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Protracted violence and conflict continues to be the main characteristic of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. The cycle of horrific violence continues with no end in sight. Until the bus bombing in Haifa last week, Israelis had been speaking about a period of relative quiet, but during that period Israel increased its attacks against the Palestinian population centers. In February alone more than 70 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli army – most of them were not “ticking time bombs”. As a Haaretz Editorial stated last week: “Of the 72 Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip and West Bank in February, 25 were civilians, including three children under the age of 10. A pregnant woman and two youths were among the dead in El-Bureij.” Palestinian extremists efforts to hit Israel didn’t stop for a single day but most of those efforts to attack Israelis were successfully stopped before reaching their targets.

Israeli experts on Palestinian affairs such as Danny Rubenstein from Haaretz and Ronny Shaked from Yediot Ahronot have been speaking out more and more about the direct link between Israeli violence against Palestinians and Palestinian violence against Israelis. The cycle of revenge gets deeper and deeper with each passing day. In the aftermath of the Israeli assassination of Hamas leader Ibrahim Maqadmeh in Gaza this weekend, Abed el Aziz Rantisi, a senior Hamas leader said that the Palestinians would be guided by the Old Testament adage of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. In this region where that philosophy was first inscribed, we are really talking about each side trying to take 100 eyes of the other side for each eye of their own. And as Mahatma Gandhi said, an eye for an eye will simply make a lot of blind people. But it seems like those who implement the policies of continued revenge have proven their blindness a long time ago, be they Israeli or Palestinian.

In a recent conversation with an Israeli military and security analyst for a major Israeli daily newspaper who has recently spent a lot of time interviewing members of Israeli Senior Command – all of the rank of General, I asked how could so many of the most senior officers of the Israeli army not be voicing criticism of what seems to me to be a hopeless and dangerous strategy for fighting terrorism that in my view, has no chance of succeeding. His response was: there is criticism – but it is that they still are not using enough force! I have been writing since the very beginning of the intifada that there is absolutely no military solution to this conflict and that there is a direct correlation between amount the force that Israel uses against the Palestinians and the amount of force Israel receives in return – usually in the nature of suicide bombers. The more force that Israel uses against the Palestinian population, the more the Palestinian public supports, publicly or in their hearts, the use of all means of violence, including terrorism, against Israelis. This is so even though there has been a steady increase in the numbers of Palestinians who believe that it has been a huge error to militarize the intifada and to launch attacks against Israeli civilians.

Despite the demands for real political and military reforms in Palestine by the Palestinian public, recent attempts of reaching an agreement of all Palestinian factions to issue a unilateral ceasefire have failed. The attempts were serious and the meetings of the factions held in Cairo with the support of the Egyptian government and the European Union were very important, but in the end, there was no agreement achieved and recent Israeli assassinations of leading Hamas figures and increased attacks in Gaza will push the chances of agreement further away.

Over the past few days I was witness to a discussion of several Palestinian ex-officials of the former Palestinian security-intelligence apparatus – the Preventive Security. This was one of the main forces that fought against Hamas and Jihad prior to the intifada and from the general sense of their discussion, it was clear that they would be more than happy to go back to their jobs and their task of fighting against Hamas and Jihad. These former senior Palestinian officers were most definitely of the opinion that Hamas and Jihad are working against the national interests of the Palestinian people. They are also of the opinion that Hamas is one organization and not a political -social organization on the one hand and a military organization on the other. In their view, each part of Hamas constructs the whole and the whole is a major danger to Palestinian society and national interests. They are also of the opinion that the growth in the public strength for Hamas is the outcome of a predetermined Israeli plan. They believe that the true Israeli intention is to apply continued pressure to the Palestinian population so that they will embrace the most extreme elements of Palestinian society and thus the option for peace, meaning Israeli withdrawal becomes impossible. Whether or not this is the true intention of the Israeli government and security forces is somewhat irrelevant, because this is what is happening on the ground. As the cycles of violence and revenge continue, the support for Hamas and Jihad are on the rise at the same time that the Israeli occupation is deeply entrenched in all Palestinian cities and villages. The Israelis have come back to reoccupy all of Palestine. The difference between this occupation and the occupation that existed until the Oslo period is that now Israel refuses to accept full responsibility for the welfare of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority has not yet decided to turn that full responsibility over to the occupation authorities. There are Palestinians out there who call this phenomenon collaboration with the occupation and who call for the Palestinian Authority to dismantle itself and put the full responsibility for the health, welfare, education and economy of the Palestinians on Israel.

At the same time, with tremendous pressure coming from the Palestinian political factions – mainly Fatah, the United Nations and from Europe, Arafat has taken up the challenge of governmental reform. Abu Mazen is about to become the first Palestinian Prime Minister while the negotiations are on within the Palestinian political circles on the authority that the PM will have. Abu Mazen would like to appoint his own government and to thereby insure the loyalty of the key people in the Authority. This would be a positive move, but the real test of change will be the Israeli response to that change. In the aftermath of Iraq, the United States will be called upon to implement the “Road Map” and to bring about a full Israeli-Palestinian re-engagement. The US should open the door to the new Palestinian PM as should Sharon who will need a Palestinian partner if he is going to fulfill his campaign promises of security and peace. At this point there is no reason to believe that the US or the Israeli intentions about Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking are real. The US led Quartet’s Road Map might be a good place to begin, but Sharon has already indicated that he plans to remove from it any elements of real Palestinian sovereignty.

While the international community readies itself for the war in Iraq and the aftermath and parts of the international community have been working on an implementation plan of the Road Map, some groups of Israelis and Palestinians, including in IPCRI, with the support of the International community have been working diligently on plans for real international involvement in Israel and Palestine. One of the plans being examined looks towards the establishment of a Transitional Administration in Palestine that together with a Palestinian government which would take control of most civil affairs, an international authority led by the United States would take over security responsibilities which would enable the Israelis to withdraw from the occupied territories and to remove settlements along with the withdrawal. The international transitional administration would be in place for as long as necessary, based on performance based benchmarks, to lead to the creation of an independent Palestinian state that would be in the position to reach a full peace treaty with Israel. The basic idea is that in order to facilitate a full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories there must be some authority to turn the responsibility over at a time when Israel will not turn the authority directly over to the Palestinians. Such transitional administrations have worked in the past in other places in the world and now this model is being examined in depth to determine how it could be applied here.

One thing is quite clear, whether it is the Quartet’s Road Map or some other plan, with the total non-existence of any trust between Israelis and Palestinians, the international community will have to play a significant role in the verification, monitoring, compliance processes and dispute resolution of any Israeli-Palestinian agreements in the future. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians believe that any piece of paper signed between them or any public verbal undertakings has any value in terms of the chances that they will be implemented with real good intent. The international community will have to serve as mediator, dispute revolver, judge, and perhaps even have to come in with military power to enforce agreements and to separate forces on the ground. IPCRI and others are working with groups of Israeli and Palestinian experts as well as experts from the international community on these issues.

During the past months we have once again noted a surge in Israeli-Palestinian activities, both in IPCRI and at other Israeli, Palestinian and international non-governmental organizations. Many of these activities have been classic Track II discussions of working groups on economic issues, civil issues, political issues – such as the future of Jerusalem, and environment and water issues. The main problem these days faced by all of those who are organizing and running such activities is the severe limitation on movement imposed by Israel against the Palestinians. It is impossible to convene such meetings in Israel because the Israeli military refuses to allow Palestinians to sleep over in Israel. It is impossible to convene such meetings in Palestine because it is illegal for Israelis to enter the Palestinian territories. The only option is to hold the meetings abroad. Turkey, Greece and Cyprus have become the main places where Israelis and Palestinians convene.

The Israeli army makes it extremely difficult as there are increasingly enlarging lists of Palestinians who are prohibited by the Israeli intelligence service from leaving the country. In most cases the Israelis don’t allow Palestinians to travel via the Israeli airport and then the logistics involved in having Palestinians travel via Jordan or Egypt are a nightmare. We have petitioned the Israeli government and military to establish a special category for travel permits for Palestinians who are participating in Israeli-Palestinian peace meetings. We have asked them to create a special category to allow Palestinian peace activists to receive regular entry permits into Israel. The Israelis have done this to allow Palestinian businessmen to enter Israel. We believe that it is high time to recognize the unending efforts of our Palestinian colleague to continue their peace work on the Palestinian streets despite all of the opposition they face. The minimum that should be done is to allow them to meet freely with their Israeli counterparts in order to advance all of the non-governmental efforts of peacemaking. We believe that if movement of these Palestinian activists would be made easier there would be an even larger surge of activities and the process of Israeli-Palestinian re-engagement would speed up. This is essential and must be encouraged at a time when at the governmental level there are still almost no contacts at all.

Mitzna victory can be a turning point. Now it is up to us to make the real difference.

Gershon Baskin, Ph.D., is Co-Director of Israel / Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), a joint Palestinian-Israeli public policy think-tank, founded in Jerusalem in 1988.

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