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A Guide to Mideast Peace 2007

4 August 2007

By Yisrael Ne’eman

By this autumn Israel and the Palestinians are expected to begin permanent status negotiations within the framework of an international forum for peace in the Middle East. The two main players are to be Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman (President) Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen. So how will this event be different than all the others, including the Oslo process? This time Israel and the Palestinians are to arrive at a final agreement first and only afterwards are the sides to discuss the step by step implementation. There are to be no more interim agreements, just the permanent or final status accords. The mechanism will then be built for implementation. The idea is that everyone will know the “price for peace” upfront and both governments will be able to prepare their populations for the “inevitable”.

So what about UN Res. 242 (Nov. 1967), the Camp David Accords and Framework for Peace in the Middle East (1979) negotiated by Israeli PM Menachem Begin and Egyptian Pres.Anwar Sadat calling for Palestinian autonomy, the Saudi peace plan (2002), the Arab peace initiative (current), the Clinton Outline (Dec. 2000), the Bush Road Map (2003), the Geneva Initiative (2003), the Bush-Sharon exchange of letters and US commitments(April 2004), the Israeli security plan based on territorial compromise (known as the Allon Plan, 1967 and revised afterwards), the return of Palestinian refugees – UN Res. 194 clause 11 (Dec. 1948), Israeli settlements across the 1967 lines (continuing until the present) and the possible Hamas spoiler who reject compromise, recognition, peace or any dealings with Israel?

Without delving into all aspects of the above mentioned there are certain understood common denominators:

• There is to be no Palestinian refugee return – UN Res. 194 states, “that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practical date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return,” and holding the governments and authorities responsible for the situation to be responsible for “repatriation, resettlement … compensation” and “rehabilitation” of the refugees. The Bush-Sharon exchange of letters and Congressional commitment of 2004 endorsed Israeli policy against Palestinian refugee return while the Saudi peace plan as expressed in UN Res. 1397 speaks of a two-state solution “within secure and recognized borders” and re-emphasizes Res. 242 (1967) calling for “a just solution of the refugee problem” (which here can be interpreted as both Arab and Jewish). The Clinton Outline and even the Geneva Initiative which saw possible symbolic return of a minimal amount of Palestinian refugees to Israel spoke of the necessity of two nationalisms firmly established in their two states living side by side. This is no longer the case today as refugees would only be admitted to the Palestinian state-to-be or rehabilitated with international funding elsewhere, most likely in the Arab world and especially where they already reside.

• Territorially all of the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) will be handed over to Palestinian Authority (later State) control. Gaza has no Jewish population as of late summer 2005 and all discussions and attempts at agreements indicate Palestinian control over the vast majority of the West Bank (90% or more). Since 1967 even the US government has constantly insisted on only minor territorial adjustments to be made on Israel’s border with the West Bank, beginning with Pres. Nixon’s Sec. of State William Roger’s Plan (1969). Pres. Bush speaks of a “contiguous” Palestinian state in the West Bank with a road link to Gaza which was agreed upon by Israel in the discussions earlier brokered by Pres. Clinton at Camp David 2000 between Israeli PM Ehud Barak and PA Chairman Yasir Arafat. Even the Israeli developed security concept known as the Allon Plan envisioned a return of approximately 60% of the West Bank to Arab control (at the time Jordan). Years later PM Ariel Sharon was known to accept the Allon Plan in principle (a security zone held by Israel to be on an average 16 kilometers or about ten miles wide along the Jordan River) but insisted on adding large Jewish settlement blocs close to Israel’s 1967 lines into Israel proper. This was done beginning in 2002 by building the security fence east of those West Bank settlements. Somewhere between 6 – 8 % of the West Bank would remain in Israel. This area would contain 70% of all Jews living in Judea and Samaria. The fence is not complete hence we do not know the final demarcation. Holding the full territory as envisioned in the Allon Plan and the settlement blocs would still envision a withdrawal from some 55% of the West Bank. In the international arena Israel is expected to relinquish over 90% of the West Bank but security necessities, Jewish demographics and a fair amount of consensus in Israel will not allow for such a large concession. The Palestinians of course will accept nothing less. Furthermore there are 250,000 Jews living in Judea and Samaria. Even if “only” 30% needed to be evacuated that means 75,000 people would need to relocated their lives. Two years after the Gaza evacuation involving 8,000 residents no one is yet in permanent housing due to massive government planning and implementation failure. Who today trusts the government over issues of compensation?

• Jerusalem will be divided into two capital cities, one Israeli and one Palestinian. Today there are close to half a million Jews in Jerusalem alongside a continually growing Arab population of 250,000 which constantly gnaws away at the Jewish majority. National status is to be determined by whether the neighborhoods are Jewish or Arab. Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries will be a checkerboard on its eastern side and questions of policing, border crossings and integrated city services need to be confronted. Much of these arrangements are technical. Israel always guaranteed access to holy sites for all but based on the behavior of the Moslem Wakf who control the mosques on the Temple Mount no one can expect this to be the case on the Palestinian side. Most importantly, is there any possibility of compromise on the Temple Mount? As complicated as the Jerusalem issue may be, control of the Old City and Temple Mount is further charged with religious, historical and raw emotional issues. This has been discussed time and again and is emphasized in the Clinton Outline. Although considered taboo by many in Israel all those discussing Jerusalem know it will be two cities (and in many cases already is), just like there will be two states.

• Security is dependent on whether the Palestinian forces under Abbas and Fatah are trustworthy. In Gaza they proved a paper tiger when challenged by Hamas, collapsing within a week. Massive endemic corruption makes them an easy target for payoffs and bribes for terror activities. The forces themselves are made up of different and often competing family factions whose loyalties are not necessarily to a Fatah dominated Palestinian State. And lest one forgets, the Hamas controls Gaza (where they are now being challenged by Al Qaeda). Hamas will challenge Fatah for control of the West Bank where they were also voted into power in the January 2006 parliamentary elections. Fatah must win for any agreement to succeed with Israel.

To sum up there is a fair amount of understanding concerning refugees and even the division of Jerusalem (excluding the holy sites and the Old City). As for permanent borders the question of the security zone along the Jordan Rift Valley (Allon Plan) is a major issue not only with the Palestinians but in the regional context since the area would be Israel’s front line should Jordan succumb to a radical Islamic uprising whereby the next step could be a sweep through the West Bank, putting those Islamic forces 15 kilometers from the Mediterranean coast. It should be pointed out that now Defense Minister Ehud Barak as PM conceded the Jordan Rift at Camp David 2000 when negotiating with Arafat. Renewed Palestinian terrorism, uncontrolled by the PA security forces (or even abetted by them) could unleash ground and rocket attacks across the new agreed upon borders threatening Israel’s main population centers. Supposedly Israeli security forces would have the right to take up positions along the Jordan River in an emergency (discussed at Camp David 2000) and continue to exercise actions of “hot pursuit” after terrorists (Bush-Sharon letters 2004). But how are both of these stipulations interpreted when crossing the borders of an independent Palestinian State? A liberal interpretation in Israel’s favor should not be expected.

Opposition by the Israel Right and religious can certainly be expected, but far worse will be the rise in Palestinian terrorism as a result of the negotiations. The Americans seem convinced that should the final outcome be known from the outset and then implemented in stages most opposition will fade especially if massive funding accompanies each step. The possibility of success is miniscule despite certain pre-understandings. One should not forget for a second that even should all go well between Israel and Palestinian West Bank Abbas/Fayad government, Hamas and their Islamist allies are sworn to undermine the process every step of the way.