What has changed – and what has not

United States envoy Anthony Zinni arrived in the region during a climax in confrontations. The Israeli campaign of entering Palestinian refugee camps and adjacent towns had reached Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s doorstep and the town that Palestinians consider the Palestinian Authority political capital. That timing, in itself, gives this visit great significance and importance.

And in truth, whether Palestinians and Israelis are optimistic or pessimistic about Zinni’s most recent visit, they are all desperate for any American initiative. It is still early, however, to offer sufficient analysis of the chances for success, since Zinni has not yet disclosed whether he has come to the region carrying new equipment or not. There are, however, a few signs of change.

Previously, Zinni did not succeed because he adopted the Israeli prescription of how to “end the violence” and showed very little sensitivity to the Palestinian perspective. For example, he accepted Sharon’s condition of seven days of calm to be judged by the Israeli side, as well as the Israeli condition of “ceasefire first,” which came at the expense of the integrity of the Mitchell committee recommendations. Then, when this prescription did not work, Zinni appeared to give the Israeli side a chance to further pressure Palestinians, in the hopes that this would soften their position and make them more recipient to his specific ideas.

In fact, the main difference between the situation now and then is the tremendous pressure Israel has put on Palestinians in the interim. Not only has the violent squeezing of Palestinians not achieved its objectives, but it has actually backfired, further proving the Palestinian claim that more Israeli military pressure will only invite more Palestinian resistance and political rigidity. In addition, the application of pressure through violence has improved the Palestinian political and international position and put Israel on the defensive in the international arena.

Further, the intensity of the Israeli brutality and increasing Palestinian casualties has provoked the Arab street and put the some of the Arab regimes that are close to the United States government in an embarrassing position. That factor has been greatly multiplied in light of the American need to create an atmosphere in the Arab world that is conducive to possible American intervention in Iraq.

As such, concrete deliberations between Zinni and Palestinian politicians seem to show two changes in Zinni’s position, as compared with that of previous visits. First, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has cancelled his demand for seven days of quiet. Second, Zinni seems willing to accommodate the Palestinian requirement that security issues not be separated from political progress by accepting that the negotiations follow two simultaneous tracks carried out by two committees, one dealing with security and another with political talks.

But this is by no means a significant change. On the contrary, it is very artificial. If the Palestinian Authority thinks that this is an achievement, it will soon realize that the security committee has concrete tasks to pursue and specific terms of reference as laid out in the Tenet work plan, while the political committee has no chance of progress due to the lack of specific and agreed-upon terms of reference. The political gap between the two sides, especially under the government of Ariel Sharon, is currently unbridgeable. Therefore, what is bound to happen is that Palestinians will be required to implement the Tenet work plan, which brings an end to Palestinian “violence”, without getting anything in return on the political front. The result will be ensured peace and security for the ongoing Israeli military occupation, which will remain untouched in the scope of Zinni’s expected efforts.

The ongoing violence and Palestinian resistance is a natural and inevitable outcome of the Israeli occupation and its manifestations–siege, economic sanctions, assassinations, demolition of houses and confiscation of land–as well as the political vacuum and absence of a serious political initiative bringing Palestinians hope of an imminent end to the Israeli occupation.

In other words, the political realities combining the unbearable Israeli occupation alongside a failed peace process that transferred the Palestinian-Israeli relationship to one of bloody confrontation will remain as long as American efforts are not serious enough to change these realities and bring pressure to bear on the Israeli government to alter its positions that remain incompatible with the peace process, which is an exchange of an end to the Israeli occupation for peace.

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

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