- Palestinian-Israeli crossfire on
"How to restore trust”

September 9, 2002 Edition 34

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>< “The paradox of unilateral initiatives” - by Yossi Alpher
What cannot be done through dialogue and agreement might be possible if each side works on its own.

>< “Difficult--but not impossible” - by Ghassan Khatib
Israelis should give the impression that they are willing to end the occupation--stop settlements, for starters.

>< “If you will it, it is not a dream” - by Shlomo Gazit
Orders will be issued to IDF forces to cease addressing the Palestinian people as enemies.

>< “Instead of the rule of force” - by Maha Abu Dayyeh Shamas
The two parties--Palestinian and Israeli--are not equal and should not be left on their own.

The paradox of unilateral initiatives

by Yossi Alpher

The usual logic of conflict resolution dictates that the restoration of trust between Israelis and Palestinians begin with an effort by people of good will on both sides to formulate compromise solutions, and engage in joint enterprises, that can serve as CBMs, or confidence building measures. If the two sides have difficulty sitting down together, a third party can convene them and even mediate their deliberations. This is the way the necessary trust and confidence were created in the course of efforts spread over the past two decades that produced the Oslo agreements. It stands to reason that if and when Israelis and Palestinians again reach political agreements, this is the way it will happen.

But right now this doesn't seem to work well. After two years of armed conflict and the seeming disappearance of any capacity for mutual communication by Israelis and Palestinians, attempts to restore trust by talking to one another appear to be fruitless, and at times even counterproductive. The reason appears to involve the two sides' conflicting narratives: at Camp David and Taba in 2000-2001 the process reached a point where efforts to resolve the national/religious/historic narratives--regarding the refugee issue, i.e., the events of 1948, and the Temple Mount/Harem a-Sharif issue--were the main items remaining on the agenda. But these are the most difficult issues. Add to them now a new clash of narratives--over who started the current violent conflict and why--and it's easy to understand why most serious attempts to restore trust through bilateral discussion either deteriorate into angry recriminations or end up in agreements that are admirable but marginal.

Yet Israelis and Palestinians are tired of conflict and are looking for a way out.

I recently attended yet another of the many efforts at renewed dialogue. A joint attempt to draw up an agreed formula for renewed peace talks generated a Palestinian initiative to fix exclusive responsibility for the events of 1948 on Israel, along with a relatively new Palestinian demand: that even after peace and an "end of conflict" pact, Palestine and Palestinians be allowed to sue Israel for compensation for all the "evils" of the occupation since 1967.

The Israelis present at the meeting saw these demands as antithetical to their narrative and designed to prolong, rather than end, the conflict, and rejected them. Even Jordanian and Egyptian participants in the meeting were baffled by the Palestinian attitude. When the Israeli side suggested that the parties might be able to unite around the Nusseibeh-Ayalon formula or the Ziad Abu Zayyad formula--two recent efforts that seek to present an agreed middle ground and feature more moderate Palestinian attitudes regarding the right of return and the Temple Mount/Harem a-Sharif--they were informed by the Palestinian "peace camp" that these formulae were non-starters: not a single prominent Palestinian would sign on to them.

While such meetings are important and must be continued, for the time being they do not improve trust; indeed, they may be damaging it. It is only when we look to the realm of unilateral, rather than bilateral initiatives, that some progress in confidence building appears possible.

This is the paradox of unilateral initiatives. Given the current atmosphere, what cannot be done through dialogue and agreement might be possible if each side works on its own. Two examples will suffice, one from each side.

Originally Palestinians undertook, in accordance with Oslo, to prevent terrorism and provide security to Israelis. They failed. Now Palestinian militant organizations are discussing initiatives to declare a unilateral ceasefire, not out of concern for the welfare of Israelis, but rather in view of what they consider to be enlightened self-interest. If a unilateral ceasefire works, it's also good for Israelis, and can build trust.

Israel originally agreed under Oslo to withdraw from territories and, implicitly, to cease building settlements on those territories--and failed. Now more and more Israelis are discussing withdrawing unilaterally from part of those same territories. They are doing so not to please the Palestinians or comply with agreements, but rather out of what they consider to be enlightened self-interest: to guarantee their own security (particularly against suicide bombers) with a "separation fence," rid themselves of the evils of occupation, and respond to the Palestinian demographic threat. While Palestinians are troubled by these Israeli unilateral initiatives, they also recognize that they can benefit from them, by taking possession of additional territories currently occupied by Israel and witnessing the removal of the most provocative settlements.

These unilateral initiatives cannot replace a peace process. They cannot and should not even replace the kind of track II meetings, however problematic, described above. But in the absence of trust and confidence, they are in many ways the only non-violent game in town. If they stabilize the situation and reduce violence by lessening friction, they can contribute to a confidence-building process that can eventually return the two parties to the negotiating table in an atmosphere of enhanced trust.

Hence they should be encouraged by all interested parties.-Published 9/9/2002©

Correction: Last week's article by Yossi Alpher contained a typographical error referring to Palestinian elections to be held in 200, rather than their correct date, January 15, 2003.

Yossi Alpher is an Israeli strategic analyst. He is former Director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University.

Difficult--but not impossible

by Ghassan Khatib

Although there has been a very deep and dangerous deterioration in the relationship between the Palestinian and Israeli governments and their respective publics, this deterioration has not yet become irreversible, mainly because each side’s electorate has an interest in reversing the bloody conflict and returning to peace negotiations. The prolonging of this fight, however, is deepening mutual mistrust and gravely affecting new generations that might have been the vehicle for peace, but are now caught up in a maelstrom of hatred and hostility.

There are two areas of action that are required in order to try to regain confidence between the two sides. One is practical and the other is political.

Initially, an important message sent to Palestinians from the Israeli side--the main impetus for the current mistrust and lack of confidence--was the election of the Israeli right wing and Ariel Sharon in the position of prime minister. That was seen as a retreat from the spirit of compromise that had characterized previous governments in Israel.

The dramatic escalation of Israeli practices such as the extra-judicial killing of activists and civilians, the wanton destruction of infrastructure and economy, and the collective punishment of the Palestinian people through widespread military action, arrests, closures, curfews and, in some cases, hunger, have caused Palestinians to lose faith in Israel as a partner. Any attempt to regain the confidence of the Palestinian people must include a complete halt to all of these activities. The impression among Palestinians is not that these actions are a reaction to Palestinian armed attacks, but rather that they are rooted in a deep hatred for Palestinians in general, and the desire to wreck anything that has meaning for the Palestinian people--their educational system, the educational opportunities of their young people, their culture and cultural institutions, the list goes on....

The other aspect that must be addressed in rebuilding trust is the rhetoric coming from the Israeli side. Persistent Israeli dismissal of the legitimate Palestinian desire for independence and Israel’s continued attempts to discredit the Palestinian leadership--despite its election by the Palestinian people--as “a bunch of terrorists,” and to call the Palestinian search for freedom and independence “terrorism,” must come to an end. Moreover, this Israeli government’s blunt public statements expressing lack of commitment to the peace process, the very notion of territorial compromise and United Nations Resolution 242, cannot continue if trust is to be restored.

These messages contribute to Palestinian suspicion. In their stead, Israelis should give the impression that they are willing to end entirely the Israeli occupation. Palestinians consider the construction of settlements an indicator of Israeli will in that direction. An illegal settlement expansion policy in which Israel confiscates by virtue of force land owned by Palestinian individuals for the purpose of settling Jewish settlers is intended to consolidate Israel’s occupation. Despite Israeli statements to the contrary, when Palestinians see settlements growing, they cannot be expected to acquiesce to a “peaceful occupation.”

For their part, Palestinians must also be more careful in the impression they are giving the other side. First, Palestinians must make sure that they are sending the right message, which is that while Palestinians will not accept anything less than a complete end to the occupation as per international law, their territorial claims extend no further than the fulfillment of that law. Palestinians must make sure that Israelis can hear that message through the din, and they must also make sure that their activities do not contradict that objective.-Published 9/9/02©

Ghassan Khatib is minister of labor in the new Palestinian Authority cabinet. He has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.

If you will it, it is not a dream

by Shlomo Gazit

I have no doubts; it is just a question of time. Once again we shall see delegations of Israel and the Palestinians sitting around the table and renewing their negotiations. The two sides seek it, need it and are ripe for it. I don't know when this will happen, but we have to prepare for that day, now. We cannot permit the process that begins again to end again in crisis and deadlock.

I see three obstacles that the two sides will have to overcome.

First and foremost--the establishment of a national leadership on both sides that really and truly believes in the need to reach historic compromise; compromise based on painful bilateral concessions; courageous concessions, without which there can be no settlement. We are all well aware of the parameters of the anticipated agreement. We can call it the Clinton formula, the Camp David or the Taba agreements. The problem is not the content of the agreement, but rather a leadership that understands that there is no other way, a courageous leadership capable of persuading its people, Israelis and Palestinians, to choose this path.

The second obstacle is the practical expression of the painful concession. A political agreement, once achieved, will oblige the leadership to enforce its decisions among domestic opponents. We know well who the opposition will be, who will try to sabotage and thwart these decisions by force. We know the extremists in Israel and the extremists among the Palestinians. Again, the two leaders and the two leaderships will have to call upon both courage and strength to do their duty.

The third obstacle is perhaps the most problematic of all. Both Israel and the Palestinians will have to convince one another of the sincerity of their intentions. They will have to remove the psychological barrier of lack of confidence that has been there all along, and that has grown and expanded particularly during the past two years of insane violence.

Twenty-five years ago we witnessed the dramatic visit of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem. In his historic speech in Jerusalem he spoke of the fact that 70 percent of the conflict is the psychological barrier between the two sides. "My visit here, in Jerusalem," he continued, "has toppled that psychological wall!" I expect the Palestinians to persuade me, as Sadat did, of the sincerity of their intentions.

But I am well aware that we bear the same obligation toward them.

I will begin with a move that echoes Sadat's visit to Jerusalem. As prime minister of Israel I will invite whoever heads the Palestinian political entity at the time, to come and address the Israeli people from the podium of the Knesset. True, the words will be addressed to the people of Israel, but this will also be a first class gesture to the Palestinian masses. The Israeli prime minister's reply will present the main points of his plan for immediate action, even before negotiations have begun and before any agreements are reached.

Again, as prime minister of Israel I will convene a cabinet meeting that will confirm "the end of the Israeli occupation of the territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip." I'll make sure the language of the resolution speaks specifically of the "West Bank" and not "Judea and Samaria." This will be accompanied by a second resolution, the complete cessation of expansion of settlements in these areas, and an additional gesture: the removal of all Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip.

Immediately thereafter, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) General Staff will meet in the presence of the prime minister. At this meeting the prime minister and minister of defense will issue a directive for the immediate withdrawal of IDF forces from areas A and B, and transfer of full responsibility for the needs of the population to Palestinian hands. Orders will be issued to IDF forces to cease addressing the Palestinian people as enemies. From that moment on, they will become residents of a neighboring Arab country with whom we intend to live in peace. And as a symbolic step, this meeting will also decide on cancellation of the position of "Coordinator of Government Operations in the Administered Territories"' and transfer of all liaison and coordination operations from the IDF to a special civilian authority under the Prime Minister's Office.

An additional gesture: the unilateral, massive release of Palestinian security prisoners.

Utopia, you say? Perhaps. But in the words of the father of the Zionist movement, "If you will it, it is not a dream!" -Published 9/9/2002©

Major General (res.) Shlomo Gazit was Israel's first Coordinator of Government Operations in the Administered Territories (1967-1974) and Head of Military Intelligence (1974-1979).

Instead of the rule of force

by Maha Abu Dayyeh Shamas

The Middle East conflict has no shortage of international law to guide its resolution. What is missing is really the political will of governments to undertake their responsibilities according to their mandate within the body of international law and international humanitarian law. This absence of political will has kept Middle East societies, particularly Palestinian society, lingering too long in a situation of perpetual fear and conflict.

Palestinian society has yearned for too long for peace and security. We have yearned to be able to move around freely without asking permission from young gun-toting Israeli soldiers placed practically on our doorsteps. We have yearned for the time when we do not have to worry about our children going safely to school. We have yearned for too long for the security of exercising our right to self-expression and self-determination without being thrown in jail.

I can say, as a representative of Palestinian civil society and the women's movement, that despite these handicaps and with international support, we had come a long way in developing institutions to address Palestinians’ social needs for a future Palestinian state.

For example, the Palestinian women's movement had succeeded at making inroads in addressing cultural values and attitudes particular to the Arab world that handicap the healthy development of girls and women. We Palestinian women were in the process of engaging ourselves in legislative development locally and internationally. And we were witnessing the development of a budding but vibrant young feminist movement, an essential sector for democratic development within Palestinian society.

But the last Israeli “reoccupation” of Palestinian controlled areas has resulted in the systematic destruction of all that we have achieved over the last ten years. The military onslaught was aimed at dashing any hopes for a coherent Palestinian state and identity.

In the eyes of the average Palestinian, our society has been effectively left at the mercy of a hostile state that continually violates with impunity through the illegal and endless Israeli occupation almost every law in the book regarding the behavior of states in armed conflict. Having no effective Palestinian state to defend our interests, nor an effective international third party to ensure the respect of the law, desperate elements in Palestinian society have felt they have no choice but to resort to their own means for self-defense.

Israel’s continued violations of the laws of conflict have resulted in a likewise violent and illegal response by Palestinian non-state actors. This cycle of action and reaction has allowed the Israeli state in the name of self-defense to use formal state military strategies and means against none state actors and the communities they belong to as collective punishment, leading the Palestinian community to feel that it has nothing more to lose. Palestinians understand that the political objectives of this military campaign are to break the Palestinian spirit and force them to accept an agreement that is no agreement at all.

For the sake of preserving life, and in order to make political negotiations possible, it is essential to create an environment of hope by immediately sending international peacekeeping forces with a mandate of protection. Any future negotiations must remain under international auspices to ensure respect for international frameworks. The two parties--Palestinian and Israeli--are not equal and should not be left on their own. Otherwise, the process will be dictated by the imbalance of power that characterized the Oslo negotiations, whose bloody consequences we are now witnessing.

Peace is made between peoples and not between leaders. A process leading to a sustainable and consequently permanent solution should be just, and should not be left to the confines of the generals, and should be transparent to the relevant societies.

We have to address and understand each other's history with open minds. Our leaders have a responsibility to educate their societies about the other as a matter of policy. If we leave things only to government officials, we get Israeli generals and Palestinians who will not be defeated, and there is no room to negotiate. Women’s participation in any future peace process is essential to maintaining the connection between each society’s realities and its yearnings for peace and security.

We cannot afford to waste any more time, or any more lives. We need to think of a new approach. We as women want to bring a new understanding to the situation in the Middle East. We want to approach peace building in a way that will promote long-term stability. But we cannot do it alone. We are asking for the help of the international community. Women know instinctively that the use of force will never lead to peace, justice or even security.

Despite all the disappointments and recent setbacks, it is important not to give up on the region and, indeed, to capitalize on the strong need and desire existing in both societies for security and stability. The rule of law is essential for peace and harmony. We have to replace the rule of force, which has governed our region for too long, with the rule of law. This is the challenge before the international community.-Published 9/9/02

Maha Abu Dayyeh Shamas is director of the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling. This article was adapted from a presentation made to the United Nations Security Council, alongside Terry Greenblatt, director of the Israeli women’s organization, Bat Shalom.

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