The American-cum-Quartet draft road map for a permanent two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has already come up against its major Israeli roadblocks.
Beyond Sharon’s initial dismissive attitude, Israeli responses have ranged from a total rejection of the June 4, 1967 borders, to the negation of the establishment of the Palestinian state, to the refusal to cease settlement activities and dismantle any settlements, to the rejection of any binding timetables, to the elimination of any aspect of monitoring or third party involvement, to further demands and preconditions specifically designed to abort the initiative (including collection of Palestinian weapons, arrest of “suspects,” the total cessation of “violence,” the political “elimination” of President Arafat, comprehensive Palestinian “reform,” among other dictates).
In the meantime, the US would have bought the artificial “calm” it needs to carry out its regional designs (beginning with Iraq) and placating the Arab world by creating the impression of “engagement” and commitment to the implementation of the presidential “vision” of a two-state solution.
Meanwhile, Israel is off the hook, continuing its business-as-usual policy of studied cruelty against and systematic destruction of Palestinian reality and lives while voraciously gobbling up more land and feeding the settlers’ insatiable appetite for intimidation, violence, and expansion.
Regardless of the motivation and/or obstructionism, the road map requires a serious Palestinian assessment and response from the conceptual, procedural, and substantive point of view.
Conceptually, the plan still assumes that gradualism in the form of a phased approach is capable of designing a process that can produce results. Past experience has provided us with sufficient evidence that the failure of the peace process was due in large part to its non-incremental gradualism that allowed for prolongation and stalling while giving the powerful party time and opportunity to create facts that would undermine the objective. Only an acceleration of the timeframe would prevent the negative exploitation of the time bought by Israel by deliberate obstructionism.
This is especially true of a process that is “Performance-Based” instead of relying on clear and objective criteria, requirements, and timelines. Given the asymmetry of power, Israel will continue to hamper Palestinian “performance” by using its unhampered military power to create insurmountable obstacles and to provoke extreme responses and reactions. A clear example is Israel’s use of the policy of assassination to create further instability, violence, a sense of victimization, and a cycle of lawlessness and revenge. A performance- driven road map will lead only in the direction of an Israeli-driven disaster.
Combined with conditionality, especially as defined by the Israeli occupation, the process becomes subject to an endless reservoir of Israeli preconditions that are essentially impossible to fulfill, given the fact that Israel can pursue a policy of destroying precisely those conditions that would prevent Palestinian “compliance.” The repeated assaults on the Palestinian leadership, and the presidency in particular, with arrogant attempts at “delegitimizing” or rendering “irrelevant” the elected leader of the Palestinians are the most blatant evidence of such tactics. Combined with the policy of siege, humiliation, and deprivation the conditions of “acquiescence” become entirely unattainable.
The disparity in conditions and lack of parity in framing the rights and responsibilities of both parties stem from ignoring the culpability of the occupation (hence the occupying party) in the first place. The unbridled use of force by the Israeli occupation forces and the inherent racism in the mentality of subjugation has rendered reciprocity completely inapplicable and unfair. Never before has the victim been held accountable for the conditions of his/her own victimization while the perpetrator’s demands become the criteria for gauging the victim’s behavior. “Self defense” for the occupation is an oxymoron, in the same way as “blaming the victim” is unjust and illogical. Violence against civilians is morally reprehensible and repugnant regardless of the identity of the perpetrator, but it becomes even more so when the act of commission is a result of official government policy in “defense” of an indefensible occupation and is being carried out against a whole captive and defenseless occupation. Thus demanding “normalcy” in the midst of a situation of abnormality becomes a flight of fancy.
Furthermore, the glaring lack of arbitration and clearly defined mechanisms of accountability would render the role of third parties largely symbolic, hence ineffective. The Quartet is given the role of facilitating Palestinian reform, elections, and Palestinian-Israeli security cooperation and coordination, while it is instructed to establish a “monitoring mechanism” (phase I, second stage) to be “enhanced” in “monitoring transition” in phase II. Both International Conferences (phase II and III) are to be convened by the Quartet; the first is for the purpose of supporting Palestinian “economic recovery” and to launch bilateral negotiations “on the possibility of a state with provisional borders”; the second is designed to “endorse” bilateral agreements and to launch further bilateral negotiations “toward a final, permanent status resolution in 2005.”
Both the timing and the unspecified mandate of the “monitoring mechanism” betray a feeble effort at doing too little too late. The rapidly deteriorating situation on the ground, the entrenchment of violence and extremism, and the loss of confidence with an increase in hostility and distrust, all require immediate and effective concrete engagement in the field. With “occupation on the rampage” being reinstated as the norm, and with the “security fence” (along with feverish settlement expansion) creating an apartheid situation in the projected Palestine, the most appropriate separation and de-escalation mechanism becomes the deployment of fully empowered international forces in the occupied territory. The dual objective of devolution of occupation and evolution of statehood requires direct third party supervision and viable involvement with a mandate for arbitration and accountability.
Clearly, the logic of the previous peace process has proved to be a failure, not least in its insistence on bilateralism as a means of “conflict resolution” in a situation of such glaring power bias and disequilibrium. If multilateralism is the global mechanism for collective responsibility, particularly in peace-making and in ensuring a global rule of law, then the “monitoring mechanism” of the road map must embody such an approach both in form and in substance. Such logic requires rethinking the Quartet (and its selective partners in the “octet” and the Arab addenda). The UN must remain the reference to (not the partner of) state and multi-state actors; full Arab partnership must be ensured throughout (and not just in a perfunctory and occasional manner); and behavior on the ground must be subject to scrutiny and immediate intervention.
In this way, the micromanagement of and interference in Palestinian realities would become legitimate as a form of positive intervention in an ongoing conflict that is rapidly spiraling out of control and in engineering a workable and fair solution. Thus violations of Palestinian democracy and negative intervention in internal realities in such issues as ignoring presidential elections and insisting on an “empowered Prime Minister” would be avoided and left to the independent domestic agenda and requirements. Similarly (and without addressing all the minute details of Palestinian institution-building and reform), the narrow and specific focus on “legal reform,” constitutional commission, Election Commission, restructuring of security forces, travel of Palestinian officials, etc. would be replaced with the more expansive approach of providing the proper conditions for the Palestinians to engage in a nation building process unfettered by Israeli impediments and sequential conditionality. The Palestinian constituency for peace and democracy must be empowered by democratic means.
Israel, on the other hand, and as the occupying power, must be held accountable in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Conventions and other relevant international charters and agreements. Means of enforcement rather than abstract questions of applicability are the real issue. Israel’s implementation of UN resolutions (for example, withdrawal in accordance with UNSC resolutions 1402, 1403, and 1435) are issues of immediate compliance rather than persuasion and rewards. Selectivity in citing the Tenet work plan and the Mitchell report (however inadequate) will also become an encouragement for further Israeli contempt and non-compliance.
The most dangerous implications of this approach are in its handling of the Israeli settlement policy. Although numerous UN resolutions and international conventions and agreements (and even American statements) have repeatedly designated settlements as being “illegal” and an “obstacle to peace,” nevertheless Israel has been allowed to pursue its settlement building, subsidizing and expansion unchecked. With the violence and lawlessness of the settlers and with the fragmentation of Palestinian territory and the extraterritoriality inherent in the “by-pass roads,” Israel is not only escalating the conflict; it is making the solution impossible. By asking Israel to dismantle “settlement outposts erected since the establishment of the present Israeli government” (phase I, first stage), then to “freeze all settlement activity consistent with the Mitchell report (phase I, second stage), then to carry out “further action on settlements simultaneous with establishment of Palestinian state with provisional borders (phase II), the road map allows for sufficient prolongation to enable Israel to destroy any chance of a two-state solution or a just peace. The charade of disappearing/reappearing outposts attests to the inadvisability of beginning confrontation over isolated and minor locations when the massive settlements are the ones that should be addressed first. Any “freeze,” of course, will be met with the same disdain disregard as sealed the fate of the Mitchell report. Finally, the vague language on “further action” certainly affords Israel the opportunity to abort any final agreement.
Prejudicial and illegal Israeli measures in Jerusalem also require firm and immediate intervention pertaining to the siege and isolation, settlement activity, closure of Palestinian institutions, home demolition, withholding of building permits for Palestinians, and ID confiscation. By restricting all mention of Jerusalem to the reopening of “East Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce and other closed Palestinian economic institutions,” the road map makes sure that there will be no “East Jerusalem” to speak of once permanent status talks are launched in phase III and with the convening of the second International Conference. By that time, the historical, political, cultural, demographic, and territorial identity of East Jerusalem would have been distorted beyond recognition-and certainly beyond its designated role as capital of Palestine.
The state with “provisional borders,” while a unique invention, still offers no promise and no guarantees that the interim would not become permanent. Sharon has openly “accepted” the idea of a Palestinian “entity” (call it what you will) on 42% of the West Bank (minus Jerusalem) and Gaza with a possibility of an additional 6-8% in final status. Unless the road map clearly spells out the June 4, 1967 borders as being the boundaries of the Palestinian state, the whole exercise runs the risk of generating further conflict and serving Sharon’s plans of further land theft and expansionism.
While the preamble laudably refers to clear principles, criteria, UN resolutions, and agreements as the foundations of the road map, it is not clear that the mechanisms themselves are consistent with these references. “The settlement [that] will end the occupation began in 1967” may do so by restoring the land to its rightful Palestinian owners, by allowing for Israeli annexation of the land, or by a combination of both. However, taken in their entirety, the terms of reference as a whole must be translated to shape the conduct and outcome of negotiations. It cannot be acceptable to revert to the tired dictum that anything the parties agree to will be considered an implementation of the relevant resolution. Nor are resolutions to be interpreted and/or amended to suit the stronger party. The Arab initiative contains within it a comprehensive and legal formula for an acceptable settlement, and can thus serve as the touchstone for any solution.
The vast majority of the Palestinian people remain committed to a peaceful resolution and to the two-state solution despite the Israeli government’s persistent attempts to destroy both. These options, however, are rapidly becoming unattainable if the current conditions are allowed to continue and to deteriorate. Already voices calling for the one-state solution, whether in the form of a bi-national state or a secular democratic state, are gaining support and credibility. If the current hard line government in Israel persists in its destructive policies and measures, such a solution will become the only option as the de facto outcome of its extremism. The other side of the coin of “Greater Israel” replacing all of historical Palestine (and more) is that of “One Palestine.” In the meantime, the painful suffering and tragic loss of life will continue, while both peoples and the whole region are made to pay the price of Sharon’s revival of Zionist fundamentalism.