May 2, 2003

Israeli-Palestinian peace?

The past few days have been witness to some interesting developments in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. After much negotiation within the Palestinian government, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) was appointed as the first Palestinian prime minister, and the Bush administration turned its attention to the conflict in Israel and presented both parties with the "road map" to peace, the most significant peace plan since Oslo.

The appointment of Abbas is particularly interesting because it is the first time that the Palestinians have heeded international pressure to reform their government. Israel's ruling Likud party, led by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, has long declared Palestinian President Yassir Arafat a useless partner in peace, a belief to which the Bush administration has subscribed. Thus, if Arafat does actually cede a measurable amount of power to his new prime minister, the appointment may be the first step in the right direction in a long time. Only time will tell if Arafat is sincere in handing over power.

Abbas' appointment is even more significant for its timing. With major combat officially declared over in Iraq, Bush and the rest of the so-called Quartet--the U.N., the E.U. and Russia--have turned their attention to Israel and the Palestinians in the form of the "road map" to peace. The road map is a three-phase plan culminating in the establishment of a Palestinian state and peace in the region. The first phase of the plan holds the Palestinians to: 1) accept Israel's right to exist in peace; 2) dismantle the terrorist infrastructure; and 3) hold open and fair elections.

Simultaneously, Israel will be required to: 1) commit to the formation of a Palestinian state; 2) freeze construction on and dismantle illegal settlements in the Palestinian territories; and 3) withdraw from Palestinian territories occupied during the conflict. As expected, both sides have voiced objections to certain elements of the plan and have proposed revisions, but with a reformist Palestinian prime minister and a marginally pleased Israeli government, negotiations have a chance.

The plan is only missing a few specific steps, but its main flaw is that its phases are too broad. Ninety percent of the conflict comes from telling Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories and the Palestinians to stop violence. For these steps to actually be achieved, there must be a very specific, ordered checklist of alternating concessions. My revisions would look like this:

First, there is a contract signed by both parties agreeing to adhere to the road map, step by step to completion (as described below), beginning with a provisional ceasefire to begin the minute the documents are signed. The ceasefire entails a stop to all Palestinian terrorism and a stop to all raids by the Israel Defense Force (IDF). To be more specific, the IDF will remain in the territories, but will not conduct certain raids or demolitions. Any Israeli intelligence of suspected terrorist activity should be reported directly to the Palestinian security force, which will be expected to act on it with the full cooperation of the occupying IDF forces. After a certain period of peace, Israel will dismantle all illegal settlements, halt all other settlement expansion, and withdraw to pre-conflict borders leaving security forces only with the remaining legal settlements. The Palestinian security force will inherit 100 percent responsibility for stopping terrorist activity within its territories. After peace has continued for a certain time, a second meeting will take place to discuss provisional borders of a new Palestinian state, setting aside the discussion of Jerusalem. Once provisional borders are established, the Palestinian Authority will be responsible for continuing to maintain security, while holding free elections, and reforming the government, the economy, and the education system. Only after significant progress in these reforms has been shown over a long period of time, most likely over a year, will the final meeting take place to discuss Jerusalem and to establish permanent borders and a Palestinian state. Only with a very specific, ordered checklist, can the road map stand a chance.