Ehud Olmert bypassed the road map. Binyamin Netanyahu hesitates to endorse it. And Ariel Sharon's right-hand man, Dov Weissglas, can't understand why. If the prime minister has a patent for preventing Palestinian statehood, he should put the road map aside, Weissglas tells the 'Post.' But otherwise, he should cherish its sequenced architecture and insist on the implementation of its every precious clause. After all, Weissglas notes, 'I'm not sure Switzerland meets these conditions.'
Looking back, says Dov Weissglas, the road map - 2003's "performance-based" path to a two-state solution - was a singular achievement.
Of course he would say that, wouldn't he? He was, after all, critical to its formulation. But in the course of an hour-and-and-a-half interview this week, Weissglas did his utmost to justify the contention. Centrally, argued prime minister Ariel Sharon's right-hand man, Palestinian statehood is inevitable, and the carefully sequenced road map architecture ensures that all Israel's essential safeguards are dealt with before that state can rise.
Looking back, Weissglas further asserts with the same unyielding certainty, disengagement from Gaza was essential to ensure that the road map was not killed off as unworkable. And, by the way, disengagement, in Weissglas's lawyerly overview, had nothing to do with Hamas's rise to power.
Unfortunately, given Israel's narrow political battles and its failure to maintain broadly consistent positions as it rapidly switches from government to government, there is a danger now that this precious road map formula may be overlooked, bypassed, allowed to collapse. The consequences for Israel, in Weissglas's view, would be dire.
Sharon's immediate successor, Ehud Olmert, in his desperation to reach an accord with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, chose to put aside the road map's monitored sequence of steps and leap directly to final status issues. Thank heavens, says Weissglas, Abbas turned him down. Now, although Olmert's successor Binyamin Netanyahu has signed on to the two-state vision, he has chosen not to formally endorse the road map - a mistake in Weissglas's assessment. Netanyahu's key caveat - that Palestine be demilitarized - is dealt with in extraordinary detail within the existing road map framework, Weissglas points out, along with an innumerable number of other caveats that Netanyahu has not raised.
Unburdening himself in a comfortable office chair at his legal practice on Tel Aviv's Lillienblum Street, Weissglas is gracious and generous with his time. We flip back and forth from English to Hebrew, and back and forth, too, in our chronology - tracing the years since 2002, when president Bush essentially severed the United States' relationship with Yasser Arafat while simultaneously making plain that, one way or another, Palestine was going to happen.
Weissglas admits to few if any failures, but does not seem particularly vexed when swatting away the notion that he and Sharon might have erred. No, withdrawing from Gaza was not a misstep, he demurs. No, the Sharon vision, unilateralism included, was not misguided, he says mildly, and here's why... He sets out his arguments with the practiced calm of the legal veteran he is, choosing his words carefully, rarely raising his voice.
There are those who have asserted that it was Weissglas, a sharp, steady presence at Sharon's side through the decades, who pushed his seemingly indomitable boss into the last, greatest volte face of a frequently shifting political career - when the man who had urged Israelis to grab the hilltops beyond the Green Line, so that no future prime minister could relinquish them, became the very prime minister he had warned against. Weissglas himself, needless to say, stakes no such claim. But he speaks with a captivating authority. And that, combined with the credibility borne of years of friendship and oft-vindicated legal guidance, would have made his advice compelling for a prime minister beset by domestic rivalries and conflicting international pressures.
From the perspective of 2009, wasn't 2005's disengagement from Gaza a mistake? It seems that we empowered Hamas. We had to fight a war. The international political pressures are back...
Let's start with the road map, the political realization of Sharon's vision: No diplomatic negotiations so long as the Palestinians engage in terrorism.
The greatness of president Bush was that he understood this principle, adopted it in June 2002 in his landmark speech [in which Bush called for "a new and different Palestinian leadership, so that a Palestinian state can be born... leaders not compromised by terror"], and for the first time established a different political sequence. Not Palestinian independence and Palestinian sovereignty first, and after that terror might perhaps disappear. The reverse. First, terror disappears. First, a struggle to prevent terror. First, the building of correct institutions of government. And only after that, the beginning of a political process...
You know, we started out with the Palestinians in June 2003... And we had a quite successful two or three months. There was a reduction in terrorism. You could see a certain revival of Palestinian economic life. But Hamas didn't like these developments, and sought to stop them. In August we had that terrible terror attack [with 22 killed in a bus bombing in Shmuel Hanavi] in Jerusalem. Abu Mazen [Abbas] resigned [as prime minister] because [Yasser] Arafat wouldn't allow him to act against Hamas...
And then I started to hear from inside the American administration comments to the effect that "the road map is a brilliant formula but it's not working." And a senior US administration figure said to me that "in political life, when the formula doesn't influence reality, you need to reconsider the formula. Maybe it's time to reconsider the road map."
Remember that the European diplomatic community already didn't like the Bush approach, with its focus on security first.
So we had a fear, a reasonable fear, that we were going to lose this vital asset. And so the idea [of disengagement] arose...
There was no scenario in which Gaza would remain under Israeli control in the long term, as distinct from Judea and Samaria with all its complexities - practical, political, religious, historic, geographic.
And the feeling was that in order to reach a rapid solution to the overall conflict, it was worth reducing it. In life, if the problem is smaller, it can sometimes be more easily solved. With Gaza, you had a component of 30-40% of the overall conflict. With respect to Gaza, we had no claims and wouldn't have in the future. We knew that in the trade-off, nobody would pay us for relinquishing Gaza...
And of course, the security issues in Gaza were different. In the reality of 2003, the main terrorist problem we had was human bombs - suicide attacks.
What about missiles?
Missiles, yes, but fewer missiles. Of the 1,200 [second] intifada victims, if I remember correctly, more than 80 percent were killed by suicide bombers. There were no suicide attacks from Gaza apart from the two incidents [in 2004] stemming from our negligence - the British student who got to Mike's Place [in Tel Aviv] and [the two Hamas bombers who got to] Ashdod Port.
In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish presence to a large extent protects Tel Aviv from terror. That's the reality. [In contrast to Gaza], there's a security significance to the Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria...
Disengagement wasn't a peace plan; it wasn't a diplomatic move; it was a practical move - designed to reduce the [overall] problem [of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict], to safeguard the settlers [in Judea and Samaria], to reduce the losses of life, to reduce pressure on the defense establishment, to reduce the problem by 40 percent.
There were Kassams before and there were Kassams afterwards. And disengagement had no connection to the rise of Hamas. Hamas was in Judea, Samaria and Gaza a long time before. It became a player because of elections held after disengagement, and its [January 2006 parliamentary] election victory was primarily because of internal [Palestinian] frictions and corruption [in Fatah]...
Ultimately, Sharon's vision was, 'I'm going to set the permanent borders of this country unilaterally, the Palestinians can stew in their Islamic juices if they want to on the other side of physical barriers that we will put there, and we'll be fine.' But we weren't fine...
First of all, what you are portraying is basically right, but Ariel Sharon didn't believe in a peace in American or Canadian or British terms...
He believed that, in the foreseeable future, we would not be able to make a permanent peace?
Not a peace in the European definition. Not in the sense that the Israel Ballet will visit Nablus, and the Nablus Symphony Orchestra will play in Israel. He believed in a non-violent, non-belligerent coexistence - the kind that is so successful with Egypt and Jordan...
He did understand that somehow to eliminate violence there has to be a separation. And disengagement, as I say, was one step on the road to being separated. Gaza was much easier than the West Bank... Gaza was well surrounded. Hamas was there before. Hamas was there afterward...
We didn't like the Palestinian elections. We opposed them. I personally travelled twice to the United States to try to convince the administration not to hold them, or at least to see that the PA not allow Hamas to participate.
But the US was very strongly behind the idea of democratization of the Middle East... Nothing helped. Hamas was allowed to participate and it became a player...
But I want to stress that the Hamas takeover of Gaza, the Hamas problem in Gaza, is not related to disengagement. It happened a year later.
No cause and effect?
That's one of the most common misconceptions...
But surely an ongoing IDF military presence in Gaza would have...?
By the same token, you might ask: How is it that Hizbullah dared take over south Lebanon, even though the IDF maintained the outposts [in the security zone]?
The IDF protected the settlements in Gaza. Hamas took over the cities... It is much more practical for the IDF to act in Gaza from the Israeli border - that's where the forces are concentrated. Was the IDF prevented from acting in Gaza because it was no longer deployed around the settlements?
Jumping forward for a second: In Cast Lead, should the IDF have continued and sought to bring down Hamas?
My impression is that no military steps deter Hamas; only moves that cause economic and social damage worry them. And the increasing differentiation between the West Bank and Gaza....
What if Hamas had taken over Gaza and Israel had still been present with those same islands of settlement? The situation of the settlers and the soldiers protecting them would have been far worse than before, because the enemy would have been Hamas. The "government" of Gaza would have been acting against them, and not terror cells acting against the Palestinian Authority...
I don't think disengagement failed. Quite the reverse. It was intended from the start to achieve limited goals and these were attained.
Diplomatically, the Palestinian narrative since 1967 was that "we are being driven crazy by the occupation." But here in Gaza, the occupation was over. And no one in the world could understand why, since Israel had left Gaza, it was still being subjected to terror from Gaza. So we shattered that Palestinian contention that terror was a consequence of occupation...
Globally, Israel demonstrated the narrative that it truly seeks peace. It shattered the world narrative that Israel was a prisoner of the settlement enterprise, that the prime minister would not touch the settlers. It became evident for the first time that the police and the army could and would impose the rule of law. It showed, to the credit of the settlers, that sanity prevailed, that the feared proportions of confrontation were exaggerated. It was carried out with only 20 minor injuries. Sixty to 70 percent of the public always supported this kind of move. From the international point of view, we showed that we don't just talk but we act.
From the more concrete point of view, there's the immediate connection between president Bush's letter and disengagement. The president's letter to Sharon of April 14, 2004, was given as part of the wider permanent accord we were [working toward].
What's behind that letter? We went to the Americans and told them that with [our plan for] disengagement, for the first time since 1967, we're impacting on the permanent accord, albeit partially. And so the time has come for us to know how you see the permanent accord taking shape.
I asked for their take on three matters: Jerusalem, refugees and borders. A very complex negotiation followed. They wouldn't touch the issue of Jerusalem. But on refugees and borders they did agree to weigh in...
In May 2003, Israel had accepted the road map. For the first time, an Israeli government had approved a political plan that ends with a Palestinian state. So we were able to come to the Americans and say, "There'll be a Jewish entity and a Palestinian entity. And just as the Jewish home absorbed and will absorb Jewish refugees, so the Palestinian homeland must do likewise." The Americans accepted this, and that's why president Bush wrote in his letter that a "just, fair and realistic" solution on the refugees would need to be found in the Palestinian state that will be established. That was the first revolution, solely as a consequence of our acceptance of the road map.
The second was on the question of the borders. Until April 14, 2004, the American position was that settlements were an obstacle to peace, and there was no differentiation relating to big settlement blocs or little settlement blocs. But since we were now tackling aspects of the permanent accord, we persuaded them that they had to take into account changes that had occurred on the ground, that the existence of settlement blocs had to be taken into account. And so the next paragraph of the Bush letter relates to the "new realities" - [stating that, "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949"].
In the light of those pronouncements, now that Netanyahu has accepted a two-state solution, how do you understand the American demand for a settlement freeze?
The first draft of the road map, of November 2002, said Israel would work toward a complete freeze in settlement building, including natural growth. We had 15 reservations [about that draft, including on the issue of the freeze]...
In subsequent negotiations, four principles were established: no further land expropriations, no new settlements, building only within the settlement construction lines, and no further use of public funds...
For the first time, [in Bush's letter], legitimization was given to the settlement blocs. They were no longer settlements. They were territories that would remain under Israeli sovereignty...
Broadly, did we honor our understandings? The fact is: we didn't expropriate land; we didn't build new settlements, we didn't use public funds. I can't say that there wasn't an instance here or there of building beyond construction lines, because I don't have all the information, but in most of the settlements there certainly wasn't."
But as to the present, given those understandings and since Netanyahu has accepted two states and agreed to honor all previous agreements, why the demand for the freeze?
I didn't hear the prime minister accept the road map [in his Bar-Ilan University speech last month]... Was the significance of what he said that he accepts the road map?
I'm a great devotee of the road map, obviously... It wasn't easy for Sharon to be the man who brings to the government a program that ends, on page seven, with a Palestinian state. But what he understood - and what I'm not sure the current incumbent understands - is that a Palestinian state will rise. It will rise. If there was a stage when Israel could prevent this, and I don't know if there was, it has been missed, and it was missed between 1967 and 1980. If Israel had succeeded, as it believed it would succeed, in settling two million Jews in Judea and Samaria... Demographics does change borders...
The international community says to us, "You can't have it both ways. You can't say that the western side of the Land of Israel, where the Jewish demographic has triumphed, is yours for demographic reasons, but that the eastern part of the Land of Israel, where the Palestinian demographic has triumphed, that's yours 'by the book'. Well, make up your mind!"
Sharon understood that a Palestinian state will apparently rise, and that if that monster - sorry that state - rises, it had better be according to the road map, on a performance-based, internationally supervised process.
If I were Netanyahu, I wouldn't hint at the road map, and leave David Horovitz trying to work out if he had accepted it or not. I would, a minute after I had established my coalition, get up and declare not merely that I support the road map, but that I will insist on its implementation. [If I were him, I would have said:] "We agreed to the establishment of a Palestinian state. We see in the establishment of a Palestinian state an important goal. We see in its establishment possibly the key to Middle East peace. But we will insist on every clause and condition. We won't do what Olmert did with Annapolis, which is jump to phase three before the first phase. With us, the arithmetic is critical." And if Netanyahu had done that, the international community would have been reassured. The Americans would not be prodding us on the issue of the settlement freeze. The Palestinians would have resumed the negotiating process.
Olmert made a terrible mistake in departing from the performance-based criteria?
I hate the word "terrible" mistake. Ehud Olmert made a mistake by skipping this sequence and jumping right ahead to the third phase. Fortunately it happened near the end of his term, when his political standing was very weak.
To our great good fortune Abbas rejected his offer?
To our great good fortune Abbas rejected it, because he knew it was very tactical but not practical because of Ehud's weakness. To jump to phase three in my view is to neutralize the greatest advantage of the road map, because what are the pros and cons of the road map?
The disadvantage: The road map is the worst thing possible for someone who believes that there will be no Palestinian state. It talks of a Palestinian state! So anyone who believes he can prevent a Palestinian state - don't ask me how - like Bennie Begin, he doesn't want to hear about the road map...
But for anyone who believes that a Palestinian state has arisen or is about to, this is the most safe, least dangerous, most measured way of getting there. And Sharon understood that.
So Olmert made a mistake, which fortunately did not develop. The current American administration also doesn't like the Annapolis initiative. The Annapolis initiative is a consequence of an initiative from secretary of state [Rice] toward the end of her term, and from the Bush administration, in an attempt to show some success, and of various considerations, unclear to me, of Olmert.
He really believed it would work?
No, he was far too smart for that. Like Taba after [Ehud] Barak's Camp David [attempt at a permanent accord in 2000], these were last minute efforts by two departing administrations. It had no chance.
Are all Netanyahu's caveats in the road map already?
Netanyahu, for reasons not clear to me, but perhaps partly because of the opposition that he developed to the road map as a member of the internal opposition in the Likud, arrived [at the Prime Minister's Office] with very negative baggage. He had to be dragged rather than jumping of his own free will [toward accepting the two-state vision].
The road map is not a political program. It's a management plan. It contains no solutions. It says nothing about whether all refugees will return or none of them. It sets an agenda, an order for discussion.
In the first phase, which the Palestinians have not honored although they are making progress, Israel must determine that the Palestinian Authority does what it needs to do to control its security forces, to prevent terror and all the things it is starting to do.
When that successfully happens, and the international monitoring team comes and says the Palestinians have successfully passed the test, you get to the second stage - the political stage - the establishment of a Palestinian state within interim borders, the current borders of the Palestinian Authority. Here, unfortunately, the process would come to a halt, because the Palestinians are not capable of determining, for themselves, the current borders of the Palestinian Authority.
Does it include Gaza or not? It's hard for me to believe that the Palestinians would agree to establish a state within the West Bank only, because that would be likely to represent separation from Gaza. On the other hand, to declare a state including Gaza, when 40 percent of that state is not under the control of the Palestinian Authority - they wouldn't do that either. So there's a reasonable basis to believe that the Palestinians are not currently interested in accelerating talks on a permanent accord because they're not ready...
But let's say it will happen. According to the road map, before the establishment of a Palestinian state within temporary borders, if it is possible, all the questions of what we called "restricting sovereignty" arise. This is not a subject that Netanyahu invented. There are files of our work on this in the Prime Minister's Office, all the preparations we made if we get to phase two... We dealt with [the need to ensure] that they won't have military forces; police forces only. Limitations on the police force, on its weaponry; no automatic weaponry, only pistols. Kinds of ammunition, vehicles, deployment - this has all been examined.
So today to raise the question of demilitarization is premature. Let's say that they declare today that they'll be demilitarized? So what? Does that mean they get a state?
As for the second condition [raised by Netanyahu], on recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Well, that is in the third phase of the road map.
So you're saying all the caveats he raised are already reflected in the road map?
The road map includes elements he mentioned. If he raised them as stand alone values, that's a mistake. Is he reducing all of Israel's concerns to just two caveats? Let's say Abbas, in an imaginary scenario, lifts up the phone to him and says, "I heard your speech. Great! Let's meet tonight. I'll bring with me recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and we'll demilitarize." They already know it will be demilitarized. So does that mean you're ready to establish the state?
What other caveats did Netanyahu leave out?
You want me to give you a list? Definitions of sovereignty. Do they get an internal intelligence service? An external intelligence service? Restrictions on sovereignty as regards communications with other countries. Treaties with other countries. Air rights. Broadcast issues. Are they part of our 972 communications bloc? Currency issues. Control of border crossings - the most critical issue. Allenby bridge, Sheikh Hussein bridge, Damya bridge - they run it, or we do? Rights to interrogate, to arrest. International legal treaties. A Palestinian murders an Israeli in Ramallah, is he extradited to Israel?
At the end of our term, we set up a team under Aaron Abramovich to prepare a list - not of the answers, but of the problems! There's an innumerable number. The Israeli military presence in Judea and Samaria. Israel departs completely or leaves behind defensive facilities?
The first phase of the road map mentions two working plans, Zinni's and Tenet's, whose headline is really "How gangs become a state." It's all in there, including how you outlaw illegal weaponry, what legislation you need, how you build a chain of prevention, how you build an investigations hierarchy, how you prevent.... It's all in there. But Netanyahu didn't say any of that.
The desire on the one hand to relieve the international pressure, and the desire on the other not to endorse what had already been done [with the road map], means there is inconsistency.
And that's a pity because...
Because the road map is, within the framework of the bad things, the best thing. The late Tommy Lapid, in the stormy cabinet meeting that debated the road map, where every minister stood and lectured and showed his rhetorical skills, when Tommy spoke, he said, Whoever understands that a Palestinian state will be established, should support this as the most secure and checked path to there. Whoever thinks that a Palestinian state is not on the agenda today and won't be in the future, should reject it. Now let's vote. And that's precisely the essence of the issue.
If [Netanyahu] has a patent for preventing Palestinian statehood, he should put the road map aside. If he has no such patent...
Well, he said he has a vision of Palestinian statehood.
If he has a vision, he should explain to me how to ensure that what you don't want to happen, won't happen...
If the Americans say there's no road map, and let's say instead they convene a peace conference in Washington in the presence of the Saudis and the Kuwaitis and the Qataris, all singing Israel's praises, to discuss final status issues, what will Netanyahu say then?
Do you think that's possible?
I don't think it will happen because certain players in the administration are showing responsibility toward us.
They're protecting us from ourselves?
To a certain extent, yes. The administration is deterred from canceling the road map, although a great number of them, the less friendly...
They see it as presenting so steep a challenge to the Palestinians that the Palestinians will never meet it, and so they want to...
They understand that this is so American a process: work against terror, build up institutions, introduce the necessary transparencies. Read that first phase and ask yourself, Who did they write this about? I'm saying this seriously: I'm not sure Switzerland meets these conditions. So it's clear that later [the Americans] understood: It's great, but it apparently won't happen.
By the way, when Sharon accepted the road map, in internal discussions he was aware that it was too good to be true. Do you know what his real fear was? All the time he said, at the beginning, "I'll tell you what the problem is. The Palestinians will do a little. They'll arrest a couple [of terrorists] and jail them, put a third on trial... and then the international community will come along and say, "Look, they've acted very well."
And we'll say, "What are you talking about? It's barely a third or a quarter of the work."
And they'll say, "Listen, this is the Middle East. This is very good by Middle Eastern standards. And they'll put pressure on us...
So one of our key insistences when it came to monitoring was that the [international] Quartet could not be the monitor on security issues. The Quartet for everything, but not for security issues. On that it had to be a US-led team. because Sharon trusted the Americans.
And indeed the US-led team - with its changing general at its head - would report: "They've done nothing. They've done nothing." After a year or two, Sharon saw that the American supervision was real and serious, uncompromising. He knew the Americans are fair people...
Why give up on that? I don't understand...
So now we come to today, and a prime minister, doubtless with the best interests of Israel at heart, inherits a reality where the road map formula has not worked...
But that's not true. In 2003-4, you were correct. But what's happened now is that the effort the Palestinians are making to eliminate terrorism is surprising - both the effort and the result. The rise of Hamas has created different considerations, different worries. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the top issue now. The internal struggle over the nature of Palestinian society - the extremists versus the secularists - that's the dominant element today. Their struggle against terror today is not related to Israel - it's beneficial to Israel - but every Palestinian today will tell you that the reality in the West Bank is unlike anything it ever was, relating to the rule of law, law and order, internal security, handling of criminals and corruption...
So it's starting to work?
It's starting to work. I never said that the road map was a death blow to the political process.
Sharon was a very wise man. He would never have agreed to a formula that he didn't think would ever work.
If, a day after the signing of the road map, the Palestinians had started seriously tackling terror, and six months later had met the requirements, what would have happened? The final status talks would have got under way. The road map has no timetable, but it had time targets, estimations. On the assumption that the road map was signed at the end of 2002, the architects of the road map estimated that in May 2005 a Palestinian state would have been established. That was the assumption: three years to the goal.
Sharon didn't have the vision that the Palestinians would never ensure quiet. If they had achieved quiet, the road map would have led to the establishment of a Palestinian state - established under the best conditions from our point of view. The hope was that they would meet their requirements. The intention was that there would be a Palestinian state.
And do the Americans feel today that the Palestinians are meeting their requirements?
The Americans are examining this. They do feel in my opinion that matters are being dealt with according to the road map sequence. They're very satisfied with the Palestinians' work. I'm not sure they're convinced its irrevocable, sufficiently stable, sufficiently durable, to the point where they can come to the Israelis and say, "Gentlemen, let's get to the final status talks." They understand how fragile it is - the complexities of relations with Hamas; the weakness of Abu Mazen and [PA Prime Minister Salam] Fayad. But in another year, if things in "Palestine" are moving in a positive direction, the Americans might say, "Netanyahu doesn't show any particular affection for the road map, so why should we?"
That's not happening now and it won't happen next month. They won't impose a solution on us, because they're not convinced that what's happening on the Palestinian side is stable. One thing I'm sure the US doesn't want is a Palestinian state at any price tomorrow, and after that all hell breaking loose. They want the experiment to succeed. They do want coexistence. They do want stability. They want to avoid another intifada and bloodshed.
But their risk assessment is far lower than ours, and their readiness to take chances is far greater than ours - understandably when you live in Pennsylvania Avenue rather than Jerusalem.
But my fear is that, if the calm continues for another few months, and there's no return to the terrible terrorism of 2003 - which, with the terrible price, from a political point of view "finished" the Palestinians - who would speak to them amid those despicable scenes of blown up buses and decapitated passengers. Today [the Americans] go to Ramallah, they see bustling streets, economic growth, western-dressed boys and girls. There's lots of empathy...
And there'll be an inclination to say, "Forget the sequence and cut to the chase - to final status?
That's what I fear.
And that's when we need to say: Only via the road map?
That's what we should say, and do not say.
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