Encountering Peace: The road map can work

Abbas and Olmert still have time to reach an agreement.

Olmert Abbas 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Olmert Abbas 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Remember the road map? For some time it was the only game in town and then Ariel Sharon declared that there was no partner and declared the unilateral disengagement from Gaza. Then came Mahmoud Abbas, elected with a large majority to rule the Palestinian Authority and once again the road map showed up as the plan to guide the sides back to the table. But then, a year later, Hamas was elected and took over the Palestinian government and once again the road map was pushed aside. Then came the Hamas takeover of Gaza a year ago, and Abbas broke relations with Hamas. President Bush convened the Annapolis summit which put the road map back on the table. The government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority once again obligated themselves to implement Phase I of the road map while at the same time, in parallel, moving into Phase III - the permanent status negotiations. Phase I of the road map obligates the Palestinians to take decisive action against the terrorist infrastructure, to reorganize the Palestinian security forces and to reform the Palestinian Authority, removing all elements of corruption. The Phase I obligations of Israel include freezing all settlement growth, including for natural growth, removing unauthorized outposts and redeploying to positions held prior to September 28, 2000. Since the road map's inception, Israel has complained that the Palestinians did not implement any of their obligations. Israel claimed that the implementation of the road map must be sequential and not parallel, meaning that first the Palestinians must implement their primary obligations of fighting against terror and only then would Israel implement its obligations. The Israeli interpretation of the sequential nature of the obligations was never correct, however; even it if were correct, today the Palestinians have and are fulfilling their obligations, whereas Israel has done absolutely nothing to address its obligations. WHILE THE Palestinian Authority is incapable of fulfilling its road map commitments in Gaza, in the West Bank the PA has completely revamped its governance. There is now a responsible, transparent and accountable financial system in place monitored by the International community. Governmental level corruption has disappeared. The Palestinian security forces have been restructured, reorganized and are now completely accountable to the president and the prime minister. Security coordination has been reinstated. Palestinian forces have been deployed in many towns and cities in the West Bank working decisively on fighting terrorism. More forces are being trained by US General Keith Dayton with the full approval, support and coordination of the IDF. What about Israel's obligations? Nothing! Israel has not begun to address its obligations, quite the opposite. Instead of freezing settlement building and removing unauthorized outposts, Israel has authorized the construction of more than 7,500 housing units since Annapolis. Israel has not redeployed its forces anywhere out of the territories; instead it has invented the "Cinderella rule," allowing PA security forces to deploy in Palestinian towns and cities until midnight when the IDF has a free hand to do as it pleases. Israel's continued violations of its road map commitments weakens Mahmoud Abbas in the eyes of his own public and, therefore weakens his ability to negotiate freely with Israel on permanent status issues. IN RESPONSE to his weakened position and the continued Israeli violations, Abbas recently announced that he was renewing the national dialogue between Fatah and Hamas. The Palestinian public supports the move to renew the dialogue. They say how can it be possible that the Palestinian Authority is in dialogue with Israel but refuses to have dialogue with its own people? As long as the negotiations between the PLO and Israel continue and show some times of possible progress, it is unlikely that the Palestinian national dialogue will produce a new agreement for a national unity government. Abbas would much prefer to reach an agreement with Israel and then go to new elections. Abbas believes very strongly that a large majority of the Palestinian public will vote for peace once an agreement is reached. Abbas will not compromise on basic Palestinian demands just to have an agreement, just as Olmert will not back down from basic Israeli demands just to survive politically. Are the basic national demands of both sides reconcilable? I believe that they are. The major Israeli demands and needs concern security. It seems to me that if Israel is convinced that the Palestinians are truly committed to removing the language of violence and armed struggle from their side, and they see it actually happening on the ground (as Abbas is proving daily), Israel would be much more forthcoming concerning territorial issues. Aside from the security work that the Palestinians are doing on the ground with relatively high grades from Israeli security personnel, it would be more than beneficial for them if they were to make some significant changes in the area of symbols: for instance, changing the emblem of the Fatah movement which embodies the armed struggle by presenting two Kalashnikov rifles in its center. While the real issue is the decisive action against the infrastructure of terrorism on the ground, a change of the Fatah logo would signal a change of mind and heart in addition to demonstrative acts on the ground. The Palestinian territorial demands amount to establishing their state on 100 percent of the 22% of the land from "the river to the sea" leaving 78% in the hands of Israel. The 22% accounts for the territories beyond the green line armistice lines of 1949. The Palestinians are willing to make adjustments in the lines in order to account for the settlements that Israel established since 1967, making land swaps, but they are not willing to compromise on the total size of the state or on the nature of territorial contiguity which has been promised to them by President Bush. This is something that can be reconciled between the sides. JERUSALEM MUST become the capitals of both states. Israel has no need or real desire to rule over more than 250,000 Palestinians in its capital. Nor do places like Tsur Baher, Jabel Mukaber or Um Tuba have to remain part of the eternal undivided capital of Israel. What is most sacred is that the Kotel (Western Wall) and the Old City's Jewish quarter remain under Israeli sovereignty, and that free, open and safe access is guaranteed to all Jewish holy places, including the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives. While Israeli law has granted Israel control over the Temple Mount, Israel maintains the policy that Jewish prayer or collective gatherings on the Mount are not allowed. The Muslim authorities have continued to enjoy effective control over the Temple Mount even after 1967 and that is likely to remain unchanged - at least until the Messiah comes. Most Palestinians and their leaders recognize that the right of return of refugees will have to be implemented to the Palestinian state and not to Israel. Along with repatriation to the Palestinian state, Palestinian refugees will have to receive financial compensation for their real losses, and the State of Israel will have to participate in an international fund for that purpose. These are the main issues involved and reaching an agreement is possible. There is little time left from when the window opened after Annapolis made negotiations possible. As long as there is a government in Jerusalem and in Ramallah there is a mandate to negotiate. Any agreement reached will have to be brought back to the people on both sides. If Olmert and Abbas fail to reach an agreement, I believe that history will judge that failure as criminal. The time has come for the leaders to begin to wrap up the negotiations. They've done a very good job at keeping the negotiations secret. It is now time to begin to show the publics that progress is being made and that hope is still alive. The writer is Co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. [email protected]