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Is the new government on a collision course with the US? It would seem so. President Barack Obama and his secretary of state have let Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu know in no uncertain terms that the two-states-for-two-peoples solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the only plan on the table. In a statement appearing on the Web page of the Foreign Ministry, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated: "We will act exactly according to the road map, including the Tenet document and the Zinni document. I voted against the road map, but that was the only document approved by the cabinet and by the Security Council - I believe it was Resolution 1505. It is a binding resolution and binds this government as well."
Lieberman further stated in interviews that he is obligated to the "road map as the government of Israel voted" implicitly referring to the 14 reservations decided by the Sharon government on May 25, 2003. Those reservations emptied the road map of its primary content and watered down all of Israel's obligations. In response, US officials, including president George W. Bush and secretary of state Colin Powell declared that both sides would be obligated to fulfill the road map as it was drafted.
Before getting into the issues, a few corrections for Lieberman: It was UN Security Council Resolution 1515 not 1505. That resolution calls on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to implement their road map obligations, and there is no mention of Israel's reservations. Resolution 1515 makes no mention of the Tenet or the Zinni documents. UN Security Council Resolution 1397 from March 2001 makes mention of the Tenet plan and the Mitchell understandings, as does the road map itself. Lieberman would do himself honor and limit Israel's embarrassment if he would actually read those documents and become somewhat familiar with them.
Lieberman and Netanyahu should take note that the road map, to which the government of Israel is obligated, demands a total freeze on all settlement building, including for natural growth; that it takes all necessary steps to help normalize Palestinian life; that it withdraws from Palestinian areas occupied from September 28, 2000 and the two sides restore the status quo that existed at that time. Furthermore, Israel is obligated to reopen the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce and other closed Palestinian institutions in east Jerusalem (such as Orient House) based on a commitment that these institutions operate strictly in accordance with prior agreements between the parties; and that Israel immediately dismantles settlement outposts erected since March 2001. Since the issuing of the road map in April 2003, Israel has not fulfilled even one of its obligations.
NOWHERE IN the road map or the UN resolutions does it state that the implementation of the obligations of the parties are sequential - meaning that first the PA must fulfill its obligations and only then will Israel begin to fulfill its obligations. The PA, on the other hand, has, at least in the West Bank, fulfilled almost all its obligations, attested to even by senior IDF officers. US monitors, including Obama's National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones and US Gen. Keith Dayton have been greatly satisfied by the commitment of the PA in the West Bank under President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayad in taking decisive and determined actions against the infrastructure of terrorism and in removing corruption from their government, whose finances are strictly monitored by the international community.
Will the Netanyahu government freeze settlement building? Will Defense Minister Ehud Barak instruct the IDF to remove unauthorized outposts? Will the IDF withdraw to positions held prior to September 28, 2000? Will Lieberman and Netanyahu allow Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem to reopen? No, no, no and no!
Netanyahu has declared his intention to restart negotiations with the Palestinians. He has stated that Israel has no desire to control the lives of the Palestinians; however, he has also stated that a future Palestinian state would have no control over its external borders, not be allowed to have an army, not be allowed to determine its own foreign policy, not have control over its airspace or its electro-magnetic sphere. There is not a Palestinian leader alive who would agree to these terms. Netanyahu offers no platform to the PA on which it can stand to even open up negotiations. If these are the terms for bilateral negotiations, they will not even begin.
In this case, the first decision that Obama will have to make, once the economic crisis allows him a moment, is that negotiations will be shifted from a bilateral process into a multilateral one. It could begin as a trilateral process with talk mediated and facilitated by the US, but a more constructive path would be to empower the Quartet, which is a creation of the road map process which Lieberman claims to accept.
THE ROAD MAP itself states that "the Quartet will assist and facilitate implementation of the plan... The Quartet will meet regularly at senior levels to evaluate the parties' performance on implementation of the plan. In each phase, the parties are expected to perform their obligations in parallel, unless otherwise indicated... the Palestinians will have the active support of the Quartet and the broader international community in establishing an independent, viable state... Quartet members promote international recognition of a Palestinian state, including possible UN membership."
The Obama administration does not need to devise a new plan. The road map provides the mechanism for direct international involvement, engagement and even imposition. The conflict will not be resolved by Netanyahu and Lieberman in negotiations with Abbas and Fayad. Even if Hamas was not in control of Gaza, there will be no bilateral Israeli-Palestinian progress toward peace.
The international community may not be able to force the parties to sign agreements to which they do not agree, but the international community can take a very active role in pushing the parties in that direction. The conflict is resolvable and most of the international community agrees on the parameters of its resolution. There is no time to waste on bilateral negotiations that have no chance of moving forward.
The Quartet is the international mechanism existing to push the two parties forward. A real partnership of the US, the EU, Russia and the UN represents the primary actors with the interests and power to lead toward the resolution of this conflict which so endangers the stability of the world. The road map and the Arab Peace Initiative, supported by Obama, provide the tools and the direction. Obama's leadership is the ingredient that has been absent.
Israeli political intransigence or elements of Palestinian fanaticism should no longer stand in the way of bringing the conflict to closure. The majority of Israelis and Palestinians are tired of this conflict, yet because of the failures of the peace process which were entirely dependent on bilateral agreements and willingness to move forward, they have lost hope. This conflict will not be resolved solely on the basis of bilateral agreement. Now is the time to demonstrate that the international community has the tools and the determination to lead us all to a more peaceful future.
The writer is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. firstname.lastname@example.org