- Palestinian-Israeli crossfire on
"International involvement in a solution"

May 6, 2002 Edition 16

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>< "Like every other nation in the world" - by Ghassan Khatib
It now appears that the significance of the last 18 months of confrontations is that the conflict is beginning to spill out into the region.

>< "Internationalizing the process?" - by Yossi Alpher
Internationalization has become the dominant theme in Israeli-Arab conflict resolution.

>< "Guarantees and a down payment" - interview with Hanna Amireh
In these circumstances there should be a third party to pressure the Israelis towards international legality.

>< "A regional conference is a good idea" - interview with Tzipi Livni
There is no Palestinian partner, and therefore I'm looking for additional actors who will dilute Arafat's control.

Like every other nation in the world

by Ghassan Khatib

Israelis and Palestinians have conflicting views on the role of international intervention in the conflict. This should not be surprising since, left to their own designs, the relationship of Palestinians and Israelis will always be to the advantage of the more powerful (i.e., Israel), whether that relationship is one of peaceful negotiations or confrontation. When the international community is involved, is usually comes bearing specific agreed-upon terms of reference that the parties must adhere to, a fact that reduces the influence of the imbalance of power.

Palestinians also prefer international intervention because during the seventies, they made strategic adjustments to their political position, in which they dropped their demand for the reinstatement of their historical rights and decided instead to stick to those legitimate rights that are consistent with international legality. For that reason Palestinians encourage international intervention, in the hopes that it will be based on international legality and consistent with international law. In other words, Palestinians have always tried to compensate for their weakness by trying to inspire international intervention that will call for international legality and force Israeli compliance.

The problem with this approach has always been that the lone superpower dominating the United Nations and the Security Council always protects Israel from international intervention and from the need to implement or enforce relevant international law.

The recent history of the conflict demonstrates that the United States only interferes or allows international involvement when the conflict extends beyond the Palestinian-Israeli arena and affects either regional or international interests. The most obvious example of this was the Madrid Conference, which was a major historical intervention by the international community led by the United States. At that point, the Arabs who participated in the attack on Iraq needed that intervention badly, as their publics were increasingly accusing the United States of double standards between Israel and Iraq. The resulting foment was affecting American credibility in the Arab world and consequently weakening United States regional allies.

It now appears that the significance of the last 18 months of confrontations is that the conflict is now beginning to spill out into the region, strengthening fundamentalists in the Islamic world, embarrassing the Arab regimes and demonstrating the impotence of Arab leaders. The gist of the demonstrations in the Arab streets was directed at the United States and those Arab regimes. The result has been a feeling of international urgency and now calls--especially in Washington--for an international conference on the Middle East.

There has been a lot of distortion over the nature of the current conflict, a distortion that is preventing intervention. Israel has succeeded, especially in the United States, to create the false impression that this conflict is about terrorism and the means of countering terrorism. The discussion has turned into one over how to combat terrorism, whether Arafat can do that himself or whether Israel must do it for him. The whole world is now waiting to see the results of this fight: how many have been arrested, how many have been killed, and will it all work?

That's too bad, because this conflict can only be solved if there is serious international intervention on the basis of international law, backed up by some powerful incentives to influence the parties and force them to adhere to that legality. This conflict is one of de-colonization, a conflict that will never end no matter how many Palestinians are killed and arrested, and unless there is an end to the Israeli occupation. The problem does not come from a handful of individuals that might be arrested or killed, but out of the genuine desire of a people to achieve independence and freedom like every other nation in the world.-Published 6/5/02(c)

Ghassan Khatib is a political analyst and director of the Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre.

Internationalizing the process?

by Yossi Alpher

Recent weeks have witnessed a bewildering wave of initiatives to introduce international mechanisms and solutions into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, from the Arab League-endorsed Saudi initiative, via an international mandate on the West Bank and Gaza (proposed by former United States ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk), to the initiative ascribed to US President George W. Bush and Saudi Crown Prince Abdallah to "divide up" the task of pressuring Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Two international initiatives have actually been launched: the dispatch of American-British jailers to Jericho, whose arrival brought about the conclusion of the Israeli siege on Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah; and the United Nations' abortive Jenin fact-finding commission.

By early May the leading initiative appeared to be that of US Secretary of State Colin Powell to convene an international conference in Turkey in June. This reflected close American coordination with Saudi Arabia and with the other prospective non-regional participants: the European Union, Russia and the UN.

Internationalization has thus become the dominant theme in Israeli-Arab conflict resolution. It reflects the obvious inability of the belligerent parties to deal with the conflict on their own. Accordingly, this escalation of the search for a solution to the international level must be seen as a welcome development. But it is also fraught with dangers: the collapse of an international conference is liable to have the same domino effect as the failure of Camp David II in July 2000. Hence the need to examine the Israeli and Palestinian positions, the pitfalls, and the tasks that face the conference organizers in the coming weeks.

The Sharon government can claim to have taken the initiative to convene a "regional" conference of fairly similar proportions. This appears to have been one of Sharon's tactics for rebuffing US and UN pressure during the recent military campaign. Sharon also hopes that the presence of Saudi, Egyptian and Jordanian leaders will enable him to bypass Arafat and discuss the Palestinian issue in terms closer to his own. This perception is based on messages passed on to him in recent weeks from Arab leaders who are highly critical of Arafat's leadership.

The conference idea may also enable Sharon to play for time politically while the Israeli-Palestinian situation stabilizes under international and regional pressure, until the anticipated US offensive against Iraq reshuffles the Middle East cards. On the other hand, if the situation does not stabilize and Palestinian suicide bombings are renewed, Sharon will again have a pretext for freezing peace talks and invoking military measures. But note that Palestinian success in focusing world attention on Israel's actions in Jenin will mitigate against any far-reaching new Israel Defense Forces offensive, say, against the refugee camps in Gaza.

One specific issue that the parties will have to address in the coming weeks concerns an invitation to Syria (and, by extension, Lebanon) to join the conference. The Saudi initiative would appear to mandate such an invitation. Would Sharon welcome the prospect of an Israeli negotiating track with Syria at Palestinian expense? Conceivably. But would Arafat? Indeed, are any of the relevant leaders interested in bringing Bashar al-Asad into the process, in view of the Syrian president's apparent acute failure to "grow into" his job?

Sharon must also decide whether he wants the conference to be held at the most senior leadership echelon, where he would have to face off with the "irrelevant" Arafat, or at the level of foreign ministers, where Shimon Peres might take maverick initiatives behind his back. And how will the Israeli prime minister deal with hawkish pressures within his own party, which now threatens to reject the very idea of a two-state solution?

Arafat, for his part, has always sought "international legitimization" for the Palestinian cause, and specifically international backing for UN resolutions regarding refugee and territorial issues as he interprets them. Generally speaking he can count on Arab, UN and EU support. But will he adopt realistic positions that might sway the US? And can he ensure a tranquil atmosphere back home? Indeed, in view of his recent record (e.g., encouraging terrorism precisely when US envoys arrive in the region), is he even interested in doing so?

Given that neither Sharon nor Arafat has embraced realistic peace proposals, one challenge for the conference initiator, the US, is to organize effective pressure on both sides to moderate their positions. A more immediate task is to ensure a stable ceasefire and recruit broad agreement regarding a conference agenda, the identity of the participants and the level of representation--without which the conference is a non-starter.

Ostensibly, the US international conference initiative reflects a much-needed undertaking by the Bush administration to deal aggressively with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, it is not yet clear that this is the case. The president's own commitment is not certain. A clearly enunciated blessing from the Pentagon or from Congress for the new approach has not been heard. Mid-term election considerations may generate constraints on Bush's willingness to back Powell when, in the crunch, it becomes necessary to pressure Sharon.

International process, American process--or no process? The coming weeks will tell.-Published 6/5/02(c)

Yossi Alpher is Director of the Political Security Domain. He is former Director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University.

Guarantees and a down payment

an interview with Hanna Amireh

bitterlemons: How can international involvement or a conference help the situation now?

Amireh: I think that neither side is ready to come to a resolution or to compromise now--in particular the Israeli side. The Israelis don't have any real intentions of entering into a political solution. If they do go for that, it will be an agreement for forty percent of the West Bank and to postpone the real issues. This offer will not attract anyone on the Palestinian side.

In order to be successful, an international conference should have a clear basis with the clear terms of reference of [United Nations Resolutions] 242 and 338 and also, not address how to "explain" these international references, but how to implement them. These resolutions have already been compromised.

bitterlemons: When are the conditions ripe for international involvement?

Amireh: When both sides are tired. They are tired now. The Palestinians are always asking for international intervention, which means they are feeling the negative effects. The Israelis know they cannot win--even if they conquer all of the West Bank, this military achievement will not be a political one. The Palestinians also realize that the Israelis can defeat them militarily, but not politically.

In these circumstances there should be a third party to pressure the Israelis towards international legality. But as long as the United States is that party, it will intervene one way or another on the side of Israel. Also, there is another obstacle, which is that after September 11, the Americans are looking to fight terrorism and have put Iraq on the agenda. [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon prefers that, when the American attack on Iraq happens, it be without [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat. But the US is afraid of the consequences of getting rid of Arafat. This can be seen in their double position. They don't know how to deal with him. The Arab states are trying to tell them that you should go with Arafat and that if you do not, this will be a destabilizing factor.

bitterlemons: The United States administration is making some statements now addressing the Palestinian occupation, chastising the Israelis. They seem to be making an effort to appear balanced. What kind of approach would convince you that their international intervention might work?

Amireh: I think that there should be promises, real ones, with guarantees and a down payment. This might happen: a withdrawal of the Israeli army and the lifting of the siege. But the Israelis also want a down payment. Yesterday, Sharon was saying that they will not let Palestinians blackmail them. This means that this is tit-for-tat: if we keep up our military operations, they will keep up their attacks.

bitterlemons: For some time, Arafat has shown himself a true believer in the caveat that only the United States can deliver Palestinian freedom. Do you think that his thoughts on this have changed at all lately?

Amireh: No, of course not. He is not the only one to believe this. The United States is the only party who can do anything.

bitterlemons: Well, perhaps he might change to focus on making changes inside Israeli society, for example...

Amireh: I believe in this approach, but it will take ten years. [For Arafat], this is not the time for this. There is mistrust. Personally, I can say that I have always had contacts with Israelis from Peace Now, for example, but it is really hard now. I just feel that if they don't condemn what is going on in the Palestinian territories that there is no basis for anything. In the past, there was, but now something is broken.

I do think that Palestinians should address Israeli public opinion in another way. The suicide attacks in Israel have destroyed all the bridges between us and allowed the Israeli right wing to say that this is not a conflict against occupation, but against Israel itself. The settlers are now saying, "The settlements are not the issue, look at what they are doing in Jerusalem, in Tel Aviv."

bitterlemons: Do you think that more Palestinians are saying this?

Amireh: No, this is not a popular viewpoint among Palestinians. I just want to know why it is that the Iranian Prime Minister goes to Hezballah and asks him to stop attacks on Israel, so as not to give Sharon an excuse to attack, but here it is not all right to ask Hamas to do the same thing. It indicates that there is a political agenda from outside. While it is true that those who are doing these attacks are sacrificing themselves for the Palestinian cause and the Islamic cause, the Palestinian people themselves should not commit collective suicide.-Published 6/5/02(c)

Hanna Amireh is a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee and the Politburo of the Palestinian Peoples Party.

A regional conference is a good idea

an interview with Tzipi Livni

bitterlemons: The government led by Ariel Sharon appears to be moving Israel toward a regional or international conference. Isn't this a slippery slope, a trap?

Livni: The central question is whether bringing a third party into the conflict constitutes a loss of control over my fate and endangers my existence? A regional conference is a positive idea, since [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat has proven he's not a partner, and I and the Palestinian people share an interest in reaching a settlement, peace and stability. Egypt, Jordan and the United States have a similar interest in view of the ramifications of the conflict for them. We can agree to such a process. But it's impossible to hold such a convocation completely without Arafat--even though he is not the leader who will bring his people to peace.

I'm not happy to discover that there is no Palestinian partner, and therefore I'm looking for additional actors who will dilute Arafat's control. Together with them we can define a joint interest; hence Israel's initiative to convene a regional conference. Still, it's important that we retain the capacity to prevent an imposed settlement. I'm not in the same camp as Shlomo Ben Ami [Israeli foreign minister under Ehud Barak], who is prepared for the world to decide for us.

bitterlemons: What should be on the agenda of such a conference?

Livni: The Israeli public is now afraid of a Camp David-style solution and fears to find itself living alongside a terrorist state. In any event, Arafat is not interested in ending the conflict. Thus it is a mistake today to enter into an accelerated, dramatic process that produces a terrorist state. As an alternative we must look for a way to generate a normal Palestinian order of life based on territorial contiguity. We need to discuss economic and humanitarian relief, the prevention of friction with our soldiers and the cessation of terrorism and incitement. We must not place time limits on the process. We can agree to discuss final status, and within that framework look for interim territorial understandings that reduce pressures. The Arab countries that aspire to represent the Palestinian cause will not tell us it's "all or nothing".

bitterlemons: Israeli Intelligence circles have long argued that it is Arafat who seeks to "internationalize" the conflict. How does a Likud minister arrive at a readiness to go to an international conference? How do you explain the evolution of this approach?

Livni: After Camp David I understood that Arafat does not want to end the conflict. During Israel's last elections fate brought together two actors: one, Arafat, who doesn't want to end the conflict, and the other, Sharon, who presents a program for an interim settlement. This was a better match than Barak-Arafat. Following the creation of the Sharon government we embraced proposals that could advance this approach, such as Tenet and Mitchell.

With the passage of events we realized that Arafat was not even capable of reaching an interim agreement, and that an alternative Palestinian leadership, while a good option, was impossible and unrealistic. That brought us to a readiness to deliberate with more moderate Arab and international actors.

bitterlemons: What is your attitude toward the now cancelled United Nations fact-finding commission on Jenin?

Livni: There are two problems here. First, Israel finds itself in a bizarre situation vis--vis the international community. By definition we share its values: democracy, equality, moral values. In terms of applying norms, we are partners and the Palestinians are not. Yet the international community ignores Palestinian violations of norms while taking a very strict approach with us. The second problem is that we have no trust or belief in either the judge or the tribunal. Here for example is Syria, a member of the Security Council, that supports terrorism yet participates in decisions on normative humanitarian issues. There's almost no place where we can get a fair hearing. The Jenin affair spotlighted the problem, but it's not new.

bitterlemons: Can't the UN be helpful in border issues?

Livni: In Lebanon in May 2000 we carried out Security Council Resolution 425 fully. Yet the UN still does not enforce a ceasefire on Hizballah, and even became entangled in the abduction affair of our soldiers.

bitterlemons: What's your attitude toward European involvement?

Livni: Arafat will try to bring the European community, which supports him, into the process. In my view the European position is based on an unacceptable double standard. Europe confuses its empathy for the Palestinians with the messages it sends Arafat, which are understood by him as a green light to continue his terrorism. Note, for example, British Prime Minister Blair's embrace of Arafat three weeks after September 11.

bitterlemons: Is there room for an international military force in a solution to the conflict?

Livni: Certainly as observers following an agreement. But I have a problem with an international military force that is deployed here to separate the two sides. It will create a technical separation without terrorism ending, while it ties my hands and keeps me from fighting back.-Published 6/5/02(c)

Tzipi Livni is a Cabinet Minister in the Sharon government on behalf of the Likud Party.

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