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    March 10, 2008 Edition 10                      Palestinian-Israeli crossfire
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  Dissolving the PA
  . Suppose they do it        by Yossi Alpher
The problem is, the known alternatives seem even worse than the present situation.
. Living in limbo        by Ghassan Khatib
Who would fill the vacuum?
  . Wait until January        by Yossi Beilin
We have such an abundance of unimplemented agreements that if there is no alternative we can implement one of them.
. The path to a one-state solution        by Ali Jarbawi
The only way Israel might become serious about a two-state solution is if its existence as a Jewish state is threatened.

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Suppose they do it
by Yossi Alpher

Let us suppose for the sake of argument that the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah decides to make good on the threat heard recently to dissolve the Palestinian Authority. Or that some other Palestinian faction concentrates enough power and influence to force the leadership to comply with this demand. Two questions immediately arise. First, what is the motive or purpose of this act? And second, what happens next?

As an Israeli, I must add a third question: is this good or bad for Israel?

The motive for dissolving the PA would presumably be a mixture of protest and frustration regarding the lack of progress in the current peace process, the fighting in and around Gaza and the Palestinian Authority's general lack of authority and substance. It could also constitute a response to the advent of serious Israel-Hamas talks regarding a long-term ceasefire that effectively neutralizes Israel-PLO peace talks.

The Palestinian pro-dissolution argument would presumably go as follows: If the PA cannot deliver a viable Palestinian state within the framework of a two-state solution--the purpose for which it was created under the Oslo accords--why should it continue to exist? If it has lost control over the Gaza Strip and barely controls the West Bank, why not call a spade a spade and dissolve it? If Israel, in the Palestinian view, is incapable of rolling back its settlement drive in the West Bank, then confront it with the need to renew its occupation and face the consequence: a single-state solution.

But renewed occupation and the specter of a single-state solution are not necessarily what does happen next. For one, the dismissal of the PA's security forces might be the signal for Hamas to try to take over in the West Bank as well. Alternatively, some Palestinian leaders would see this as the appropriate time for a unilateral declaration of Palestinian independence--replacing autonomy with a state, however virtual.

The Olmert government and the Israeli mainstream, precisely because they fear getting dragged into a situation in which a two-state solution ceases to be a realistic prospect and international pressures grow to entertain a single-state outcome, might well prefer additional unilateral withdrawals regardless of the chaotic nature of the Palestinian entity left behind in the West Bank. Israel might call upon the international community and particularly Jordan to deploy a stabilizing force in the West Bank instead of or even alongside the IDF. Almost certainly, anarchy and widespread humanitarian hardship would be the order of the day, with local clan leaders and militias playing an important role.

Is this good or bad for Israel? To the extent that Israelis have become convinced that the Oslo process has failed, that a final status agreement and viable two-state solution are impossible under present circumstances and that even conflict-management or interim measures are beyond the reach of President Mahmoud Abbas and PM Ehud Olmert, then there certainly is room to consider some sort of radical alternative. The problem is, the known alternatives seem even worse than the present situation. Unilateral withdrawal has failed, an agreement of any sort with Hamas is a huge gamble that dooms Palestinian moderates, the Palestinian leadership rejects an interim solution and Jordan and Egypt refuse, for their own perfectly good reasons, to take over control of the territories.

Those who argue for the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority without replacing it with an agreed alternative political structure are in effect saying that anarchy and nihilism are better than the PA. It is not difficult to empathize with the emotional reaction of advocates of dissolving the PA to the perception of prolonged failure on the part of the Palestinian leadership to make good on its commitment to state-building and on the part of Israel's leaders to clear the space necessary to form a viable Palestinian state. But until and unless they present a convincing scenario of a better future emerging on the ruins of the PA, their proposal should be treated by Palestinians and Israelis alike with the utmost caution.

Note, by way of illustration, that since the Hamas takeover last June the PA as originally constituted has already effectively ceased to exist in the Gaza Strip. This has certainly brought no blessing to either Palestinians or Israelis.- Published 10/3/2008 © bitterlemons.org

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former special adviser to PM Ehud Barak.

Living in limbo
by Ghassan Khatib

The old/new idea of dissolving the Palestinian Authority is being floated again among Palestinians, especially by intellectuals and, to a lesser extent, politicians. The reason why it's not gaining wider currency is the fear of the practical consequences of such a move rather than its political significance. The suggestion itself has to be understood as a reflection of the frustration with the failure of the peace process as well as the poor governance record of the PA.

The PA was designed as an interim authority. In fact, it is officially called an interim authority. It was created as part of a process of interim arrangements that were to last five years while a final agreement was negotiated between the two sides. The understanding then, almost by everybody, was that the interim arrangement should lead to a two-state solution.

Regardless of the reasons why--these are a separate debate--Palestinians have now reached a point of stagnation in which they are living in limbo. They are neither under a clear-cut situation of occupation against which they could be expected to resist and fight, nor is their interim authority leading them to an end of occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Much of this lack of momentum is a result of international inaction. At a certain point in time, Israel managed to convince the US and some others that the obstacle to moving the process forward lay on the Palestinian side and in particular with the leadership of Yasser Arafat. But the Palestinian public has since elected the keenest proponent of a negotiated solution based on international legality, Mahmoud Abbas, and still Israel has proven that it is not mature enough and ready to negotiate an end to occupation. On the contrary, Israel, during and after redeploying its forces from the Gaza Strip, has increased its illegal settlement activities in the West Bank and consolidated its system of control there. With little to no intervention and protection from the outside, Palestinians started seeking alternative approaches.

As a part of this trend, some moved to support other political forces, notably the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas. Another approach was to look at different strategies, including rewinding the situation to the pre-peace process and pre-PA days when things were clearer, at least in the eyes of international public opinion. In this context, some are suggesting dissolving the PA. Part of the rationale is that the existence of a PA deceives public opinion and creates an absurd situation whereby both the international and the Palestinian publics expect the PA to fulfil the functions of a state while it has neither the authority, institutions nor responsibilities of such a body. The gist of the idea is to throw back the hot potato of direct responsibility for Palestinian welfare to the Israelis and the Israeli occupation.

There are many problems with this suggestion, however. The first and most important is political. The Palestinian people are supposed to be struggling for their own independent authority. In order to do so, it would seem pertinent to fight to strengthen and improve the existing Authority rather than give it up, especially since the efforts needed to end the occupation are not less than the efforts needed to go the other way.

The second problem is the practical implication of dissolving the PA. The number of individuals depending for their livelihoods on the existence of the PA ranges between 200,000 and 250,000, counting employees, prisoners and the families of those killed during fighting. Factor in the average family size and it can be said with relative accuracy that more than one million Palestinians depend directly on the PA.

Furthermore, would Palestinians accept to reverse some of the benefits the PA has (however fitfully) bestowed upon them, notably in running some of their own basic and sensitive services like health and education? There are, right now, roughly one million Palestinian schoolchildren being taught by some 40,000 teachers and educated according a Palestinian-developed curriculum. Reversing that situation means these systems will be handed back to the Israelis and an Israeli military officer will again, as in the past, run the education system with all the implications that will have.

But maybe the most immediate obstacle to the idea is that Israel might not accept to take back its direct responsibility as an occupier. In other words, if the president of the PA should leave his office and the government and officials in the ministries follow suit, Israel might not move in to fill the vacuum. What would happen then? Would public pressure build against those who left their posts? Who would guarantee law and order? Might Israel not convince a "collaborator government" to fill the vacuum?

There is little doubt that raising the option of dissolving the PA is important in that it reminds everybody what a desperate situation Palestinians are currently languishing in. But in order to pursue the idea seriously, much more careful calculation and thinking is required.- Published 10/3/2008 © bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons.org family of internet publications. He is vice-president of Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning. He holds a PhD in Middle East politics from the University of Durham.

Wait until January

by Yossi Beilin

Before closing down the Palestinian Authority, ending peace talks, unilaterally declaring a Palestinian state or deciding to opt for a one-state solution, we should calm down and wait another ten months until January 2009.

We have waited 40 years rather than agreeing to accept a Palestinian state alongside us within the borders of the Rogers plan and since the Arab world ran to Khartoum to declare no recognition, no negotiations and of course no peace with Israel. We've had the Peres-Hussein agreement that was never signed, the Madrid conference, the Oslo agreement, the autonomy agreement, the Camp David talks, Taba and the Geneva initiative. We are now in a kind of final stretch, and there is no reason--now of all times--to make irreversible decisions or to end negotiations prematurely.

The idea of dissolving the PA in particular is a kind of suicide threat: "I won't be here any longer, but you will never forgive yourselves." Elimination of the PA will not generate any positive replacement. It will end the Oslo agreement that constitutes the only basis for the fragile, problematic but all so vital system of relations between Israel and a Palestinian leadership that is recognized by the entire world.

According to Oslo, the PA was supposed to have gone out of existence in 1999. It will, I hope, soon disappear--but not before it is replaced by an agreed Palestinian state.

If, as next January approaches, it emerges that we have failed to make progress and there is no permanent status agreement on the horizon, I will be the first to advocate a fall-back solution such as a long-term interim agreement, a declaration of principles that does not address all core issues, implementing the forgotten third phase of the 1995 interim agreement or even a Palestinian declaration of independence--but one that is pre-coordinated between the two sides and can be understood as implementation of the second phase of the roadmap.

We have such an abundance of unimplemented agreements that if there is no alternative we can agree to implement one of them, thereby taking a partial step forward. One thing is clear: we must not repeat the terrible "all or nothing" mistake of the year 2000. That could again generate an outbreak of violence that even those who foment it cannot stop. If only we had had the wisdom to conclude the unfortunate Camp David summit with an additional interim agreement, with all its disadvantages, the region would look completely different: we would not have witnessed Hamas winning parliamentary elections, taking control of Gaza and violently sabotaging any chance of a peaceful settlement.

Is it really possible to reach agreement in 2008, as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice again suggested in her brief visit to the region last week? I don't know, and I assume she doesn't either, but one thing I do know: it cannot happen unless we all make a supreme effort to reach such an agreement. After seven hard years of violence and political paralysis, of preference for unilateral steps and continuous reduction in public confidence regarding one another's intentions, after a dramatic weakening of the PA and following a prolonged period of illogical and inexplicable behavior on the part of the US administration--there has now emerged a chance to return to the status quo ante of January 2001 and try again to proceed.

What must we do?

We need an immediate ceasefire with Hamas in Gaza. This should include the return of Gilad Shalit and cessation of Qassam and mortar firing from the Strip on the part of Hamas, a release of security prisoners and a cessation of targeted killings and armed penetrations into the Strip on our part.

With the PLO, Israel must maintain intensive day-to-day negotiations, preferably not here and preferably through a secret channel. These talks should deal with all core and related issues so that by the end of 2008 we can sign a comprehensive peace agreement and, in parallel, agree on its phased implementation in accordance with the Palestinians' capacity to do so.

This is the real interest of President George W. Bush, who seeks to end his term of office on a positive and dramatic note; of Mahmoud Abbas, who wishes to complete his presidency by making peace; and of Ehud Olmert, the unpopular prime minister who does not want to be remembered by the public as the man who failed at making war in Lebanon. This is a rare opportunity with a measured chance of success. Instead of proposing ideas of despair, better to improve those odds.- Published 10/3/2008 © bitterlemons.org

Member of Knesset Yossi Beilin is chair of the Meretz-Yahad party.

The path to a one-state solution

by Ali Jarbawi

Five years ago, I was the first to advocate dissolving the Palestinian Authority and since then I have been stressing the need for Palestinians to take this suggestion seriously. But the suggestion was faced with immediate rejection from various circles within and connected to the PA. Some considered it the attempt of a critic (thus one who represents the opposition) to destroy the Authority and through it the "national project". Others considered it an academic exercise and were skeptical about what forces would fill the vacuum created by the absence of the Authority and who would guarantee the salaries of public employees. But a majority provided the most astonishing reason for their immediate rejection of the idea: Israel would never accept the resumption of its duties as an occupier.

The idea when I proposed it was not a mere academic fantasy. Nor was it a response to an evolving incompetent and corrupt Authority that had created a stratum of society completely dependent on it and always ready to defend it. Furthermore, the expected Israeli rejection should be considered in favor of the idea rather than against it. Israel, the occupier, could never be expected to accept anything that favors the Palestinians.

Dissolving the Authority would be the most serious step taken by the Palestinians to end this prolonged Israeli occupation. However, it should not be seen as an end in itself, but rather as a means to achieve an end. It should be viewed as part of a strategic option, rather than being itself the option. It should be considered as a necessary step needed to achieve the one-state solution.

Since the beginning of the conflict, the intention of the Zionist movement was to "remove" Palestinians and take their place: "a land without a people for a people without a land". After numerous attempts, even after successfully establishing a state in 1948 and occupying the remaining part of Palestine in 1967, Israel failed miserably in achieving its objective, however. Palestinians remained in Palestine and have been growing in number. Demography will be the basic determining element of this conflict.

When Israel realized its predicament, it opted for a negotiated settlement with Palestinians for a two-state solution. The PLO had accepted this option since 1988 and has been eager to reach a settlement with Israel on the basis of the 1967 borders (give and take minor alterations). The PLO was ready for a settlement that would end the occupation and result in the establishment of an independent sovereign Palestine which would live in peace with its neighboring countries, including Israel.

Throughout the 15-year long negotiation process, however, Israel has taken the Palestinian Authority for an easy ride. The Authority was, according to the Oslo Accords, supposed to be established for five years as a temporary and transitional measure. But ever since its inception, it has not only been dragged into meaningless negotiations, but also been forced to take full responsibility over the Palestinian "inhabitants" in the occupied territories.

Israel has been using negotiations as a cover to enhance its presence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The ongoing land confiscation policy along with the expansion of the settlement policy and the building of the separation wall are rendering a two-state solution obsolete. Israel wants to have its cake and eat it too: it wants to retain as much land as possible while getting rid of as many Palestinians as possible through the creation of a Palestinian state of leftovers. It will then claim that a two-state solution has been achieved and that therefore the book should be closed on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict forever.

Israel should not be allowed to achieve its goal. It is clear from past negotiations experience that Israel is simply not interested in a proper two-state solution, only one that leads to imprisoning Palestinians into separate cantons that can then be called a state.

The only way Israel might become serious about a two-state solution is if its existence as a Jewish state is threatened. Such a threat cannot come through an everlasting open negotiating process or by launching handmade rockets at Israel's borders. A serious threat is only posed if Palestinians announce to Israel and the world at large that they will pursue a two-state solution through negotiations until the end of 2008 (as US President George W. Bush proposed). If no tangible results are forthcoming, then Palestinians should pay heed to the lesson, close the door on this option and refocus their efforts toward the one-state option. This option requires dissolving the Authority, thus forcing Israel to face up to the real challenge of maintaining its existence as a Jewish state.

Instead of currently continuing the pursuit of independence, the Palestinian strategy should begin to aim at total integration within the state of Israel. It has become clear that a sovereign and independent Palestinian state cannot be established without going through the path of a one-state solution.

It is a rather interesting proposition. How would Israel and the international community react to a people saying they want to continue living under occupation?- Published 10/3/2008 © bitterlemons.org

Ali Jarbawi is professor of political science at Birzeit University.

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Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at ghassan@bitterlemons.org and yossi@bitterlemons.org, respectively.

Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.