Foreign minister Shimon Peres begins visits to Cairo and Amman today where he will present Israel’s “positive” response to the Jordanian-Egyptian peace proposal. But this “positive” stance is deceptive because Israel seeks major modifications in the proposal while portraying the changes it is demanding as being minor. Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has not shifted from his rejectionist policy but simply adopted the public relations tactic of appearing positive.
The proposal calls for implementation of the understandings reached at last October’s Sharm Al Sheikh summit. They provided for a return to the situation before the Palestinian uprising, the Intifada, erupted at the end of September. According to these understandings, both sides undertook to restore calm within a week. Israel was called upon to end its siege and blockade of Palestinian self-rule areas, withdraw its forces, tanks and armoured vehicles from positions around Palestinian towns and villages, and release all funds due to the cash-strapped Palestinian [National] Authority. In parallel to the implementation of these steps, security officials from the two sides were meant to jointly monitor the situation.
Sharon and his hard-right cabinet are prepared to accept this portion of the proposal without changes because, if implemented, it would, essentially, bring an end to the Intifada. This is Israel’s main short-term objective.
But Sharon has already rejected the confidence building measures which constitute the second section of the proposal, particularly a freeze on “all settlement activities, including those in East Jerusalem” and implementation of “all other [outstanding] commitments” made under the Oslo Accords. Sharon has no intention to cease settlement construction or carry out Israel’s obligations under the accords signed since 1993.
Third, Sharon has said categorically that he will not resume negotiations with the Palestinians on the fundamental issues of Jerusalem, borders, Palestinian refugees, Israeli settlements, security and water at the point they were broken off on Jan. 28, 2001. Sharon rejects the entire Oslo process, particularly the advances achieved during the negotiations which took place between November 1999 and January 2001. Sharon is prepared only to negotiate long-term interim arrangements with the Palestinians, giving them a statelet in 42 per cent of the West Bank and the 60 per cent of Gaza they now hold. This is totally unacceptable to both the Palestinians and the Arabs.
Finally, Amman and Cairo propose that Europe, Jordan, Egypt and the UN secretary general act as sponsors of the peace process. Israel wants the US and only the US to perform this role. Furthermore, Israel insists that the Bush administration should refrain from playing the part of peace broker by putting forward its own proposals, as the previous Clinton administration did. Sharon insists that the two sides should engage in direct talks without mediators because this gives Israel, the dominant military power, an overwhelming advantage, particularly when there is no Palestinian resistance to the occupation.
The Jordanian-Egyptian proposal is a package of measures which, if implemented, would lead to an end to the Palestinian insurrection and the Israeli siege and assaults and a resumption of negotiations at the point where they were broken off. The first section, dealing with security, cannot be dropped or delinked from the others because they address the causes of the Palestinian Intifada: Israel’s continuing occupation and colonisation of the territories and Israel’s refusal to implement its commitments under the Oslo Accords. Unless there is progress on the fundamental issues of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute the Intifada cannot and must not be shut down.
The Intifada is the only means the Palestinians have to exert pressure on Israel and the international community. Without the Intifada the occupation will go on, and on, and more, and more Palestinian land will be swallowed up by Israeli settlements and settler roads.
This is why Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa’s statement in Germany on Tuesday that Amman and Cairo would “consider [newly] proposed ideas” is disappointing and even disturbing. The plan is a package for the reasons discussed above. The package should remain as it is.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat summed up Israel’s call for changes by saying: “When Israel says it wants to incorporate revisions, what it really means is that it wants to scuttle the plan… I believe that Sharon and his government aren’t serious, and that they are exploiting the Jordanian-Egyptian ideas merely as a ploy.”
Sharon’s aim is to force the Arabs to turn down his suggestions for change in order to make the Arab side appear rejectionist rather than Israel, the real rejectionist.
Sharon and Peres initially turned down the Jordanian-Egyptian proposal. But when it was formally tabled by Jordan’s Foreign Minister Abdul Ilah Al Khatib during his visit to Israel last week, Sharon reconsidered his position. During a meeting of his security cabinet, Sharon signalled a new approach: “The Jordanian-Egyptian proposal is important, but the content is not good enough and it needs to be changed somewhat. We’ll study the initiative, and we’ll see what we can do to change it.”
Sharon was clearly rattled by Washington’s criticism of the Israeli army’s reoccupation of a portion of Gaza which US Secretary of State Colin Powell characterised as “excessive and disproportionate”. Sharon suddenly realised that there are limits to his freedom of action and that he needs the support of the Bush administration more than it needs the backing of Israel and the US Zionist lobby. Therefore, Peres’ visits to Cairo and Amman must be seen as a public relations prelude to next week’s trip to Washington where he will put on a show of sweet reasonableness and moderation.
It is particularly important for Israel’s politico-military establishment to create the illusion that Sharon has changed from being a man of “excesses” lacking “proportion”. Sharon is now prime minister: “Mr Israel”. He is not a mere Cabinet minister who can be criticised and condemned for his “excesses” and rusticated by the establishment. But his appearance of moderation is deceptive: beneath the benign grand fatherly exterior the old Sharon harbours his long-standing dream of ingesting the West Bank and Gaza into “Greater Israel.”
Mr. Michael Jansen contributed this article to the Jordan Times.