A different peace process

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At some point in the coming months or years, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process will be renewed, either willingly by the two sides or as a result of international intervention. Both peoples will either be represented by leaders who are genuinely interested in peace, or will be compelled by the international community to make peace. In either case, in formulating its positions Israel cannot ignore the legacy of a collapsed peace process and 18 months of armed confrontation. It will have to adopt an altered set of priorities, based on the lessons it has drawn. Some may make a settlement more difficult, others more negotiable.

The key concepts are security, separation and enforcement.

The most important lessons regard security. After the experiences of Lebanon and Intifada II, it should be clear that the most effective current security threat to Israel (not to be confused with the non-conventional threats that loom on the horizon) is low level warfare waged by weak and unstable neighbors using guerilla and terrorist tactics and relying on regional and international sympathy.

Consequently, alongside Israel’s conventional requirements to retain a capacity to defend itself from the Jordan Valley, maintain early warning stations in the West Bank, enforce demilitarization and enjoy overflight rights, it will have to insist on extremely strict security controls at entry points to Palestine from Jordan and Egypt, in order to interdict arms smuggling and infiltration. Violations will be met with automatic international sanctions. And a single, effective Palestinian security force, working initially under close international supervision, will replace the current mosaic of competing security bodies, many tainted by terrorism.

Security concerns also dictate that territorial and settlement issues be resolved so as to ensure that Israel’s borders with Palestine are defensible at the tactical level, and that settlement annexation does not mandate the enlargement of Israel’s Arab population. We must avoid situations in which an annexed settlement is vulnerable to attack, or where annexation of a settlement means including additional Palestinians within Israeli territory. This may mean annexing fewer rather than more settlements near the Green Line.

The increasingly dominant separation principle has already prompted some scholars and strategists to propose that Israel offer Palestine territorial compensation for annexation by redrawing the West Bank border to include Israeli Arab towns and villages just inside the Green Line. This would reflect Israel’s growing concerns over the radicalization of the Israeli Arab community and the threat to Israel as a Jewish state–threats generated to a considerable extent by the Palestinian national struggle. However it is not clear whether this essentially 19th century idea of territorial swaps–settlements in exchange for Israeli Arab towns–would stand up to the scrutiny of Israel’s High Court of Justice.

There are two negotiating areas where Palestinian positions, as enunciated over the past 18 months by Yasir Arafat and other officials, have generated a strong sense of delegitimization among Israelis. The first concerns Palestinian denial of any Jewish link to the Temple Mount/Haram a- Sharif, where the current conflict began. Israel must insist that a renewed process deliver some form of Palestinian/Arab/Muslim recognition of the Israeli/Jewish religious and historic heritage on the Temple Mount. But the physical management of the site can be left to Muslims, within the framework of a full ethnic divide between Israeli and Palestinian Jerusalem.

The second “delegitimizing” issue is the refugees. Palestinian demands on this issue appear to constitute the thin end of a wedge intended eventually to “Palestinize” Israel. Hence we can no longer toy with even symbolic concessions regarding return, such as offering refugees a choice between return to Israel and other, seemingly more attractive alternatives.

There are additional lessons to be drawn that reflect conceptual failures of the Oslo agreement itself. These have contributed to a radical decline over the past 18 months in the capacity of Israelis and Palestinians to communicate and resolve their differences based on a shared peace “vocabulary.” Thus, Israel and Palestine must now commit to compulsory arbitration of certain inevitable disagreements, rather than allowing their conflicting interpretations of agreements to destroy the process. And they must accept an international enforcement presence to ensure that refusalists on both sides do not sabotage agreements.

The Oslo concept of close Israeli-Palestinian economic cooperation, which has been rendered largely inoperative by Israeli security concerns, will also have to be radically revised if Palestine is to have a chance to prosper. This will probably mean reduced Palestinian dependency on the Israeli economy, within the framework of overall separation.

Perhaps most challenging of all is the need to recognize that the parameters of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 have proven insufficient for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. They don’t deal at all with refugees and Jerusalem, and their territorial stipulations are subject to conflicting interpretations. Here there is room for guarded optimism. Arab League ratification of the Saudi proposal in Beirut in March 2002 reflects apparent recognition of this dilemma. Taken together, 242, the Saudi proposal and the Clinton principles of December 2000 provide a positive basis for formulating an improved new foundation for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that embodies the lessons learned from a year and a half of fighting.

Yossi Alpher is the author of the forthcoming book “And the Wolf Shall Dwell with the Wolf: The Settlers and the Palestinians.”

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Yossi Alpher is a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former senior adviser to Prime Minister Barak. He is featured on Media Monitors Network (MMN) with the courtesy of Bitter Lemons.

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