Annapolis is over — now it’s bargaining time


After the pomp and circumstance of Annapolis, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are gearing up for tough bargaining over the minutiae of a two-state settlement.

Not only will they have to agree on core issues like borders between Israel and a Palestinian state, but they’ll also have to find common ground on a host of lesser concerns regulating relations between the two states, ranging from shared sewage systems to allocations on the electromagnetic spectrum.

The peacemaking, which officially is to begin Dec. 12, will proceed on three tracks: politics, economics and security.

While they negotiate a final deal for a secure Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state, the two sides also will have to meet their obligations under the internationally sponsored “road map” peace plan.

For Israel, this means freezing construction of Jewish settlements and removing Jewish outposts from the West Bank. For the Palestinians, this means dismantling terrorist groups. The United States will arbitrate on fulfillment.

At Annapolis, the two sides agreed to set up a joint steering committee to monitor and oversee the negotiating process. Its first task will be to develop a joint work plan.

Israel will propose setting up as many as 14 working committees, one on each of the six core issues of borders, Jerusalem, refugees, water, security arrangements and Jewish settlements, and the others on secondary issues. Those will include such matters as continued Israeli use of airspace over the West Bank and Gaza, allocation of radio waves on the electromagnetic spectrum — which has important implications for intelligence gathering — joint sewage and waste systems, tax and customs regulations, economic cooperation, border crossing procedures and coordination of the legal systems.

Israel plans to set up a peace administration similar to the one that operated during the Camp David process in 2000. It will have 14 teams of experts for the 14 working committees.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will have to decide soon whether the peace administration falls under his jurisdiction or that of Israel’s chief negotiator, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Livni probably will retain her position as chief negotiator, though Olmert could decide on a personnel change.

The Palestinian chief negotiator is former Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, who also headed the Palestinian team in the initial phase of the Oslo process.

The economic track is meant to serve as a catalyst for political progress, with foreign investment giving Palestinians the incentive to create a peaceful state and the capacity to run it.

Thus, a massive influx of international investment should serve both as a carrot for Palestinian peacemaking and as a means to help the Palestinians create functioning institutions and a viable economy.

On Dec. 17, France will host a major donor conference as the economic follow-up piece to Annapolis. In Paris, the Palestinian Authority is expected to ask for a whopping $5.5 billion during three years for budgetary support and development. The money is meant to stimulate the economy, fund new infrastructure construction and pay for government reforms.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the special envoy of the Quartet group of peace sponsors — the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — is the main mover and shaker.

Blair already has identified four special projects: a Gaza sewage treatment plan, an industrial park sponsored by Turkey, a Japanese funded agro-industrial park and a plan to revive tourism, especially in Bethlehem. Blair emphasizes the huge job-creating potential of all these labor-intensive projects.

Israel has agreed to allow a shipment of 25 Russian-made armored vehicles, 1,000 rifles and 2 million rounds of ammunition for Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank. The idea is to provide short-term support for forces loyal to P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas against Hamas terrorists active in the Nablus area and, in the longer term, to give Abbas the wherewithal to carry out his principal road map commitment to disarm all terrorist groups.

Already in November, 300 Palestinian special police troops, trained by U.S. Gen. Keith Dayton, started operating in the Nablus area.

Israeli and Palestinian forces also have resumed coordination on the ground, including intelligence exchanges. If the Nablus experiment and the coordination on the ground prove successful, Israel will hand over more West Bank cities to Palestinian Authority forces.

The first of the road map’s three stages requires Israel to dismantle unauthorized West Bank outposts and freeze settlement building, and the Palestinians to prevent terrorist attacks against Israel and dismantle terrorist groups.

Israel’s Defense Ministry hopes to persuade settler leaders to agree to voluntary evacuation of the outposts, possibly in return for commitments on settlements Israel will retain in any final-status agreement.

The United States will monitor implementation of road map commitments, with former NATO commander Lt. Gen. Jim Jones playing the lead role. Jones also will monitor development of the Palestinian security forces and their coordination with the Israel Defense Forces.

In a bid to strengthen Abbas on the Palestinian street, Israel will continue releasing Palestinian prisoners and removing checkpoints.

Together with the planned economic upturn, this is meant to create a feel-good factor on the Palestinian street that will help Abbas move forward toward a peace treaty and win any referendum on a final deal if such a deal is reached.

On Monday, Israel released 429 Palestinian prisoners as part of this confidence-building approach.

Another post-Annapolis development could be talks with Syria. Russia reportedly is planning a follow-up conference in Moscow focusing on the Syrian track, and a high-level Russian emissary reportedly has been shuttling between Jerusalem and Damascus.

However, it is not clear to what extent Israel and the United States are interested in opening a parallel Syrian track at this point. Last week, Olmert said he was not aware of any plans for a conference in Moscow focusing on Israeli-Arab peacemaking.

Syria aside, all the trappings of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking soon will be in place, and while the structuring of the process is impressive, the substance — so far — has been less so.

The big question remains the same as it was before Annapolis – and the same it has been for the last decade and a half: Can Israelis and Palestinians find a way to truly confront and resolve the core differences between them?

But Will It Last?


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The dust is still settling after last week’s summit at the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheik, but early signs on the ground are highly contradictory.

Last week, just 48 hours after the summit, Palestinian terrorist groups fired more than 50 mortar shells at Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip — yet now Hamas, the largest and most important of the terrorist groups, says it’s committed to the cease-fire announced at the summit.

Israel’s security service, Shin Bet, says the cease-fire won’t last, but the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) say everything must be done to give Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a chance to impose law and order.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is doing all he can to help Abbas, but right-wing efforts to subvert Sharon’s policy are taking on a more menacing character.

And while Israeli officials say peacemaking will succeed only if the terrorist groups are disarmed — a key component of the internationally backed “road map” peace plan — Abbas makes clear that he has no intention of moving against the terrorists any time soon.

Not surprisingly, assessments differ as to whether this latest Israeli-Palestinian peace bid will succeed.

Sharon is accentuating the positive. He returned from the summit in high spirits, emphasizing two major achievements: All the key players, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Abbas, now recognize that terrorism must stop before peacemaking can begin. They also all accept Israel’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank as the basis for a new dynamic leading to peace talks based on the road map.

In the not-so-distant past, the Arabs and many Europeans had argued that peacemaking was the way to stop terrorism. Now, a senior Sharon aide said, it’s clear to everyone that terrorism must stop before peace can have a chance.

On the declarative level, at least, the summit signaled a return to the situation that existed before the intifada began in September 2000. According to the understandings reached, the violence will end, Israeli troops will move out of Palestinian towns and cities, roadblocks will be lifted, Palestinian prisoners will be released and Palestinian workers will return to Israel.

But Israeli officials point to key differences from the pre-intifada status quo that give them hope for a better outcome this time around.

For one, both sides have been traumatized by the violence and realize the consequences of failing to achieve a political settlement. Moreover, influential regional players are playing a positive role, and an Israeli withdrawal plan and a step-by-step road map toward an agreement are in place.

But the biggest change of all, one official said, “is that now, at last, there is a rational partner on the Palestinian side.”

The acid test, Israeli officials say, will be whether the new Palestinian leadership can stop the terror. Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner maintains that this will be possible only if Abbas confronts and disarms Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

“Otherwise, even if he gets them to agree to a cease-fire, it won’t last. In a few days or weeks from now they will start firing mortars or Kassam rockets again, we will react, and we’ll all be back to square one, embroiled in a new intifada,” Pazner said. “The militias will either have to disarm voluntarily, or Abbas will have to take them on. There is no other way.”

The fragility of the cease-fire was highlighted when terrorist groups bombarded Jewish settlements in Gaza on Feb. 10. But on Sunday, after a meeting with Abbas, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar announced that Hamas not only accepted the cease-fire, but would consult with the Palestinian Authority before “retaliating against Israeli violations.”

Two initial groups of 500 and 400 prisoners slated 0for release do not include any with “blood on their hands.” But the day after his return from Sharm el-Sheik last week, Sharon told journalists he had promised Abbas that if he ended terrorism, Israel would consider releasing prisoners who have attacked Israelis. Sharon also will allow terrorists expelled from the territories to return.

Whether or not Palestinian terrorism ends and despite the threats from Jewish extremists, Sharon aides say the prime minister will go ahead with the disengagement plan. But what happens next will depend on the Palestinians.

If the Palestinians fail to fight terrorism, Israel will stop after the withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank and “park” on the new lines “for as long as it takes,” a close Sharon aide told JTA. But, he said, if there is concerted Palestinian action against terrorism, the parties will be able to move relatively quickly toward the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“Everything depends on how they control terror,” the aide said.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

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Pursuit of Peace Requires New Coalition


We have long since learned to swallow hard as the Israelis persist in policies that are ill-conceived and ill-executed, policies that threaten the entire
Zionist enterprise.

There are so many of these that we try to ignore and even justify targeted killings, "collateral damage," a fence that is, in part, a wall and that too often punishes the entirely innocent and on and on. And most of all, of course, the settlers and their settlements in both Gaza and in the West Bank.

True, some of us dissent, and some of us drop out entirely, but in the meanwhile, Israel — much like America just now — loses its moral standing. Train 10,000 more experts in hasbarah, the art of spinning, and we will still not succeed in restoring the admiration once so widely accorded the Jewish state.

It is no accident that these days, such admiration and even plain, old-fashioned respect for Israel and its achievements that were once taken for granted come from President Bush and from evangelical Christians. These are odd partners for the Israel of our hopes and dreams, partners that do those hopes and dreams no service.

It is time to put it bluntly: No one who helps fuel the ambitions of the settlers, no one who winks at the fact of the occupation and, yes, no one of us who swallows hard and lets such things pass without comment can be thought a friend of Israel.

With friends like these — friends who allow Israelis to believe that there will be no penalty exacted for its excesses in violence and its incompetence at peacemaking — Israel scarcely needs enemies.

Incompetence at peacemaking? Didn’t Ehud Barak offer the Palestinians more than anyone thought possible, and wasn’t he rejected? Why blame Israel for what has transpired since?

The answer is easy: Peace is not a concession to the Palestinians. Peace is, in fact, the only way to ensure Israel’s future.

So if this approach doesn’t work, you try that approach, and if that approach doesn’t work, you try something else. Whatever else you do, you don’t pursue a policy that increases the enmity, that produces new would-be suicide bombers every day, that leads eventually to the calamitous finding of a poll in Israel that shows that fully 25 percent of Israel’s young people do not intend to live their lives in Israel. They plan to leave.

Leaving Israel used to be called yeridah, going down. The implication was that the emigrant was defecting, perhaps even betraying.

But yeridah is no longer much used. Emigrants are called just that. And even aliyah, going up to the land, is falling out of favor. Both words have developed a kind of quaintness; they no longer capture the emotional or ideological reality of the place.

The Zionist movement and the Zionist idea do not need and do not benefit from daily injections of extreme nationalism that its alleged friends in this country provide. A very different coalition of support needs to be built, and it can be built well and sturdy only on the basis of reformed policies, not on the basis of excuses and self-justification.

The foundations for such a coalition already exist. All over Israel I have encountered people who are disgusted by the path Israel has taken these past years. They are not engaged in secret meetings, planning an insurrection. No, they appear on television panel discussions, they write scathing columns in the newspapers, they yearn for a real peace, the kind of peace that promises security, as well.

And in this country, they have allies. I intend here not just the praiseworthy people who get involved in Americans for Peace Now and the New Israel Fund and such. I mean hundreds of thousands of us who are simply tired of swallowing, tired of whispering our doubts to one another, tired of finding ourselves forced to justify policies we know to be folly.

But those hundreds of thousands and their natural partners in Israel are barely aware of one another. In Israel, it is Bush and the evangelicals who command attention; in America, it is Ariel Sharon and the settlers. They deserve each other, but Israel deserves better. It deserves a coalition of the eager — of those eager to restore Israel’s moral distinction, its pride, its self-respect.

Those in Israel who know that peace takes more than prayer deserve to know they have allies here; those of us who know what Israel has been and can yet be deserve to know that we are not rebels against the Zionist dream, but its ardent defenders and that we are in step with masses of Israelis.

For if we persist in our current listless way, we will inherit an Israel much admired by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and such as he, yet scorned by the people who are nearest us. DeLay’s "friendship" toward Israel is, after all, an embarrassment, not an asset.

To know these things, read Ha’aretz on the Internet every day. Read the news, read the columnists and then wonder how it is that what is there reported and there opined is light years away from what the "pro-Israel" community in this country deems proper.

The Jewish people have not come this far, the Jewish state has not achieved all it has in order to become the darlings of the radical right. The settlers do not hold title to Zionism.

The bitter enmity that now characterizes the Palestine-Israel relationship is not our destiny, nor theirs. And we ought by now to be able to do better, much better, than to sulk and swallow.

Leonard Fein is the author of “Against the Dying of the Light: A Father’s Story of Love, Loss and Hope” (Jewish Lights, 2001).

U.S. Jewish Leaders Face Risky Situaton


As a new round of Mideast peacemaking begins, U.S. Jewish leaders are putting themselves on the line for a government in Jerusalem, whose real intentions are more impenetrable than ever.

In a flurry of actions and statements in recent days, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon just added to the confusion — and to the risks U.S. Jewish leaders face as they rally their troops to support his government in the face of a friendly but firm squeeze from Washington.

A lot is at stake for U.S. Jewish leaders, whose greatest fear is getting caught in the crossfire between the Bush administration, the government in Jerusalem and their own constituents — a Jewish community that will support Israel’s fight for security, but which has little interest in fighting to preserve Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank.

Sharon has made a tantalizing, hard-to-read series of moves on the political and diplomatic chess board in recent days.

On May 25, the old hawk and architect of Israel’s sprawling settlements network won his government’s conditional endorsement of the international "road map" for Palestinian statehood. He won by a comfortable 12-7 vote, despite threats by far-right parties to bolt.

In a startling break with the past, Sharon told Likud Knesset members that the "occupation" must end, because "ruling 3.5 million Palestinians cannot go on indefinitely." That marked the first time a leader on the Israeli right referred to Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza as an occupation.

At the same time, Sharon said construction in settlements will continue for generations. He has offered no clues about what kind of Palestinian state he will allow.

Sharon’s real intentions remain as opaque as ever. Is he prepared to offer a minimally acceptable amount of territory for creation of a Palestinian state and genuine sovereignty? Or are his recent statements and actions simply a new version of the old stall, meant to appease Washington until the pesky road map problem goes away?

Privately, members of his government say that accepting the road map wasn’t particularly risky, because they expect Yasser Arafat and Hamas to quickly undermine it.

The problem facing U.S. Jewish leaders, who have risked their relations with the Bush administration by lobbying against the road map in Congress, is that they don’t have a clue where Sharon is taking them and his nation. If Sharon’s endorsement was just a gambit, Jewish leaders here could find themselves in an awkward position, especially if the new Palestinian government tries to live up to its commitments under the plan.

A good-faith effort by the Palestinians could cause the administration’s enthusiasm for the road map, now tempered by low expectations, to soar. That could produce a White House backlash against those Jewish groups seen as trying to erect new road map obstacles on behalf of a balky government in Israel.

Alternatively, Jewish leaders could face a problem if the Sharon government really decides to embrace the plan. In the past, Israeli governments have abruptly reversed longstanding policy, leaving U.S. Jewish groups in the lurch.

That happened in 1993, when another old hardliner, Yitzhak Rabin, decided to talk to the PLO, while many Jewish groups here were still treating "dialogue" with Arafat as a mortal sin. It could happen again if Sharon surprises the world and decides to follow the road map’s route to a settlement.

Sharon’s whole history may argue against acceptance of the road map’s core demands, including quick timetables for statehood and a settlements freeze, but he has also demonstrated a fierce determination to preserve smooth relations with Washington.

Jewish groups here need to be prepared for sharp policy changes in Jerusalem, as Sharon weighs his options. Harder to deal with will be the already wide gap between community leaders and rank-and-file Jews on peace issues.

Polls show that a majority of U.S. Jews still support the road map’s basic principles, including Palestinian statehood, security for Israel and a negotiated end to the occupation, despite almost three years of horrific terrorism. If the plan moves forward, Jewish leaders, who seem to be fighting a rear-guard action against it, could find themselves at odds with a community that may be much more willing to see Israel take risks for peace.

American Jews will support Sharon as long as they believe he is fighting for Israel’s security. That support has generally encompassed even the tough military actions he has taken in recent months to do what the Palestinians have failed to do — put the terror groups out of business.

But they are unlikely to rise to the defense of an Israeli government that seems more intent on preserving settlements than on serious negotiations.

If the administration pursues the plan and Israel resists, the gap could widen between a Jewish leadership that defends the policies of the current Israeli government and a Jewish public that is not yet ready to abandon active, difficult peace efforts, despite two very grim years.