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Does it really make a difference what the various potential coalition partners believe on cardinal issues facing the country today? The government of Ehud Olmert believed in a negotiated peace process based on the road map, eventually leading to the creation of a Palestinian state as articulated at the Annapolis Conference. All of the parties that made up the Olmert government supported this goal, yet the government under Olmert didn't even begin to implement its road map obligations.
The road map stated: "Israel takes all necessary steps to help normalize Palestinian life. Israel withdraws from Palestinian areas occupied from September 28, 2000 and the two sides restore the status quo that existed at that time, as security performance and cooperation progress. Israel also freezes all settlement activity, consistent with the Mitchell Report."
On settlements the road map states explicitly: "Government of Israel immediately dismantles settlement outposts erected since March 2001. Consistent with the Mitchell Report, GOI freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements)."
Olmert's government did redeploy outside of some of the Palestinian cities, but kept its right to enter those cities unilaterally at any time it chose, in addition to demanding that Palestinian security forces disappear every evening after midnight. On settlements, the government didn't do anything. Instead, the Olmert government continued intensive settlement growth, even in areas beyond the separation barrier.
HOW IS THE BEHAVIOR of the Kadima-led government of Olmert different from the stated platform of Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud? The Likud platform states: "The Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel. The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting."
The Annapolis program mentioned in the Kadima platform stated the following: "The parties also commit to immediately implement their respective obligations under the performance-based road map to a permanent two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict issued by the Quartet on 30 April, 2003" - this is called the road map - and agree to form an American, Palestinian and Israeli mechanism led by the United States to follow up on the implementation of the road map. The parties further commit to continue the implementation of the ongoing obligations of the road map until they reach a peace treaty. The United States will monitor and judge the fulfillment of the commitment of both sides of the road map."
Furthermore, the Annapolis joint statement read: "In furtherance of the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, we agree to immediately launch good-faith bilateral negotiations in order to conclude a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues without exception, as specified in previous agreements. As Olmert recently put it, 'We will avoid none of the historic questions. We will not run from discussing any of them.'"
In reality though, Olmert refused to discuss the future of Jerusalem either in his direct talks with Mahmoud Abbas or in the bilateral negotiations between Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Qurei.
The platform of the Likud states: "The government headed by the Likud will keep Jerusalem the unified capital of Israel under Israeli sovereignty. For 2000 years Jews from all over the world have yearned to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their historical capital. Jerusalem is the very heart of Jewish culture, and we will continue to preserve it as such, while allowing freedom of religion and access to all religions in their holy places in the city. The worst action that can be taken for peace is dividing Jerusalem. Such a step would create a permanent site of friction that is likely to ignite the entire region. Only an undivided Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty can preserve regional peace."
In the end, there is no real difference. Olmert made some speeches about the need to share Jerusalem or that certain parts of Jerusalem will not remain under Israeli sovereignty. But in reality, beyond words, nothing changed under Kadima. It all comes down to semantics. Nothing in Jerusalem or about Jerusalem's status changed under a Kadima-led government, just as it is unlikely that it will change under a Likud-led government.
Netanyahu has stated that Israel should be focusing its efforts on helping President Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayad improve the day-to-day lives of Palestinians. In particular, it should be trying to help them rapidly develop their economy. "While this will not resolve the conflict, it can create an environment in which negotiations would have a better chance of succeeding. A Likud-led government will immediately focus on a serious and sustained effort to fundamentally change the situation on the ground."
That was precisely the logic of Annapolis as well. The latest World Bank report on the Palestinian economy (December 2008) states: "The main bottlenecks to trade between the West Bank and the outside world are the internal movement restrictions, the commercial crossings and the inefficient operation of the Allenby Bridge. If Palestinian enterprises are going to have any chance to successfully penetrate the international market, all of these issues must be addressed, while at the same time not jeopardizing Israel's security. Improved trade logistics will increase the competitiveness of Palestinian goods, which is necessary if Palestinian enterprises are to achieve efficient scale and move toward higher value added products."
The same was written by the World Bank immediately after Annapolis one year earlier - in other words, the economic situation in the West Bank remained mostly unchanged, even after the government adopted the Annapolis process promising a new and improved reality on the ground.
The logic of Annapolis was sound and wise. The idea was to offer the Palestinian people a real and clear choice: Look at the reality in Gaza under Hamas - economic siege, no freedom and no hopes. Look then at the new reality in the West Bank - much more free movement and access, a real political horizon, hope for a negotiated agreement and economic prosperity. On the ground, in reality, nothing changed.
ARE THE PROMISES of Binyamin Netanyahu more valuable than the promises of Ehud Olmert spoken by President George W. Bush? The future of any Israeli-Palestinian peace will depend less on the make up of the coalition and more on the determination of the Obama administration to embrace the government with what has come to be known as "tough love." Eight years of the Bush administration's "bear hug" has crushed the life out of any chances for real peace. If there is any chance of breathing new life into all of the broken promises, it will only be a result of a tough US administration pushing both sides to make the tough decisions that must be made.
Every government since the beginning of the Oslo peace process in September 1993 has negotiated with the Palestinians while continuing to build settlements. It is true that the Oslo agreements never explicitly prevented Israel from building settlements. No US administration since Oslo has exerted any effective pressure on Israel to cease its settlement activities. Each administration has made sharp and direct statements, including Bush, against the settlement building.
No Palestinian will ever believe that Israel has any real intention of making peace while settlement building continues. What is the chance that the next government will cease settlement building on its own? None. The exact same chance that existed with all of the governments since Oslo.
Tzipi Livni promised that she would let the dove inside the window, but what prevented her from doing it until now? Netanyahu will promise the Palestinians economic growth and prosperity, but over and over again we have seen that without political progress economic promises are empty words. We cannot buy peace and security. We cannot remove Palestinian demands for freedom with a few more shekels in their pockets. Both intifadas broke out at a time when economically there was more real promise and hope than at any time prior to then.
We do not need more empty promises. We do not require a new peace process; we have all had our fill of "peace processes" - what is left to be processed? We will only move forward if we have a US administration leading a multilateral international supported drive that will force the new government to realize that we have reached the end of the road (map) on the two-state solution. We need an international community that will provide the assurances, guarantees, mechanisms and pressure that will enable our new government to truly provide the people of Israel with the peace and security promised in each and every election campaign. It very well may be now or never.
The writer is the co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.