and delegitimization. Without such elementary improvements that will make life tolerable for everyone and give some hope to the Palestinians, we will not even be able to have a pragmatic "modus vivendi," let alone a final settlement.

There are at least two things that baby Peace Process Jr. should have done by now, but didn't do at all. The first is evacuation of the illegal outposts built since March 2001. The outposts serve no conceivable security purpose, so there cannot be any security risk for Israel in evacuating them. This is not an optional "gesture" or "concession" to the Palestinians, but a solemn undertaking of the Israeli government under the Quartet Road Map(1), given to the US and the Quartet as well as to the Palestinians. The Israeli government keeps undertaking again and again to evacuate the outposts, and has done so again just now(2). The government funded the outposts illegally. Ariel Sharon was in charge of doing it (3) in great measure. Now the same people pretend to be surprised by the Sasson report, which says, not surprisingly, that the government funded the outposts illegally. "Oh My! Look at that! Did we do that? Gee Whiz!" However, it is very possible that all the government will do about it will be to appoint a ministerial committee. The last time the issue arose, the Israeli government tried to make the outposts disappear with words, a tactic that angered the US. The main part of the "undertaking" regarding the outposts seems to be that every time the issue comes up, Sharon tries to bury it in a different way. He is in the undertaking business.

The second thing that was supposed to have happened was Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian cities reoccupied during the Intifada. Like evacuation of outposts, this was supposed to have happened several times(4), but as yet has not actually materialized. The problem seems to be that Israel will not relinquish checkpoints, which are a major security instrument, but also a major cause of suffering to the Palestinians. However, sooner or later the Israeli government will need to give over control to the Palestinians. If indeed the Palestinian Authority will be unwilling or unable to keep the peace in these towns, then it may be better to find this out now rather than later. Certainly it is pointless to continue to jeopardize the peace process and embitter Palestinians with these checkpoints in a time of relative quiet. In general, Palestinian freedom of movement has not improved much since the election of Mahmud Abbas. New Israeli "concessions" (5) will now allow a grand total of 8,500 Palestinian merchants and others to enter Israel each day.

Of course, part of the Israeli paralysis is due to the disengagement plan (6). The government is hard pressed to gain a majority for its budget and for the disengagement plan, and therefore, perhaps, doesn't want to excite more opposition by risky moves like removing checkpoints or by evacuating outposts, which could become another focus for settler rage. Over-hasty withdrawal could result in a rash of suicide attacks, which would make disengagement politically impossible, and probably put an end to the life of baby Peace Process Jr. Unfortunately, there is more than a suspicion that "after disengagement" has become a procrastination date similar to "after the the holidays." "After the holidays" is usually a promise made in August. If someone tells you they will do something "after the holidays,' it means supposedly that it will be done after the bloc of Jewish holidays that interrupt routine life in early autumn: Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkoth. Usually it in fact means, "Hell will freeze over first."

In Ha'aretz, Zafrir Rinat (7) reminds us of the despoliation of West Bank landscape by settlers, while Gideon Levy (8) explains how the settlers of Qedumim have locked the 4,000 Palestinian residents of Kadum into their town with an iron gate. In Dar Al Hayat(9), Khaled Masha'al of the Hamas is cited as explaining that the situation went back to problems and stagnation following the Sharm El-Sheikh Summit, as the simple things that the Israelis had vowed to implement, were either partially implemented, or not at all. The author of the article, Jihad Al Khazen, notes that the "resistance" believes that little was accomplished for the Palestinians, in return for vast benefits for Israel, since the Jordanian and Egyptian ambassadors were returned, and Israel and Ariel Sharon's image have improved. Of course, the author does not mention that this is due in large part to the disengagement plan. Disengagement has not taken place, but when it will, it will hopefully create a different reality in Israeli-Palestinian relations and in Israeli internal politics. Until then however, it appears that every Israeli move is frozen. After disengagement, it may be too late. Baby Peace Process Jr. like a child in the fairy tale, was cursed by the witches at birth, and they are waiting for it. Khaled Mashal and his friends are biding their time.

Ami Isseroff

Postscript - The Jericho handover, due to take place today (and held up over the technicalities at the last moment) will be a good start if it happens, but it will not solve the problem - Palestinian reality is not changing fast enough.

References:


1. The Quartet Road Map http://www.mideastweb.org/quartetrm3.htm

2. PMO announcement March 13, 05: PM SHARON: "EVACUATING THE UNAUTHORIZED OUTPOSTS IS AN ISRAELI COMMITMENT http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MewNews/message/26008

3. Haaretz, March 9, 2005, Who's kidding whom? Sharon knew exactly how settlement outposts began http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MewBkd/message/14756

4. Ynet, March 9, 2005 Jericho handover on hold
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MewNews/message/25931

5. Jerusalem Post, March 12, 2005Israel eases travel restrictions http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MewNews/message/26006

6. Israeli Disengagement Plan http://www.mideastweb.org/disengagement.htm

7. Zafrir, Rinat Haaretz, March 11, 2005 A love for control over the land http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MewBkd/message/14771

8. Gideon Levy, Haaretz, March 11, 2005 Twilight zone / Riding roughshod http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MewBkd/message/14767

9. Jihad Al Khazen Al-Hayat 2005/03/12, Ayoon wa Azan (What Was Accomplished?) http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MewBkd/message/14763

See also:

Israeli-Palestinian Relations - How to Give Peace another Chance http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000335.htm


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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000343.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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