During the Oslo process the Palestinians missed an opportunity to alter the pattern of reciprocal relations when they fundamentally violated the agreements they had signed with Israel, particularly by invoking force against Israelis. The basic assumptions for an improvement of relations between the sides are:
A political process must be initiated in stages, since the attempt to reach a comprehensive agreement has failed and cannot be revived, certainly not on the basis of the Clinton principles. The Israeli public is today not prepared to take the risks and to make the concessions that it might have made in the summer of 2000. Accordingly, the right way is a “roadmap” that comprises an incremental approach, proceeding step by step over considerable time along a predetermined route.
One precondition for any progress is the removal or neutralization of Yasir Arafat. His leadership has brought disaster to his people and generated total mistrust among Israelis, Americans and other international actors. His ongoing presence will impede the emergence of an alternative Palestinian leadership–a complex and prolonged process.
The primary test of the new leadership will be the courage to create a monopoly on the use of force within the Palestinian Authority (PA), even at the cost of civil war. The primary lesson of the failure of the Oslo process is that the PA is incapable of constituting a partner in a peace process unless it centralizes control over all armed forces.
An additional lesson of the Oslo process is the necessity of verifying the fulfillment of all obligations prior to advancing to the next phase of the roadmap.
The roadmap timetable will be determined primarily by the capacity of the Palestinians to act efficiently against armed groups that do not accept the decisions of the leadership.
On the Israeli side there must be a clear and demonstrated readiness for a territorial compromise that includes the dismantling of a number of settlements. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, many elements within the Likud, and the new government clearly fulfill this condition.
The “roadmap” has two operative objectives. The first is a gradual return to the situation that prevailed prior to the outburst of a wave of terrorism in September 2000, i.e., to Palestinian rule over the cities. The second is the signing of a long-term (15-20 years) interim agreement, with negotiations over remaining areas of dispute commencing toward its completion.
Achieving the first objective depends on adopting the model prevailing in Jericho. That town is under Palestinian rule because it does not constitute a base or infrastructure for terrorist activity against Israeli targets. There have also been attempts to transfer responsibility over Bethlehem and Hebron to the Palestinian Authority, but the Palestinians were not able to maintain the peace. The Jericho precedent demonstrates that the Palestinians have the capacity to prevent terrorism. The transfer of additional territory is dependent on similar results. In parallel, Israel must provide access to its job market and take additional economic steps to improve the Palestinians’ situation, particularly in areas returned to Palestinian rule. Effective control by the PA for several months over territory restored to its security and civil control is a precondition for the transfer of additional territory. It may be possible to complete this phase within two years from start to finish.
One year after the PA has centralized control over its security apparatus and proven its effectiveness in preventing terrorism–in effect, fundamentally altered its nature–it will be possible to enter negotiations regarding an interim agreement. The objective of the interim agreement is to create a new reality, whereby friction between the Palestinian and Israeli populations is minimized, while Israel retains territorial assets that can be delivered to the Palestinians under final status. Shortly after signing the interim agreement Israel will transfer additional territory to the PA and remove several isolated settlements.
During the period of the interim agreement the PA can be granted symbols of sovereignty such as a national currency and/or full membership in international organizations. In practice its sovereignty will be limited by Israeli control over border crossings and strict arms control measures. There may be room to involve Jordan in arrangements in the West Bank and Egypt in Gaza. In the course of the interim agreement the PA must revise its textbooks and begin teaching subjects like democracy and respect for the historic and religious rights of the Jews in the Land of Israel.
The geographic profile of the proposed final status corresponds with the Alon Plan, whereby Israel retains the Jordan Valley, where there is no Arab population, along with the approach to it from greater Jerusalem via Maaleh Adummim. Territorial concessions under the interim agreement are of course derived from the Alon Plan map.
Efraim Inbar is Professor of Political Science at Bar Ilan University and Director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.