Don't give Israel an excuse to stall

The Palestinians need to think creatively about how to promote a West Bank withdrawal.

ramallah wall 88 (photo credit: )
ramallah wall 88
(photo credit: )
As I predicted in my earlier columns, Israel's unilateral policy has proven to be one of the first victims of its war against Lebanon. Politically tarnished from the unsuccessful gamble in Lebanon, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert clearly can't stomach another ill-advised gamble that will turn both the Israeli Right and Left against him. The failure of Israeli unilateralism both in Lebanon and Gaza highlights the fact that peace can't be decided by one party. For way too long Israelis have attempted to negotiate among themselves in respect to issues dealing with their Arab counterparts. Israel's unilateral theory has been based on the conveniently created assumption that there are no partners for Israel on the Palestinian side. Ariel Sharon coined this legend when Yasser Arafat was alive. The argument was repeated when Islamists won the Palestinian parliamentary elections. The fact that Mahmoud Abbas was in power before the elections that brought the Haniyeh government to power is conveniently ignored. Also ignored is the fact that the international community, including the US, recognizes President Abbas as the legitimate Palestinian partner. Even the Islamist Haniyeh government has repeatedly declared that Abbas is legally and politically entrusted to negotiate with the Israelis. Unfortunately, however, the decision to trash the unilateral withdrawal will not be replaced by a more sensible plan of bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians. Having scrapped the convergence plan, Ehud Olmert and company are also not sending any signals that they will now embark on the international community's road map, based on the declared Bush vision of a viable and contiguous state of Palestine alongside Israel. AS MUCH as I am firmly opposed to the Israeli unilateral policy, there is one area in which I am sorry it has been scrapped. While unilateralism can't and won't resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it did promise for many Palestinians (except those behind the illegal "wall" built deep in Palestinian territory) some short-term break. After 39 years of living under a foreign military occupation that controlled all aspects of Palestinian lives, the unilateral idea might have provided relief from the ugly reality of occupation and helped Palestinians start on the road to economic independence. In the post-Lebanon reality, one can't help but recognize the sad fact that the Israelis clearly have a blank check to do almost anything they want to Lebanese or Palestinians so long as it is done in the name of the war against Hizbullah or Hamas. Concurrently, one can't deny that the international community is once again actively engaged in the Middle East. In this context, the US and its allies appear to have realized that simply leaving the Middle East peoples to solve their own problems will not produce any tangible and long-term results. Caught between the unreserved US support for Israel (especially in its fight against Hamas) and the realization that the international community wants to engage in solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the big question that is asked is how. The Americans and their allies, who were never very excited about the idea of a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, are mistaken if they expect Olmert to voluntarily initiate serious negotiations with the Palestinians. Without active US involvement this will not happen. PALESTINIAN leaders Abbas and Haniyeh seem to have realized the need to remove the Israeli excuse not to engage with them. A hitherto underreported agreement over the prisoners' document (which calls for a Palestinian state within the 1967 lines) would allow Abbas to usher in the establishment of a national unity government that would include Islamists and secular nationalists. It remains to be seen whether the new government and its more moderate political program will be sufficient to remove the siege imposed on Palestinians that has crippled the Palestinian National Authority. A more significant change will occur if a solution is found that can lead to the release of the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, coupled with an end to the firing of Kassam rockets from Gaza to Israel. The war on Lebanon has shown the overwhelming political power of the US when it comes to policies dealing with this region. If Washington is serious about the vision of its president regarding a viable and contiguous state of Palestine to live side by side with a safe and secure State of Israel, it needs to put the power of the president's office behind such a plan. This is unlikely to happen until after the mid-term elections in the US, due on November 2. Until then a wise Palestinian strategy should include the removal of all possible contentious issues that can be used as excuses by Israel not to engage directly and seriously with them. The writer is founder and director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Kuds University in Ramallah.