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A standard example of unfair negotiations is when one side "moves the goalposts" by increasing its demands just as the other side tries to fulfill them. The "peace process" with the Palestinians suffers from the opposite problem: whenever there seems to be an opportunity for the Palestinians to move in the right direction, the goalposts are quickly moved toward them, thereby eliminating any incentive for and bringing a halt to the much-desired progress.
Such is the case with Prime Minister Olmert's meeting with Palestinian Authority President Abbas on Monday. At that meeting, Olmert reportedly discussed "fundamental issues" with the purpose of developing a "framework" for a Palestinian state. In other words, Olmert seems to be caving in to pressure from the US to fudge the sequencing of the road map, which clearly requires that terrorism be fought first and a Palestinian state negotiated later.
The timing of this is strange. If it is true that for the first time ever there is a leadership in part of the PA that is serious about ending terrorism, dismantling militias and starting to build a peaceful Palestinian state, why would this be the time to lift the demand - endorsed by Israel, the Quartet and even the PA itself - to do just those things?
The counterargument is that the PA is in fact incapable of meeting the road map conditions, and therefore those conditions should be removed or the present opportunity will be missed and Hamas will take over the entire PA. But this argument is self-contradictory: If the PA is incapable of fulfilling its side of the road map, where is the opportunity?
In essence, the US is taking the State Department's approach, whereby the sequencing of the road map should not only be relaxed, but flipped; under this approach, only by creating or negotiating the contours of a Palestinian state will Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad be "strengthened" enough to fight terrorism.
In yesterday's Yediot Aharonot, Dov Weissglas, who negotiated the road map for Ariel Sharon, explains the problem with this US flirtation with pre-road map thinking: "Everyone recognizes the great risk that lies in establishing an independent and sovereign Palestinian state in the present format of Palestinian society - a society plagued with terrorism, crime, corruption and divisiveness. Such a state would become a 'respected' member of the international community, but terrorism against Israel would continue from within it, while the IDF's ability to operate inside the Palestinian state would be significantly reduced due to political and legal constraints...
"Today, for the purpose of preventing terrorism, the security forces lawfully control and surround [Palestinian areas]... When a Palestinian state is established, the security forces would be required - for the purpose of preventing terrorism - to invade the territory of a neighboring sovereign state... The difference between the two situations speaks for itself."
Israelis have had it with policies based on "trust and withdrawal." Many times during the Oslo process Israel negotiated partial handovers of security control. Each time, Israel lets its guard down on the promise that the Palestinians will fight terrorism, and each time the "experiment" falls apart, often at the expense of Israeli lives.
Israel also "experimented" with withdrawals without agreements, from Lebanon in 2000 and from Gaza in 2005. In both cases, Israel was supposed to make up for its lost security presence with increased deterrence, and we were assured that Israel would not be deterred from punishing any attacks that arose from the evacuated territory.
All such "trust and withdrawal" experiments, whether unilateral or by agreement, failed to enhance security and deterrence, and produced more attacks, weakened deterrence, a reduction in Israel's ability to combat terrorism, and strengthened and more belligerent enemies.
This last effect is seen in the striking results of a recent Pew Global Attitudes Project poll, which found that support for suicide bombings had dropped sharply since 2002 in a number of Muslim countries, but remained extremely high among Palestinians. According to Pew: "Fully 70 percent of Palestinians believe that suicide bombings against civilians can be often or sometimes justified."
Under such circumstances, it is not the Palestinians' trust that must be earned, but Israel's. The road map's sequencing is more justified and important than ever. Olmert, who spent much effort attempting to shore up this sequencing, should not abandon it at this critical moment.