Could Mideast peace deal be carried out?
Israeli and Palestinian leaders gather this week under American tutelage, with Arab foreign ministers in attendance amid anxiety about Iran...
The New York Times
CalendarToday: Croatian parliamentary elections.
Monday: Diplomats from U.S., European Union and Russia begin final talks on Kosovo's future ahead of Dec. 10 deadline to report to United Nations.
Tuesday: Mideast talks in Washington, D.C., as President Bush tries to mediate a treaty between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas; Defense ministers of North and South Korea meet for only second time to discuss military agreement and security arrangements for possible cross-border freight-train service, through Thursday.
Source: The Associated Press
Israeli and Palestinian leaders gather this week under American tutelage, with Arab foreign ministers in attendance amid anxiety about Iran, to try again to negotiate an end to nearly 60 years of conflict.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has thrown her search for a legacy into the gamble of the Annapolis, Md., conference.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, respect each other. They have the potential to negotiate and sign the most far-reaching agreement ever between Israelis and Palestinians. But even if they do, can they carry it out?
If Israel is serious about peace, it has a major internal conflict coming with the settler movement, with those who do not wish to risk the security of Israel by withdrawing from the West Bank and from those who believe that Jerusalem must never again be divided.
A weak Olmert, under criminal investigation and political pressure, has been reluctant to take on the settlers, offend his religious coalition partners or challenge the security establishment.
The Palestinians are riven by an ever harsher divide between Gaza, now run by Hamas, and the West Bank, where Abbas' Fatah movement is split and where his U.S.-supported prime minister, Salam Fayyad, not a member of Fatah, has little political or military backing.
There is a deep sense, among Palestinians and Israelis, that Abbas, although he was elected essentially unopposed, is a virtual president in charge of little, and that if the Israeli military pulled out of the West Bank, he would not last more than a day.
"If you don't control the guns and a monopoly on force, people don't respect you," said a former U.S. negotiator, Aaron David Miller. "Will an Israeli prime minister make existential concessions to a man who doesn't control the guns?"
As important, Hamas remains ideologically opposed to a permanent two-state solution and the right of Israel to exist. Hamas also remains committed to taking over the Palestine Liberation Organization, which Abbas and Fatah dominate.
While there are elements in Hamas that favor negotiation with Israel and truce with Israel within 1967 boundaries — and then letting the next generation decide how to resolve the conflict — they are a minority and have been silenced since Hamas conquered Gaza. Hamas' formal position is that Annapolis is a waste of time.
So long as Hamas controls Gaza, suggests Robert Malley, another former negotiator for the U.S., it also controls the timetable for peace.
The big American idea, to try to deal with the Israeli need for security and the Palestinian need for substantive, concrete changes on the ground in the West Bank, is to work to carry out the first stage of the 2003 road-map plan simultaneously with the negotiations on a final peace treaty, both processes to take a year.
The road map, accepted by all parties but dormant, set conditions for progress toward peace. There is an implicit hope that the two can be dealt with separately, as if progress or failure on one track will not affect the other.
But of course, they will.
There will be much to fight about on the smaller issues laid out in the road map, in large part because those are the ones that actually alter the situation on the ground. And they can derail the larger effort.
Take these two examples. The road map calls on Palestinians to begin to fight the armed militants and terrorist groups among them. But Gaza aside, Palestinian security on the West Bank is weak, even chaotic. The U.S. has been trying to unify and improve Palestinian forces, but there will need to be major improvements before Israel will feel able to withdraw its troops from the West Bank.
As Hamas builds an army in Gaza — contradicting the diplomatic consensus that a new Palestinian state should have a police force but no military — the temptation for Israel to invade Gaza will be severe.
But the damage of such an attack to Abbas, who may be seen as riding an Israeli tank back to power in Gaza, could be fatal — threatening not just his negotiating authority, but also his life.
Secondly, there are the settlements. Forget for a moment the enormous task of pulling out the 65,000 Israelis who live beyond the separation barrier in the West Bank, or a significant number of the 209,000 who live in occupied territory inside the barrier, or the 190,000 more who live in East Jerusalem.
The road map calls for a freeze on all settlement activity and the removal of some 24 outposts set up illegally after March 2001.
Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have been negotiating with the settlers to remove the outposts in return for legalizing others; they also want to move some settlers to the big "settlement blocs" that Israel intends to keep.
Even Palestinian negotiators, according to senior U.S. officials, privately admit Israel will keep some of those settlement blocs.
But the Palestinians contend the road map forbids moving people from one settlement to another before any final status agreement.
They also say a freeze means a halt to all new construction, including expanding existing buildings or building new bypass roads for settlers, and a halt to all forms of Israeli assistance to the settlers — even in the settlement blocs Israel intends to keep.
Israeli officials say that, for Annapolis, Olmert is prepared to announce a general freeze on settlement construction. But how detailed will it be? And how much will he dare politically while he is trying to negotiate the larger agreement?
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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