yossi alpher 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In the eyes of many knowledgeable Israeli observers, improved security in the
West Bank and the role played therein by Palestinian security forces is the most
important aspect of the Palestinian Authority’s successful state-building
program of recent years.
We pay far less attention to the other aspects:
creating judicial, financial and administrative institutions that work and are
relatively uncorrupt. We don’t particularly care whether the Palestinians have a
national bar code system. Only a few Israelis have become involved in the
renascent West Bank economy.
Nor is this centrality of security issues
unique to Israeli perceptions. The recent unification dialogue between Fatah and
Hamas in Damascus has focused, and has virtually collapsed, over the nature and
status of a combined security force in the West Bank and the Gaza
Yet, precisely because the Palestinian security effort in the West
Bank has proven so successful and the Israeli man or woman in the street is no
longer preoccupied with a Palestinian terrorist threat, there is no strong
movement in Israel to make the political sacrifices necessary to reward
Palestinians with a state of their own. Thus Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
can drag his feet on final-status negotiations without paying a domestic
political price. Compare this situation to that of the early part of this
decade, when frightened Israelis demonstrated and signed petitions in favor of a
West Bank security fence to stop terrorist suicide bombers, eventually forcing
the hand of a less-than-enthusiastic Sharon government.
explain why the positive security legacy in the West Bank left behind by
American Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton, who departed last month after five years of
efforts, provides a significant wind in the sails for only one of the two
parallel peace processes that we confront today.
THE FIRST, failing
process, is the Obama- Clinton-Mitchell effort to maneuver, pressure and entice
the Netanyahu government and the PLO into a renewal of comprehensive
final-status negotiations. The Obama administration has complicated the process
by introducing a problematic preoccupation with a settlement construction
freeze, while both the Netanyahu government and the PLO leadership under Mahmoud
Abbas appear to be too conflicted and constrained ideologically and too
hamstrung politically to commit to a serious negotiating progress. The only
security element in this process is Netanyahu’s demand that final-status talks
begin with security – seemingly as if Dayton had never existed.
not the case with the second process, the Palestinian and Arab countdown toward
an effort to gain United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state alongside
Israel. Here the Palestinian statebuilding exercise, spearheaded by the
successful security effort, is a key factor in persuading the international
community that the Palestinian Authority is ready for the transition from
autonomy to statehood.
True, security has been enhanced only in the West
Bank, and the Hamas leadership ruling the Gaza Strip remains a primary threat to
PLO designs regarding the West Bank.
Nevertheless, the contrasting role
of security in each of the two processes highlights the problematic nature of
Washington’s role in shepherding them.
On the one hand, as the Dayton
mission illustrates, the US (together with the European Union) correctly
identified the key role of security in setting the scene for progress of any
sort. A major investment in funds, training and expertise that commenced under
the George W. Bush administration has paid off handsomely. It’s fair to say that
the Dayton legacy is the engine driving the state-building process.
the other hand, the Obama administration’s effort to promote a comprehensive
negotiated end-of-conflict agreement within a year has foundered. If this flawed
venture continues to be pursued, it could well jeopardize the Dayton
achievements and plunge Israel and the West Bank back into some form of renewed
THANKS TO Dayton, Washington would be far better off abandoning
its construction freeze and negotiations demands and concentrating instead on
making Palestinian unilateral state-building work at the international level. It
should be seeking to coopt Jerusalem into integrating Israel’s security and
political needs within the framework of the necessary UN
Rather than trying to sit the reluctant sides down to reach
an elusive comprehensive solution within a year, the US should be capitalizing
on Dayton’s achievement in order to foster an indirectly negotiated but
internationally recognized partial solution that capitalizes on the Palestinian
unilateral state-building initiative and concentrates on borders, settlements,
water and security.The writer, coeditor of the bitterlemons family of
Internet publications, is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic
Studies at Tel Aviv University. This article first appeared at
www.bitterlemons.org and is reprinted with permission.
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