Preconditions and The Road Map to Peace in the Middle East

It is with much delight to know that President George Bush is now fully engaged in finding a solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Thus, the “Road Map to Peace” is a major policy reversal for the United States since the president came to power. It is a proactive American effort to resolve the crisis. There is a tinkling feeling that the Israelis and the Palestinians might finally find a common ground to coexist without trying to annihilate each other.

As part of the effort to take a new direction, President Bush met with Arab leaders on June 6, 2003 in Egypt. He later met with both the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

Under the “Road Map to Peace” plan, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict would end and a Palestinian State would be established side-by-side with Israel. However, for hostilities to end and a Palestinian statehood to materialize, the Palestinians and the Israelis are expected to take certain actions necessary to establish peace. Basically, the Palestinians are required to crack down on Palestinian militant groups (Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade) which have been responsible for carrying out violent (suicide/homicide) acts against Israelis, particularly innocent civilians. On the other hand, the Israelis are required to dismantle Jewish settlements and end military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza.

There is no doubt that the “Road Map to Peace” is an excellent idea, especially now that President Bush has decided to be actively involved in the peace process. However, the plan needs some fine-tuning, in terms of the preconditions, if it is to avoid the fate of previous peace efforts, due to the following reasons:

1. The plan has no room or role for Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat. He is not included in the plan due to the American and Israeli perception that he is an impediment to the peace process following his alleged support for “terrorism.” Due to this negative perception of the chairman, efforts have been made both diplomatically and otherwise, to remove him from the scene politically. President Bush encouraged Arab leaders, during his meeting with them in Egypt, to withdraw their support for him and to support Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

a. The omission of Chairman Arafat in the process is a major tactical error. He is the body and soul of the Palestinian struggle. He has been involved in the struggle all along and to ignore him while seeking to make peace with the Palestinians is to court failure on a large scale. It should be noted that in every nationalist struggle, there is always someone who embodies the totality of the struggle. Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks during the Soviet Revolution, Mahatma Gandhi and the nonviolent struggle for independence in India, Mao Zedong and the Communists Revolution in China, Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese struggle, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and the struggle for independence in Ghana and Pan Africanism, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights struggle in the United States, Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, etc. For Palestinians, Chairman Arafat is the embodiment of the national struggle for self determination.

b. In any political struggles among nations or groups or states, peace is more likely to be attainable if each side is allowed to choose their leaders and representatives. It is always better for each side to go to the negotiating table with their most legitimate, strongest, and authoritative leaders. By setting the condition that Chairman Arafat cannot participate in the peace process, the US and Israel are preventing the Palestinians from fielding their most legitimate and authoritative leader. Prime Minister Abbas cannot make authoritative decision and must rely on the approval of Chairman Arafat and others. This could impede the peace process.

2. The view that Chairman Arafat’s removal from the political scene will result in strengthening the position of Prime Minister Abbas can be ruinous to the peace process for the following reasons:

a. The prime minister is an able and willing negotiator but he does not have the same degree of credibility and neither does he command the same kind of authority as Chairman Arafat in the eyes of the Palestinians.

b. The fact that the prime minister is being promoted, encouraged, and supported by the United States and Israel can actually weaken his position if care is not taken in promoting him. In particular, Israel’s support for him is actually a great burden because Israel is a party to the conflict. In any major political conflict, it is rare, or almost unheard of for a party to the conflict to decide who represents the other side in the same conflict when both are technically at war.

c. Throughout the world, Chairman Arafat is known as the leader of the Palestinians and it is unfathomable for many leaders and nation-states to talk about solving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict without the involvement of Chairman Arafat.

d. By ignoring Chairman Arafat and promoting Prime Minister Abbas, Mr. Abbas’s life could actually be jeopardized if the “Road Map to Peace” does not work out. The militants could blame him for selling out to the “enemy.” A corollary could be drawn from Afghanistan in which President Hamid Karzai is increasingly being looked upon as a puppet of the United States. As a result, the legitimacy of his regime seems to be dwindling while the Taliban and other Afghan forces continue to increase their presence.

3. The Road Map to Peace plan requires the Palestinian Authority to crack down on the Palestinian militants.

a. This is not possible since the Palestinian authority was rendered ineffective by Israeli security operations. It should be recalled that Palestinian Authority’s security forces were routinely targeted whenever Israel responded to homicide/suicide bombings for most of the past two years. While the capability of the authority’s security forces were being decimated, the strength and influence of the militant groups increased.

b. Likewise, it is unusual to include in a peace plan a requirement that a nationalist group destroys part of its own body when peace has not been achieved yet. In almost every nationalist struggle, the fighting and the negotiations go hand-in-hand. Fighting generally stops when the parties arrive at certain concrete agreements. Likewise, most nationalist struggles are always characterized by a two-pronged strategy – political and military. The political wing is used to negotiate while the militant wing is used to put military pressure on the other side. The Americans during the war of independence, the Algerians, Vietnamese, Angolans, South Africans, Zimbabweans, Israelis, Afghans, etc. negotiated while fighting simultaneously, until agreements or military victories were achieved. Therefore, Palestinian militants are part of the Palestinian strategy to achieve their political goals. The struggle for the creation of Israel was characterized by similar tactics. For instance, the Irgun and the Stern Gang put military pressure on the British and the Arabs while the Jewish political leaders engaged in political negotiations until statehood was achieved.

c. If the Palestinian prime minister tries to disarm the Palestinian militants militarily, a civil war could develop among the Palestinians. Moreover, both the political types and the militants are related and are members of the same families. So, it is impossible for the prime minister to wage war against other members of the Palestinian nation, who have collectively suffered under occupation The difficulty must be taken into consideration by the United States, Israel and other members of the world community. In fact, the difficulty of using force against one’s own explains why the Israeli Defense Forces have always resorted to nonviolent methods in trying to dismantle Jewish illegal settlements. When Israeli forces approach and confront Jewish settlers, they do so without carrying guns and tanks. Instead, they use persuasion and peaceful means to encourage cooperation. In other words, Israeli authorities do not want to shed Jewish blood and neither do they want to cause a civil war among Israelis. This being the case, it is unreasonable to expect Palestinian leaders to use force against their brothers and sisters.

d. It is also significant to realize that while the United States and Israel regard the Palestinian militants as “terrorists,” the Palestinians and the Arabs generally do not view them as such. This is understandable since “one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.” The Palestinians regard the militants as “freedom fighters.” As a result, it would be a political suicide for the Palestinian Authority or the prime minister to try to use force to dismantle the militants. It should also be taken into consideration that suicide/homicide bombings had been going before September 11, 2001. During that time, Israel did not hesitate to negotiate and make deals with them. However, after September 11, 2001, Israel now refers to them as “terrorists.”

e. In addition, it is really unwise to expect the Palestinian prime minister to use force to dismantle the militant groups when his political position is still very shaky in the realm of Palestinian politics. Even if he tries, he will not succeed since the militant groups are highly ingrained with the resistance. It should be recalled that Israel has been trying for more than two years to destroy or dismantle the Palestinian militant groups without succeeding. It should also be noted that in any conflict situation, especially, during a nationalist struggle, the militants always tend to be stronger than the political elements since the political elements often depend on the militants to impress upon the other side, the need to make peace or change the status quo. Thus, among the Palestinians, the militants are in a stronger position than the prime minister and the other political elements. Consequently, it actually makes more sense for the Palestinian prime minister to negotiate rather than use force to dismantle the militant groups.

f. The Palestinian prime minister understands that the use of force against the Palestinian militants could lead to a political disaster. He also understands that Chairman Arafat cannot be excluded from the Palestinian effort to negotiate with Israel. Hence, he opted to negotiate with the militant groups for a ceasefire or truce. At the same time, he refused to exclude the chairman in the negotiating process. He does not want to become a Palestinian lone ranger and prefers a collective approach. As a result, Chairman Arafat is fully involved in the negotiations, despite American and Israeli opposition. Prime Minister Abbas’s collective strategy is paying off, hence, the announcement that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad would cease military operations for three months. This tentative truce would not have been possible if the prime minister had adopted a gung-ho military approach to put an end to the militant groups.

4. Israel, on its part, has been responding very positively to the “Road Map to Peace.” It released a number of Palestinians from detention. It is working to dismantle illegal settlements. It is seriously negotiating with the Palestinian prime minister. It is making efforts to reduce the stridency of the road blocks and checkpoints to allow Palestinians to move around. It is working on a time table to remove its forces from some of the territories. It is negotiating with the Palestinians to arrange for a new security plan in which Palestinian security forces would take over security matters from the Israeli forces. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in a demonstration of the willingness to end the conflict, referred to the Israeli presence as “occupation.” He appears to be changing his hardline position concerning the Palestinians and the Jewish settlements.

5. However, political leaders on both sides are facing tremendous pressures from the hardliners and rejectionists. Just as the Palestinian prime minister and other Palestinian leaders are facing obstacles within the Palestinian nation, Israeli leaders too are facing serious internal opposition in trying to dismantle the settlements in the occupied territories. Fundamentalist elements and settlers in Israel are opposed to the dismantling of the settlements. In fact, news reports indicate that as soon as Israeli authorities dismantle some illegal settlements, the settlers quickly relocate to other areas and rebuild.

To minimize tension, it is politically and tactically much preferable for both sides to negotiate with their militant elements rather than use force of any kind to enforce compliance.

4. Israel, being the stronger of the two opponents, can help the peace process along by stopping “targeted assassinations” of Palestinian militants. It is obvious that the Palestinian militants would not want to cooperate or cease suicide/homicide bombings if they think that the Israelis would kill them. Why would anyone disarm if the person feels that he or she is marked for death by the opponent? Thus, as the stronger of the two groups, Israel needs to exercise some leadership by demonstrating a willingness to cease targeted killings.

The termination of targeted killings is very crucial, especially now that the Palestinian militant groups (Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade) have agreed to cease hostile activities against Israel for three months. If the other militant groups agree to the three months truce without engaging in any provocative act, there should be no need to provoke the situation by targeting the militant members. Let the Palestinian Authorities deal with the militants while Israel deals with its own fundamentalist elements. On the other hand, if the Palestinian militants were to violate the truce, then Israel should not hesitate to resume targeted killings of the militants and use other harsh measures deemed necessary to clamp down on them.

5. There is a peculiarity to the peace efforts in the region. There are too many preconditions that must be met in order for the parties to end the conflicts. These preconditions are not helpful at all.

a. It appears that every peace effort involving the Israeli/Palestinian and the Arab/Israeli conflicts is always preceded by preconditions that must be met before actual peace talks commence. Quite often, the preconditions are so onerous and unrealistic, thereby thwarting any reasonable means of resolving the conflicts. The parties spend so much time and effort trying to meet or resolve the preconditions, instead of negotiating the substantive issues.

b. Quite often, the issues in the region are discussed in a piecemeal manner, thereby, unnecessarily prolonging the expectations and the agony of everyone. Instead of putting all the crucial issues on the table, the issues are micromanaged in an incremental manner. There is a tendency to start the negotiating process by first tackling the little issues and leaving the crucial issues untouched. The crucial issues are often postponed to a later date for negotiation while expending unnecessary time and effort to resolve the little issues. Participants and stakeholders are so afraid of rocking the boat, hence, assume that the issues can be broken into bits and micromanaged. This approach ignores the relationship between the causative factors and the conflicts. For instance, the issues of the right of return, Jerusalem, territorial boundaries, settlements, Golan Height, Israel’s right to exist, Israel’s security, etc. are the critical elements that must be dealt with if peaceful coexistence is desired.

It is an unnecessary waste of time and energy trying to negotiate preconditions before actually negotiating the real issues.

The Role of the Players

1. First, The United States can assist the peace process tremendously by altering its position on Chairman Arafat. Regardless of the administration’s view of Arafat, it should not allow such a view to hinder the fact that the peace process cannot go smoothly without the active participation of Chairman Arafat. Second, the U S should encourage and put continuous pressure on all sides to take necessary steps at resolving the substantive issues. Third, in doing so, it should not show any partiality or favoritism toward any side. Fourth, it should not allow its “War on Terrorism” to influence its efforts at seeking peace in the Middle East. In this regard, President Bush should be congratulated for sending Dr. Condoleeza Rice again to the region to reinforce the need for a continuous negotiation of the thorny issues.

2. Arabs: First, now that both sides are communicating positively, the Arab states should be preparing the groundwork to recognize Israel. Second, they need to assure the Israelis that Israel’s survival will not be threatened. Third, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan should continue their diplomatic efforts to remove any obstacle in the Arab world toward the amelioration of the Israeli/Palestinian and Arab/Israeli conflicts.

3. Israelis: First, there is a need to de-emphasize the application of military power as a means of dictating the direction of the peace talks. Second, Israel should stop targeted killing of militants. Third, it should not put too much emphasis on trying to eliminate terrorism and dwell more on resolving the territorial conflict which is the source of Palestinian terrorism. Fourth, continue to pull out from the Palestinian areas, after doing so in Gaza.

4. Palestinians: First, the Palestinian militants need to cease all forms of violent hostilities so that the political leaders can negotiate in good faith. Second, the Palestinians should work as a team so that decisions made are held in good faith. There is a need to create trust in the minds of the Israelis.

5. Preconditions: It is time to do away with all preconditions and let the negotiations dictate the outcome of the process. All major actors should be allowed to participate so that decisions reached can be considered to be binding on all.

If the current “Road Map to Peace” fails, then a multinational force should be instituted and deployed to separate the two sides until a solution is found.

6. Let the Road Map lead to peace.

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