Don’t let Israel off the hook

The noises coming from the Israeli side denigrating the Fatah and Hamas ceasefire declarations made this week as part of the official Palestinian commitment “to end armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere” must be taken seriously by the United States. All Israeli politicians reacted to this Palestinian ceasefire not only by dismissing it, but more importantly by refusing to reciprocate with “an immediate end to violence against Palestinians everywhere,” which is what the roadmap obliges Israel to do.

Israel is having conceptual difficulties with reciprocating the Palestinian ceasefire because of its propaganda and straight-out lies that characterize Palestinian violence as “terrorist” and its own violence as self-defense and “fighting terrorism.” To reciprocate would require Israel to undermine its own propaganda and admit that its military attacks are at times unnecessary and provocative. Experience has taught us, however, that for this process to work, both sides must contribute to the new environment by stopping all attacks. Period.

The prospect of an end to violence by both sides makes this right-wing Israeli government very nervous because it will expose Israel to its obligations vis-é-vis the roadmap, obligations that this government can’t swallow and that threaten its coalition. These obligations include the immediate dismantlement of all new settlements, beginning with the so-called “outposts” that have been established over the last two and a half years. The government faces the prospect of having to halt settlement expansion, not only in those settlements that Israel considers “illegal” (i.e. those not established by the government) but in all of the settlements, which are all considered illegal under international law.

That is why we are at a very critical crossroads. While this ceasefire allows the Palestinian Authority to successfully fulfill an important obligation of the roadmap–one that is a prerequisite for moving forward–lack of Israeli reciprocity, i.e. a continuation of Israeli violence against Palestinians will jeopardize this very significant step. The American administration’s welcome of the ceasefire initiative obliges Washington to convince Israel to reciprocate in kind.

Another significant aspect of this ceasefire is that it comes in tandem with an Israeli-Palestinian security agreement that will begin reversing Israel’s reoccupation of areas under Palestinian Authority control. But if the recent withdrawal from areas of the Gaza Strip (and soon Bethlehem) is not accompanied by an end to the violence in the rest of the occupied territories, the Gaza-Bethlehem arrangements will be in danger, which is exactly what happened in three previous attempts at gradual troop withdrawal.

It must also be clear to the American administration, which is demonstrating increasing attention and sensitivity to the conflict, that security arrangements alone or the isolation of security components from documents like the roadmap (which is unfortunately what marked the demise of the earlier Mitchell report) can also lead to failure. That is why the implementation of security agreements, such as an end to violence by both sides and withdrawal of Israel’s military presence in Palestinian-controlled areas and the assumption of Palestinian security responsibilities there, must be accompanied by other non-security-related components of the roadmap, such as a serious timetable for removing settlement outposts and preventing the settlers from erecting new ones and then moving on to monitoring a halt in settlement expansion. Palestinians will measure the seriousness of the US vis-é-vis the roadmap through its pressure on Israel to stop building the apartheid/separation wall, for example, which will only consolidate the settlements, separate Palestinians from one another, and deny Palestinian farmers of their agricultural land.

Economic components of the first phase of the roadmap are also to be dealt with in parallel with security components–these include allowing workers to move freely, first and most visibly inside the West Bank and Gaza Strip and permitting the Palestinian Authority to rebuild what the Israeli occupation has destroyed. The secret to the strength of the roadmap is its integral nature, which enabled it to gain the confidence of world consensus. If the implementation of the roadmap is not as comprehensive and integral as its text, then we will again fail in achieving our objectives of ending violence, undoing the occupation and bringing peace.

Mr. Ghassan Khatib is a Palestinian political analyst and director of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.

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