Reaching the summit, and then staying put

Olmert and Abbas must understand that leaders who do not provide hope should not be wasting our time.

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September 11, 2006 20:27
4 minute read.
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Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has announced his intention to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, stating that the meeting will focus on resuming the road map process. If Olmert wants to hold a meeting just for the sake of it, his advisers should tell him, frankly, that he is wasting his time and Abbas's. There is no need for another photo-op of the two leaders shaking hands. The road map is dead, and it will not come back to life. It died because both sides failed to fulfill their obligations in Phase I. The Palestinian Authority failed to take decisive action against the terrorist infrastructure - to collect weapons and unify the security forces; Israel failed to freeze settlements, dismantle illegal outposts and return to the lines it held prior to September 28, 2000. The Palestinian leadership has lately been engaged in an internal dialogue. It has granted Abbas the authority to negotiate, but not to launch a civil war. Israel, for its part, has been engaged in trying to find ways to launder the illegal outposts, and it has been issuing additional tenders for building in West Bank settlements. Neither side is seriously going to fulfill its road map obligations, particularly when it is convinced that the other side will not keep its own commitments. We will once again face the argument of whether the implementation of the road map is supposed to be sequential - that is, first the Palestinians act and then Israel acts; or whether they will act in parallel. This is a waste of time, and will not renew the political process. THE QUARTET that led the road map is also dead. There is no point in relying on the United States under George Bush to use its "good offices" in mediating between Israel and the Palestinians. Bush cannot be a fair and evenhanded mediator; nor is he particularly interested in engaging in a renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The EU? It cannot do the job because it has no unified foreign policy, and because the EU too frequently sides with the Palestinians, often failing to see the legitimacy of Israeli positions on vital security issues. As for the other two junior members of the Quartet, the UN and Russia, they cannot alone serve as mediators, for a variety of reasons. It would be far more beneficial to create a new Quartet - a "little quartet" composed of Israel, the PA, Egypt and Jordan. The Big Quartet could be brought into the process if and when it reached positive conclusions, after which we would need the support of the international community. For the time being, the little quartet could do just fine in creating a new peace process and enabling and facilitating negotiations. Nor is there much point in negotiating another interim agreement. The Oslo process largely ignored the main issues in the conflict, then attempted to resolve them in a two-week Camp David summit. The sides are much better prepared now to face the permanent status issues. There are no surprises, and the options and parameters of the solutions to the issues are largely known. Most Israelis and most Palestinians agree to the main compromises involved. The problems will arise not in the negotiating phase, but in the implementation. That is why it is logical now to concentrate on negotiations to reach agreements on permanent status, and then create the process for implementing those agreements, based on the road map and its logic. Once agreement is reached on permanent status the sides will have reason to implement what cannot be implemented today. ONCE PERMANENT status agreements exist their implementation can be incremental, performance-based, monitored and verified. Progress will be measured and specific benchmarks set which will have to be met prior to moving forward. The Big Quartet could be brought in during the final negotiating stages, once the sides begin working on the implementation plan. The international community would then have to provide the means for monitoring and verifying implementation, as well as international peacekeeping troops to assist in the agreements' security-related aspects. Egypt and Jordan would work with Israel and the PA to reach the agreements. Israel and the PA, under the leadership of Olmert and Abbas, could conduct most of the negotiations without outside assistance. King Abdullah and President Mubarak would be personally involved, helping along some of the more sensitive and difficult issues, as well as providing an Arab umbrella for the Palestinian leadership as it makes the tough decisions that will be necessary. WHEN OLMERT and Abbas meet for their first real working session, both must understand that leaders who do not provide their people with a horizon of hope for a better future should not be wasting our time. Don't give us spins, we are tired of false promises. Don't make nice speeches; we are tired of empty words. Don't tell us there are no partners - create the partnership. We want results. Both sides know very well that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a military conflict, and so there are no military solutions. It's a political conflict, and political solutions exist. Olmert and Abbas have a mandate from their peoples to find those solutions. If they fail, history will judge them and we will vote them out of office. They have only one chance, and they shouldn't fail. The writer is the Israeli Co-CEO of IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. www.ipcri.org

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