- Palestinian-Israeli crossfire on
"The “Quartet" and the Bush approach"

July 22, 2002 Edition 27

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>< “The right direction” - by Ghassan Khatib
Palestinians are seeking to neutralize US bias and enforce international law.

>< “The real action is in Israel and Palestine” - by Yossi Alpher
The Israeli-Palestinian issue must not be allowed to interfere with the administration's priorities.

>< “The fatal flaw” - by Charles Shamas
We need to better understand and use the political logic and protective potential of the law.

>< “Elections can change the situation” - by Galia Golan
The reform proposed by Bush would necessitate the withdrawal of Israeli forces.

The right direction

by Ghassan Khatib

From early on, Palestinians have complained of the American government monopoly over the supervision and sponsorship of the peace process. They believe that American mediation has been hampered by its openly stated bias towards Israel. The preparations leading up to the peace process included many false starts, attempts that failed because Palestinians wanted international sponsorship or an international conference to avoid American domination of the process. Palestinians, who have equipped themselves for the negotiations by basing their negotiating positions on international legality, have always wanted the peace process terms of reference to be as close as possible to international law and international forums.

In practice, this peace process was to be launched by an international conference, the Madrid conference, and sponsored by the two superpowers of the time, the United States and the Soviet Union. Later, the United States government became the dominant party, monopolizing sponsorship to an extent that even Europe was deterred from any serious political engagement, despite its great interest in regional peace.

But when the peace process collapsed immediately after the Camp David summit sponsored by the United States, many people blamed the failure on the American management. Soon after that, the American monopoly began to fall apart. At Sharm Al Sheikh, in an attempt to extinguish the fire of the Intifada threatening the region, US President Bill Clinton deputized the Mitchell committee, which included Turkish, Norwegian and American representation. That committee produced a report of recommendations that most perceived as balanced--none of the parties had any major objections.

In this context, Palestinians view even a partial transfer of the Middle East file from the monopoly of the American government to the hands of the Quartet as a positive step. On the one hand, the change will neutralize--albeit however slightly--the negative influence of American bias towards Israel. On the other hand, an international body composed of representatives of the United States, United Nations, the European Union and Russia will have to be more sensitive to international legitimacy.

Indeed, the work of that committee, although still in its nascent stages, has already produced changes in the atmosphere, in particularly taking the sting out of unrealistic and biased positions presented by the United States. Those positions might have done great damage if they had not been followed by the subsequent deliberations of the Quartet. While US President George W. Bush’s speech contradicted common sense and democratic values in its interference in the composition of the Palestinian leadership, the statement of the Quartet set a distinctively different tone. A comparison easily demonstrates that the Quartet’s statement was constructive and allowed engagement with both parties, as well as effecting the possible start of bilateral engagement. Two practical examples are the task force to be established by the Quartet, and current European-Arab engagement in certain aspects of Palestinian reforms.

As such, if this Quartet is the start of a departure from the American monologue and a move towards international handling of the peace process, then we are moving in the right direction. There is, however, a Palestinian minority that harbors nagging suspicions that this Quartet is only another arm of United States Middle East politics. The work of the Quartet will be judged upon practical developments and interventions, which so far appear to be moving in the right direction.-Published 22/7/02©

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.

The real action is in Israel and Palestine

by Yossi Alpher

The meetings held last week in New York and Washington to discuss ways to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict raise the question as to whether, under current circumstances, it is at all possible to generate a new dynamic for peace from outside the region itself. The answer--provisional, tentative, and pessimistic--is no.

Last week the "Quartet" (the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia) met in New York, followed by a visit of the "Triumvirate" (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan) to Washington. The only way these parties, led by the US, could conceivably have some substantive influence on the course of events between Israelis and Palestinians is if they were to decide to impose a solution on them, or at least to exercise heavy pressure on both. An "international" solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires that the US, the EU and the moderate Arabs be in a high degree of consensus on all the major issues, and share a high level of determination to act. In fact, they have neither consensus nor determination.

The US and its dialogue partners clearly agree on the need to end terrorism and jump start a process of elections and reform, leading to peace negotiations and a Palestinian state. But beyond this common denominator there are serious differences of approach. These touch on the status of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, the nature of a three year transition process, the phasing of eventual Israeli concessions on settlements and territory, and the allocation of funds to the Palestinian Authority.

Moreover, behind these disagreements lie significant additional differences in the international actors' sense of determination, or lack thereof. The US assigns top priority to the war on terrorism, including the removal of violent leaders like Saddam Hussein. The administration's second priority is to win the midterm elections in November. The Israeli-Palestinian issue must not be allowed to interfere with either priority. The Europeans and Arabs are generally lukewarm if not out and out negative about US intentions toward Iraq. In some cases they feel obliged to cooperate, however reluctantly, with an American war effort projected for next fall or winter. But they constantly emphasize the need to make progress on Palestine in order to make a war effort against Iraq more palatable to their publics.

There are also important subtexts and subtleties in the American approach. On some issues of substance, such as the need for reciprocal Israeli gestures and concessions in parallel to a reduction of violence, Colin Powell and the State Department appear to be closer to the 4 + 3 than to the Pentagon hawks. At the level of American interagency politics, State argues that the administration must be more flexible on the Palestinian issue if it wants to get the 4 + 3 on board for the campaign against Iraq.

But Powell is clearly not making American policy in the Middle East, and European influence is very limited. Because of the upcoming elections and the administration's priorities in its war against terrorism, it seems safe to assert that it will not seriously pressure Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to cease settlement building or to offer the Palestinians a realistic peace process as an incentive to end the violence. Nor will it openly challenge Sharon's belief, which runs counter to any conceivable Israeli-Palestinian peace process, that Israel must have a long term military and settlement presence throughout most of the West Bank and Gaza. By the same token, the US will not seriously pressure the Europeans and Arabs to force Arafat--by withholding money and legitimization--to cease the violence and the incitement, and to alter his unacceptable positions on refugees and the Temple Mount. And since it is the negative leadership of both Arafat and Sharon that constitutes the key ingredient of the current crisis, nothing seems likely to change for the better regarding Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement.

But things do change in the Middle East. Indeed, in past decades it has been events in the Middle East itself that force themselves upon the reluctant decisionmakers in Washington, Berlin and Cairo. The four and the three may believe they have bought themselves time--for Iraq, for elections, for summer vacation--through their meetings. Yet in recent years, August and September have frequently been months of momentous events in or related to the Middle East: whether the unveiling of the Oslo process, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the outbreak of the current Intifada--or the al-Qaida attack on the United States.

This summer may be no different.-Published 22/7/02©

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

The fatal flaw

by Charles Shamas

The creation of the Quartet appears to be one more episode in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in which key players pull together due to concerns that one of them (namely the United States) is running off in an unwise direction. The Europeans are glomming on to a quadripartite formation with the Americans, a setback for those of us who had hoped that the Europeans would acquire more policy independence. At the same time that the Quartet may put some brakes on the dominant superpower, it neutralizes any independent action by the Europeans.

Still, it is not as if the European Union were ready with a major foreign policy initiative. The problem of the EU is the problem of its institutionalized Common Foreign and Security Policy. Nothing can be done without the agreement of all 15 states. Of these, several have important individual foreign policy preoccupations and special interests. The British want to maintain a special relationship with the Americans; the French want the freedom to maintain their own independent international profile and agendas; and the Germans want nothing to do with policies appearing unfriendly to Israel, home to victims of the Nazi Holocaust.

Also in the Quartet is the United Nations. While the UN secretary general has been on very amicable terms with successive American administrations, the United Nations itself has a public discourse that is bound by its Charter, public international law and recognizing the relationship between peace and security on the one hand, and respect for human rights and democratic principles on the other.

These three players in the Quartet--the Secretary General’s office, the Europeans and the Russians (albeit still considered minor contributors)--are not quite comfortable with the locomotive of American global policy that has now thoughtlessly taken up Israel’s long-standing maneuvering to undermine the foundations of international humanitarian law for its own purposes. For it part, Israel wants to enjoy maximum freedom as an occupying power to destroy the public institutional frameworks of the Palestinians and to destroy once again the territorial, infrastructural, institutional and demographic foundations from which a modern Palestinian urban political and economic culture might re-emerge. Like several previous Israeli governments, Sharon’s view is that it is better to deal with the Palestinians as a fragmented, tribal sub-state entity.

It is worth noting that this flies in the face of all that Europe has pursued in the Mediterranean region. The EU has committed itself to stimulating reforms driven by the process of free trade that would help foster the re-emergence of outward-looking, tolerant urban-based civilizations in the Mashreq, the Maghreb and Egypt. Europe desperately wants respite from the nightmare of insecurity and instability, lack of progress and lack of economic growth that has characterized the tribal and autocratic political and social orders that emerged since the forties from the destruction and decay of the urban economic and cultural centers in the region--a process that included the Palestinian Naqba. Europe wants a stable, prosperous, cooperative and economically engaged southern and eastern Mediterranean neighbor.

That is why the issue of Palestinian “reform” has been a key European concern for some time--long before Israel picked up the slogan. However impatient the Europeans got with Palestinian resistance to vitally needed reforms, Europe appears to have always understood the need for Palestinians to lead reforms for Palestinians. Unfortunately, the slogan of “reform” has recently been hijacked by a disingenuous US agenda aimed more at manipulating Palestinian national politics, and an even more disingenuous Israeli agenda aimed at destroying Palestinian national politics. Still, the reform package, plagued by all these contradictions beneath the surface, has found traction. Under these conditions the Europeans cannot suddenly say no to demands for Palestinian reform. They can only hope to steer the reform project away from the destructive directions that Israel, and, for different reasons, the US wish to take it.

The Quartet’s moves to date have reflected these internal differences. Everybody has gone for “reform” and everybody has gone for the need to give a political horizon to the Palestinians based on a fully sovereign and viable state. Basically, everyone is trying to file down the sharp edges of the others’ eccentric positions. As a result, it is even more improbable that Europe will attempt to maintain any pretence of independence.

None of this give or take, however, will correct the fatal flaw of the peace process begun at Madrid. Israel maintained its refusal to be bound by the principles of international humanitarian law--which prohibited its establishment of settlements, expropriations of Palestinian land and numerous other predatory and repressive measures that it regularly took against the civilian population. Ever since US Secretary of State James Baker asked his Palestinian interlocutors in Jerusalem during the run-up to the Madrid Conference “what do you want: to clean up the occupation or to end it?”, the US managed to persuade skeptical Europeans and credulous Palestinians that its would be possible to build confidence between the Israeli and Palestinian sides, achieve political rapprochement and end Israel’s occupation, without requiring Israel to respect international humanitarian law in the interim.

Baker’s words were later mouthed by Palestinian leaders who truly believed that the Americans were on the verge of delivering a political magic hat trick--pulling political justice out of thin air. Palestinians argued that demanding the implementation of international humanitarian law would only hamper the American effort by insisting on something that the Israelis would surely refuse. Time and time again, in the framework of the Oslo process Palestinian leaders enthusiastically signed agreements that treated key internationally-guaranteed rights protected by international humanitarian law as if they did not exist. This gave the rest of the world, including the Europeans, the excuse they sought for doing almost nothing to restrain Israel’s violations--and for not incurring Israeli and American displeasure.

While elements of the Palestinian leadership have attempted to invoke the Fourth Geneva Convention in times of crisis, the international will to stand behind the Convention has been seriously weakened. The European Union may well recognize that the belated enforcement of international humanitarian law offers the only hope for mounting a successful process of Palestinian reform and the only basis for restraining Israel’s efforts to force Palestinian society back into a fragmented and easily-controlled tribal order under a revived Israeli Civil Administration. However, the dynamics of the Quartet, and continued official Palestinian faux pas make it unlikely that Europe will make any moves in this direction.

Several weeks before the Quartet meeting Switzerland summoned the courage to circulate a ‘non-paper’ proposing the mobilization of an initiative including the Quartet to reintroduce the discipline of humanitarian law into the Palestinian-Israeli process, and the establishment of an international monitoring presence for this purpose. A copy was delivered to two senior Palestinian officials during one of Ramallah’s curfews. It was forgotten. The Palestinian official responsible for diplomatic follow-up never received a copy. There was no Palestinian follow-up. Predictably in such circumstances, little or no interest was shown by the states to whom it was circulated.

Those Palestinians who advocate Palestinian reform for the Palestinian good are definitely on the right track. But we and our friends will have to recognize that we have a lot of reforms to accomplish on lots of fronts. We have to come to grips with the fact that we are a long way from ending Israel’s occupation in a satisfactory fashion. We need to re-think our struggle and not become unwitting accomplices to the strategies of our adversaries. We cannot allow ourselves to be reduced to impotent, easily controlled tribal champions of tribal causes--the unaware products of a second Naqba. We need to better understand and use the political logic and protective potential of the law, and welcome its burdens and constraints. We need to learn how not to squander the little points of leverage we may command, and how to enlist the benign self-interest of other powerful actors who would prefer us to succeed. But we must first understand what success entails.

These are unfair burdens to place on any hugely oppressed people. They are also our keys to survival.-Published 22/7/02©

Charles Shamas is senior partner in the Mattin Group and a co-founder of Al-Haq/Law in the Service of Man.

Elections can change the situation

by Galia Golan

The meeting of the Quartet in New York last week dealt with the “plan” enunciated by United States President George W. Bush in his June 24, 2002 speech. None of the non-American participants hid their objections to one major element of the speech, namely, President Bush’s call for a new and different Palestinian leadership. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on returning to Moscow that there was no discussion of Arafat, but all except the Americans agreed that the Palestinians have the right to pick their own leaders.

The element of Bush’s speech that was apparently discussed at length was the reform of the Palestinian Authority, a measure believed necessary by the Europeans who have been financing much of the PA’s activities, and supported by the Palestinians themselves. One issue evidently discussed in this context is the idea of outside supervision, that is, the possibility of an international force for the territories. Most of the European states, as well as United Nations Secretary General Kofi Anan, have repeatedly proposed the dispatch of some kind of international contingent, and the Arab states (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia) whose representatives met with the Quartet also raised the matter.

Both the proposals to the Quartet by the Arab representatives and an earlier French proposal link international supervision to the idea of elections--which are part of the Bush plan. The Americans would be the first to argue that an election campaign and elections themselves cannot be held without freedom of movement and freedom of association, nor in the intimidating presence of an occupation army. It was the presence of the Red Army (and Tito’s own army) that helped impede free elections in Eastern Europe after WWII--a factor that the United States protested officially at the time. The reform proposed by Bush would necessitate the withdrawal of Israeli forces (presumably to the September 28, 2000 positions). Similarly Palestinian election procedures must have international supervision, as they did in 1996, while there must be some assurance of security--including a reduction of violence that the Palestinians themselves would want for the elections. Thus elections, demanded by the Americans, might be the vehicle for the introduction of an international contingent, of a size and nature (civilian/peacekeeping, large/small) to be determined, along with the length of stay.

In sum: the Quartet, along with the Arab states, may be working toward a way of reducing the violence and securing an Israeli withdrawal by means of elections and the international monitoring required to create conditions for such elections.

According to the Palestinian Authority, elections are going to be held in the winter (January 2003?). Preparations are in fact already underway. Ignoring for the moment the relative certainty that Arafat will be reelected (and not merely as a figurehead), the elections themselves may offer a means of changing the situation on the ground. If free, democratic elections are indeed to be held, it is perfectly in order to demand a withdrawal of Israeli forces from area A, a return to the September 28, 2000 positions, and freedom of movement for the population within the West Bank. If these measures cannot be instigated because of Israeli security concerns, an international force under the Americans can assume positions throughout the territories. International observers were present in the 1996 elections to the Palestine Authority; it may be argued that a far larger observer contingent in the form of an observer force is necessary today.

Whereas the American plan posits the end of terrorism as a first step before an Israeli draw-back, a prior Israeli draw-back with international observers could be the first step and a factor toward ending the terrorism. Elections cannot be held in the absence of order and security any more than they can be held in the absence of freedom of movement and freedom to assemble. It will thus be in the interest of the Palestinians as well as the Israelis to ensure all of these elements. Conceivably, such assurances could only come from a third party, namely, an international observer or monitoring force.

There have been suggestions that such a force become permanent. There is the possibility that the territories be placed under international trusteeship or mandate, which would ensure security until a Palestinian state were to rise. Such a proposal would require a total Israeli withdrawal from the territories, implying unilateral withdrawal in the absence of a negotiated settlement. There is some support for this idea in the Israeli public, even majority support when the matter is posed as separation from the territories with Israel drawing its own separation line--irrespective of who or what would police the territories after Israeli withdrawal.

Support for separation derives from the wish on the part of the public to be rid of the conflict with the Palestinians (in the belief that a fence or border would halt terrorism inside Israel) and a belief that there is no partner for a negotiated settlement, at least at this time. Unilateral withdrawal, however, namely any form of separation that also removes the Israel Defense Forces and the settlers, cannot be expected from the present Israeli government. Given this, a trusteeship or mandate would appear to be out of the question. A temporary international force, linked to the elections that the Americans demand, without evacuation of settlements or total withdrawal of the IDF might be acceptable (under pressure) to the government of Israel. At the least, the connection with the American-demanded elections might provide the leverage needed to gain Israeli agreement.

The temporary nature of the observer force is important, probably crucial for Israeli agreement, but if such a force coupled with elections could serve the purpose of reducing or eliminating the violence, the way would then presumably be cleared for the implementation of the Mitchell recommendations or some form of negotiations. Worth a try.-Published 22/7/02©

Galia Golan, Professor Emerita, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, is a leader of Peace Now and Bat Shalom.

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