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Rice brokers deal to lift Gaza Siege - Maybe

11/15/2005

The siege of Gaza is due to be lifted, after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice overstayed her scheduled stop in the Middle East to broker a deal between Israelis and Palestinians. If true, that has to be good news.

Under the deal, as reported by Haaretz and AP, the Gaza- Egypt border crossing would "tentatively" open November 25. Palestinians would be allowed to travel between Gaza and the West Bank in convoys of IDF-escorted buses. Israel also promised to allow 150 truckloads of goods daily through the Karni crossing, instead of the 35 allowed now. Work on the Gaza seaport will also begin. According to Haaretz, no agreement was reached on opening Gaza airport.

The issue that had held up agreement was Israeli insistence on live video coverage of persons entering Gaza at the Rafah terminal. Israel would supposedly feed the information into sophisticated image recognition equipment. Interestingly, no reports explain how the outstanding problem was resolved.

Implementation of the agreement is crucial. As long as the borders are closed, there is little hope of building an economy in Gaza. Palestinian agricultural produce would rot in warehouses, and extremists would exploit the situation to their advantage.

I hate to rain on the party, but I will believe this one when I see it. Brokering agreements between Israelis and Palestinians is easy. As Mark Twain remarked, "Quitting smoking is easy. I've done it a thousand times." The Israelis have agreed many times to open the Gaza seaport, allow rebuilding of the airport and allow free passage to Gaza. The Palestinians have agreed many times to renounce violence, accept the roadmap and dismantle terror infrastructure. The problem, as Secretary Rice may find, is that the agreements are never implemented. After the press conference and the fanfare, there is a terror attack or two somewhere and Israel closes off Gaza, imposes the curfew and calls off the rebuilding of the port or the airport or whatever was agreed. Yesterday's headlines about free-passage and open ports are relegated to the foggy netherworld of forgotten news stories, good only for wrapping fish.

The Palestinians are no better. Palestinian President Abbas reiterated his support for the Quartet roadmap on numerous occasions. He is unwilling however, to undertake the disarming of terror groups that is part of the roadmap. No sooner had Secretary Rice left the area, then Abbas declared that Israel was not a peace partner, and announced that Israel's insistence on disarming the Hamas was aimed at causing civil war. He accused Israel of "a determination that Palestinians pass through a civil war," because the Israeli government will not start negotiations until the terror groups are disarmed, in accordance with roadmap conditions.

Perhaps this time everyone will surprise us. The port will be built, free passage will be implemented, the terrorists will put away their guns, the lion will lie down with the lamb and a little child will lead them. The more likely outcome is that this agreement will go the way of the Oslo accords in 1993, The Wye River Plantation Memorandum and the Sharm-El Sheikh understandings in 2000. The Oslo accords, marked by the famous handshake on the White House lawn, were supposed to mark the beginning of Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement, an end to violence and an end to occupation. Instead they ushered in an era of more, bigger and better settlements, more violence and incitement and more Draconian occupation. The Wye accords were supposed to end stagnation in negotiations, enforce collection of Palestinian illegal arms, and initiate Israeli withdrawals. Instead they marked the beginning of a period of long stagnation and mutual recriminations. The Sharm El Sheikh agreement was supposed to put an end to the violence that began in September 2000. Instead, they marked the real beginning of the Intifada. Putting an end to the violence and the occupation are easy. We've done it thousands of times.

What Secretary Rice ignored was the "21 gun salute" she received as she got here - Palestinians firing Kassams, Israel firing artillery and taking out Hamas leaders. Dennis Ross made the same mistake. He tried to negotiate agreements while ignoring reality.

Agreements usually mean what they say, at least approximately. Exceptions, such as the Soviet-Nazi nonaggression pact are remembered as special cases. The Camp David Egyptian accords and peace with Jordan were examples of normal agreements that the sides keep. Between Palestinians and Israelis it is apparently different. Why is this so? In other cases, each side finds it is in their best interests to keep to the agreements, whereas between Palesinians and Israelis, each side finds it is in their best interests to violate the agreements, and to tacitly allow the other side to violate them as well. During the Oslo period, Israel acquiesced in Palestinian terror, Palestinians acquiesced in ambitious settlement programs. The Israelis benefitted from domestic quiet, since the settlement lobby was satisfied, and used the terror attacks as a convenient excuse to perpetuate the occupation. The Palestinian side benefitted from the support of the terror lobby, and used the settlements as a convenient excuse to perpetuate the terror. This is not what was meant by "win-win," but that's how it worked out. The US, for its part, made believe none of it was happening and tried to get more meaningless papers signed, and more press conferences announcing the agreements.

If the problem was not evident before, it should have been evident after the Sharm El Sheikh understandings fell apart. U.S. diplomats have to recognize this Sharm-El Sheikh syndrome. The work does not end with the agreement, the handshake and the press conference. It only begins. If the US walks away from supervising the implementation, inevitability, there will be yet another embarrassing and frustrating failure. Of course the Israelis and Palestinians are at fault for the failure of the Oslo accords, but the US is at fault too, because they stood by and acquiesced in violations committed by both sides.

The Sharm El Sheikh syndrome will probably continue to wreck agreements as long as it is politically cheaper for Israelis and Palestinans to break the agreements than it is to keep them.

If Secretary Rice can recognize the Sharm El Sheikh Syndrome and understand the need for constant and consistent follow up, rather than blitz trips, meaningless agreements and photo-ops, then perhaps we can really see some progress.

I hope I am wrong. I hope that the Gaza port is built as a result of this agreement, that Palestinians will be able to travel between Gaza and the West Bank, and the rain of Kassam rockets and retaliatory Israeli artillery fire will stop. Is anyone taking bets?

Ami Isseroff

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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/00000408.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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