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No Illusions

 April 30, 2003

 Ami Isseroff 

The Iraq war has given a second chance to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The ‎election of Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as Palestinian Prime Minister inaugurates ‎the process dictated by the quartet roadmap. The roadmap is supposed to correct the ‎errors of the failed Oslo process by providing a detailed set of milestones and ‎performance criteria that will result in an end to Palestinian violence, Israeli ‎withdrawal from the occupied territories, and creation of a Palestinian state. Abu ‎Mazen's election is supposed to sideline the discredited Yasser Arafat, and bring in a ‎new and honest government, dedicated to ending corruption, chaos and violence, and ‎making a "Clean Break" with the past. ‎

Right wing Zionist groups, reluctant to have any part of the road map, have waged a public relations war against Abu Mazen. They have dug into his past, citing his alleged role in the Munich Olympics massacre and his past advocacy of Holocaust denial. However, what Abu-Mazen will do, or will be constrained to do by the road map and its sponsors, is much more important than what he did in the past.

Though Israel observed Holocaust memorial day on the same day as Abu Mazen took ‎office, that evening would certainly have been an occasion for celebration among all ‎those in Israel and Palestine who yearn for peace. For many months we have watched ‎in frustration as violence dominated Palestinian actions and rhetoric, and was met by ‎even greater violence from the Israeli side. Now it seemed, for at least a moment, that ‎sanity was returning to Israel and Palestine. Abu Mazen called for a return of rule of ‎law, condemned terror, and vowed an uncompromising struggle for a Palestinian state ‎on all the territories Israel conquered in 1967. ‎

Every decent person must hope against hope that this new effort for peace will work. ‎However, we must have no illusions about the chances for success. This time it will ‎be more difficult. Both Palestinians and Israelis have experienced the "benefits" of the ‎Oslo process, and both sides will be hard to sell regarding any peace process and any ‎concessions. ‎

We must love our roadmap, because it is the only peace option we have now, and it ‎may be the very last, but we must recognize its faults. A close look suggests, that ‎neither side has learned the lessons of the past, and that it will take an enormous effort ‎to make the roadmap work. As in the case of the Oslo accords, each side will try to ‎use the Roadmap to realize its own objectives, while making a show of peace making, ‎confidence building measures and "reform," designed to impress the foreign patrons ‎of the peace process, fend off pressure and gain favor. The roadmap sets goals such as ‎‎"ending terror," but does not define objective criteria for meeting those goals, and ‎does not say what will happen if terror does not end. It does not specify, even in ‎general terms, the extent of the territory to be offered to the Palestinians as a state, and ‎says nothing about the critical issues of Jerusalem and return of the refugees. These ‎are to be left for the final blowup, postponed to Phase III. At that time, if the ‎Roadmap ever gets that far, the extremist factions of each society will probably take ‎over once again, and dictate irreconcilable positions that make the achievement of ‎peace impossible ‎

Regarding the final settlement, Abu Mazen said:‎

"To be clear, the Palestinian people will not accept anything less than the exercise of ‎our right to self-determination and the establishment of our independent state with ‎Jerusalem as its capital; a genuine, contiguous state without any (Jewish) settlements, ‎on all of the territories occupied in 1967 in conformity with international law."‎

Of course, Abu - Mazen could do not demand anything less than full withdrawal from ‎the territories. However, experience suggests that this may be a final negotiating ‎position, rather than an opening gambit.‎

The condemnation of terror was addressed to the Israeli people, and not specifically to ‎the Palestinian Legislative Council:‎

"We denounce terrorism by any party and in all its shapes and forms both because of ‎our religious and moral traditions and because we are convinced that such methods ‎do not lend support to a just cause like ours, but rather destroy it. These methods do ‎not achieve peace, to which we aspire."‎

This pledge was long overdue, but somewhat lacking. "We denounce terrorism by any ‎party," can be interpreted as a sincere renunciation of terror, or a as a continuation of ‎the attempt to equate Palestinian terror with Israeli defensive actions, thereby ‎legitimizing suicide bombings and other acts against civilians. ‎

It was not a warm speech. It did not sing the virtues of peace. However, it was a good ‎start. If Abu-Mazen and the Palestine Authority could stick to this program, it would ‎indeed be a cause for celebration for peace supporters and for Palestinians. Israeli ‎hard liners would have no choice except to capitulate in the face of a responsible ‎Palestinian government that demanded self-determination for its people. The US and ‎the quartet partners would certainly see to that. ‎

Celebrations are apparently premature. Extremists vowed resistance.‎

Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantissi said "Of course we will not (disarm). We are ‎resisting an occupation that still exists. The day we get rid of the occupation we can ‎talk about arms."‎

Mohammad al-Hindi, a senior Islamic Jihad leader, said: "Islamic Jihad is a resistance ‎movement, and it will not drop its weapons before the occupation ends."‎

Both groups consider all of Israel to be "occupied Palestine." The extremists did not ‎content themselves with words. A suicide blast in a Tel Aviv discotheque killed 3 and ‎wounded many more. The Islamic Jihad and Hamas vowed that they would not turn in ‎their arms or stop terror operations. IDF intelligence assesses that Abu Mazen and his ‎government have no intention of disarming these groups by force, and will only talk ‎to them, as has been done many times in the past, to no effect. ‎

The speeches of Abu Mazen, PLC Speaker Ahmed Qurei and PNA Chairman Yasser ‎Arafat indicate that for them, the major applicable part of the roadmap, perhaps the ‎only applicable part, is the need to pressure Israel to withdraw from territories and ‎allow creation of a Palestinian state. Qurei and others made no mention of ending ‎violence or restoring order. ‎

Ahmed Qurei was defiant:‎

The whole world intervened to see this government approved, not for the sake of Abu-‎Mazin, but due to the centrality and importance of the Palestinian issue to the world ‎and the region following a persistent attempt to undermine the President's standing ‎among his people.

We can now say to the world: Thank you for your efforts. Under the leadership of ‎brother Abu-Ammar [Yasir Arafat], we all expect you to fulfil your obligations. We ‎expect you to leave us and our affairs alone. "‎

We can also tell the world: You have exerted enough pressure on us...tell the ‎aggressor to stop his aggression so that we may go back to the negotiating table to ‎deal with the all important international obligation, stated by President Bush on 24 ‎June last year, to set up an independent Palestinian state by 2005, end the occupation ‎that began in June 1967, freeze and end the hostile settlement activity, and establish ‎peaceful relations based on justice, mutual respect, and just peace.‎

He went on to list Israeli concessions that must be exacted, never once mentioning the ‎need to put an to Palestinian initiated violence or to restore order. ‎

While the Palestine Legislative Council was in session, Israel was busy killing an ‎Islamic Jihad military leader and his accomplices, an act that was viewed as a ‎provocation by Palestinians. The Israeli government greeted the election of Abu-‎Mazen with cold enthusiasm and cautious words. ‎

From the Israeli point of view, the Road Map is viewed as a means of stopping ‎Palestinian violence in the best case. Ariel Sharon does not intend to offer the kind of ‎solution that Abu Mazen has pictured, and Foreign Minister Sylvan Shalom said that ‎Abu Mazen's comments, "raise serious questions regarding a readiness to arrive at an ‎agreed-upon resolution." Ariel Sharon has already indicated many times that even the ‎offer made at Taba, which was rejected by the Palestinians, was no longer realistic in ‎view of Palestinian violence. It is likely he may offer them a "State" on 40 to 60% of ‎the land, followed by negotiations for final status that will drag on interminably. ‎

If Ariel Sharon doesn't intend to offer Palestinians a reasonable solution, why did he ‎risk his popularity in the Likud party by backing a Palestinian state, and why did he ‎accept the Bush speech that fathered the roadmap process and the roadmap itself? The ‎conclusion that suggests itself and is confirmed by informed sources sympathetic to ‎the Israeli government, is that  Sharon and Israeli intelligence believe ‎the Palestinians will fail to live up to their obligations to end the violence. Abu Mazen ‎and his government do not have real control over the Palestinian factions, and will not ‎be able to exert such control without use of force, which they will not do. ‎

The continuation of violence will give Israel a license to renege on its own ‎obligations. The Palestinians will blame lack of Israeli concessions for the renewed ‎violence, the Israelis will blame the Palestinian Authority, and we will be in the same ‎old quagmire. However, at that point, the Israeli government, having proven to the ‎satisfaction of the Bush administration that the Palestinians are hopelessly committed ‎to terror, will feel free to act decisively to end the rule of the PNA initiated by the ‎Oslo accords.‎ Make no mistake, this may have the direst consequences for the Palestinians remaining in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

It doesn't have to end that way, if, there is a genuine ‎peace lobby opposed to the extremist factions and the politicians. Not a lobby that apologizes for terror or excuses it as "the price we have ‎to pay for peace," or a lobby that goes along with settlement expansion, as the Peace ‎Camp did during the Barak era, but a lobby that monitors the process, and demands ‎exact and full compliance from both sides, including an immediate settlement freeze, ‎removal of illegal settlements, and cessation of both Palestinian violence and Israeli ‎acts of provocation. We must bend every effort to ensure that when the closure is ‎lightened and the curfew is lifted, extremists do not immediately send suicide ‎bombers into Israel to force the re-application of security measures. Certainly, nobody ‎can blame Abu-Mazen or his government for the suicide attack that occurred just after ‎his election. However, every Israeli will blame the roadmap and the peace process if ‎Israeli concessions are followed by a rash of suicide bombings. Palestinians cannot ‎blame the peace process if there are no immediate Israeli concessions, but if the ‎settlement activity continues and the illegal outposts are not removed, they will have ‎legitimate cause for complaint. If months pass and the Israeli army is still inside ‎Palestinian cities, the roadmap will become very unpopular in Palestine, with very ‎obvious consequences. ‎

The danger for Israel is that our government seems to be counting on Palestinian failure. It has not prepared for the possibility that the Palestinians will meet the requirements of the roadmap, forcing Israel to make and implement a serious peace offer. Not just "painful concessions" such as evacuation of Gaza, but slaughter of the sacred cows of the Israeli consensus, including evacuation of Ariel and sharing of Jerusalem. This may be nearly impossible for Ariel Sharon, because he has been committed to the settlement project for many years and identified with it, because he and the Likud party made Jewish Jerusalem a center piece of their ideology, and because Sharon and the Likud draw their support from settlers and their allies. The government also seems to dangerously overestimate the influence that Israel has with the American administration, and the degree to which the United States will acquiesce in Israeli plans.

Ami Isseroff,



 Click here for official text of the roadmap - April 30, 2003
Inaugural Speech of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas  

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