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Disengage Now
Last uploaded : Tuesday 11th Jun 2002 at 18:55
Contributed by : Mark Rosenblum



After his most recent meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, President George Bush talked about the need to identify, “which institutions are necessary to give the Palestinian people hope and to give the Israelis the confidence that the emerging [Palestinian] government will be someone with whom they can deal.” For better or for worse, the President’s two-part question is bound to yield a two-part answer, because Sharon is seeking a very different outcome from the reform process than the Palestinians. As a result, President Bush needs to rethink his approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than rely on reforms to improve the situation.

One could argue that Sharon would be perfectly happy with Yasir Arafat if he simply provided Israel with security cooperation and an ongoing crackdown on terrorism. Since that’s not the case, what Sharon is hoping to find at the end of the reform process is a Palestinian leadership that will do a better job than Arafat on the most pressing issue facing Israel.

Many Palestinians, on the other hand, have a deeper interest in reforming their system. They want to see changes in their security establishment, to be sure, but primarily to stop the anarchy that is spreading across the occupied territories since Israeli incursions severely weakened the Palestinian police force and to put up a better fight the next time Israeli tanks roll into town. In addition, many Palestinians want to see an end to corruption, greater financial transparency, an independent judiciary, a more powerful legislative council, new elections, and more freedom of speech.

But in the absence of a credible peace proposal from either Israel or the U.S. (Sharon’s promises of “painful compromises” that will not entail the dismantlement of a single settlement not withstanding), it is hard to envision any credible, reformed Palestinian leadership being more forthcoming than Arafat on security cooperation with Israel.

It is equally hard to envision either Sharon or Bush singing the praises of Thomas Jefferson if Hamas wins free and fair municipal elections, or if a truly independent Palestinian High Court fails to convict a Palestinian that Israel accuses of terrorism.

In short, democratic reforms may be desirable for the Palestinian Authority, but they will not necessarily improve Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Rather than wishing for the political stars to be more properly aligned, President Bush should face up to the realities of the moment. He must stop looking for ways to push the two sides together and start thinking about how he can pull them apart to stop the bloodshed and work towards the day when negotiations might be more productive.

To this end, the Quartet (i.e., the E.U., the U.N., and Russia, led by the U.S.) should be expanded to include Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. They should help facilitate an understanding on disengaging the Israelis from the Palestinians, with each side being asked to propose unilateral steps that it is willing to take to meet those objectives.

For example, Israel might be encouraged to swiftly complete the construction of a security fence along the Green Line, remove Jewish settlements in the West Bank (scores of which are illegal even under Israeli law), lift the siege of Palestinian cities, stop the practice of assassinations, cease broad incursions into Palestinian areas, and limit the size of Israeli “buffer zones” in the West Bank that threaten to bring hundreds of thousands of Palestinians inside Israeli lines of defense. Such an Israeli initiative would not be a “concession to terror,” but a commitment to enhancing Israeli security. By “disengaging now,” Israel could shorten and fortify its current murderously porous borders that are multiplied ten-fold by Jewish settlements.

In turn, the Palestinians—with external assistance—could be expected to reconstitute their security services, make a 100% effort against cross-border terrorism, establish civilian governance and control in areas from which Israel removes its forces, and provide international donors with a more accurate accounting of how their economic aid is spent.

The Quartet Plus Three would serve as the repository for proposals from both sides, with the understanding that such proposals would be passed back and forth between the sides to gauge reactions and to offer opportunities to fine tune the offers. The process would continue until the international group felt confident that the two sides could move ahead with their proposals. The Quartet Plus Three would then monitor both sides for compliance.

Choreographing unilateral steps of disengagement is a pale shadow of the hopes that many people held at the beginning of the peace process. But while even this much cooperation would not be easy to achieve, it would still provide limited relief from ongoing violence while avoiding the problems of a complete lack of trust between Israel and the Palestinians, disingenuous preconditions, and the continuation of a destabilizing and brutalizing status quo. Just as important, it would provide the two sides with time to recover from the terrible physical, economic, and emotional damage that they have inflicted on each other since the Intifada began, while leaving the door open for them to return to the bargaining table at some point in the future when they have more promising leadership—leadership that could negotiate a viable Palestinian state living next to a secure Israel.
Mark Rosenblum is the Founder and Policy Director of Americans for Peace Now.

JewishComment is grateful to Lewis Roth, Assistant Executive Director of Americans for Peace Now, for permission to publish this article.



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