The ‘road map’ for peace given recently to the Israelis and the Palestinians is probably a genuine effort by the so-called Quartet — the United States, United Nations, the European Union and Russia– but the plan lacks an essential element of trust. The road map lacks sufficient detail and clarity to give the Palestinians necessary reassurance that this is not another attempt to keep them, indefinitely, under Israeli occupation. Over the past several decades, the Palestinian people have been repeatedly deceived by the West, abandoned by leaders of other Arab countries, and misguided by their own leadership. It’s no wonder that they’re now skeptical about this latest effort to bring peace to the Holy Land.
The first attempt at genuine peace between the Arabs and the Israelis, the Camp David Accords brokered by President Carter, turned out to be a disaster that has lingered on for thirty years; to the surprise and disappointment of Arab and U.S. negotiators, the Israeli negotiators imbedded various escape clauses, relieving Israel from a real commitment to peace. While most people could not see through the Israeli attempts at this planned escape, one Palestinian scholar cautioned Arabs and Palestinians about the duplicity of the language of the Camp David accords and warned of its consequences. Since he made his cautionary remarks about the language used in the agreement, Dr. Fayez Sayegh has been proven right on many occasions starting with Camp David and ending with Oslo. Other Palestinian scholars, most prominent among them Edward Said and Hanan Ashrawi, have also cautioned the PNA on various occasions against accepting or signing agreements before they understood their contents, and their implications, completely.
I couldn’t help but recall the cautionary remarks made by Dr. Sayegh, and the many other Palestinian scholars, when I first read the ‘road map’ in its entirety. I read it again and again, comparing the steps required by the Palestinians and the Israelis during each of its three phases. Specifically, I identify three main problems:
1) The first phase of the plan outlines what each side is expected to do to build the confidence of the other in restoring the peace discussions. It requires immediate implementation. The “unconditional cessation of violence” by the Palestinians, the freezing of “all settlement activity” by the Israelis and the Israeli withdrawal “from Palestinian areas occupied from Sept. 28, 2000” feature prominently in this first phase. However, there is no mention of the ongoing illegal construction of the infamous Sharon’s Wall, Israel’s Berlin Wall, which is being built on West Bank land and which is expected to reduce the size of the West Bank considerably once completed. While the world was busy with Iraq, the Israeli government decided to relocate the position of the wall in some areas by as much as 50 kilometers further into the West Bank. Most of the U.S. mainstream media was either too busy with the Iraq war to report this development or it purposely decided not to cover it. Apparently the Wall is not considered significant enough by those who designed the road map, in spite of Israel’s clear objective of annexing even more West Bank land on which colonial Israeli settlements exist. Those members of the PNA who have been overly anxious to implement the road map should, as their first order of negotiating business, demand that the illegal construction of the wall be halted and that the completed sections be dismantled. If Israel decides to go ahead with a separation wall, they should be forced by the Quartet to build it on their side of the 1967 border, not on the Palestinian side.
2) The second phase, with a time line of June 2003 through December 2003, focuses on “the option of creating an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and attributes of sovereignty.” Unless there is a catch here, and most likely there is, there is no reason for the borders of the Palestinian state to be provisional. Since the road map is predicated on UNSCR 242, 338 and 1397, as its provisions clearly specify, the borders should not be subject to any negotiations. The statement quoted above contradicts the referenced UNSCRs. The 1967 borders are clear as daylight.
Also, it is obvious that the statement “with attributes of sovereignty” implies that such a state will not be a sovereign state; a state that does not have all attributes of sovereignty is not sovereign. Why, then, should there be two states, side by side, with one sovereign (Israel) and the other not sovereign (Palestine).
3) In the third phase, the parties “reach final and comprehensive settlement status agreement that ends the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2005, through a settlement negotiated between the parties based on UNSCR 242, 338, and 1397, that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and includes an agreed, just, fair, and realistic solution to the refugee issue, and a negotiated resolution on the status of Jerusalem.”
Since discussions ever began between the Palestinians and the Israelis, the Israelis have always negotiated from a position of (military) strength and the Palestinians from a position of weakness. How can an agreement that results from this disparity be “just, fair and realistic” without the full involvement and protection of the world community? The Palestinians will once again be intimidated, threatened and given ultimatums to accept what Israel puts on the table, even if such proposals are not just, fair or realistic. A legitimate frame of reference for the borders and the refugees issue already exists under international law as specified in the UNSCRs referenced above. They should be guaranteed by the Quartet. An agreement between the two parties can not be negotiated. A solution must be arbitrated and imposed on both parties on the basis of the historical development and the referenced UNSCRs.
There may be other issues omitted from the road map and which may be equally problematic. It is very likely that the Palestinians are being misguided again and should proceed with extreme caution. Unfortunately, some members of the PNA can’t hide their exhilaration for the road map, as they did just before Oslo, and are anxious to sign on the dotted line. Perhaps they should read and understand its contents and heed Dr. Sayegh’s warnings about fully understanding the wording of potential agreements with Israel. Even then, Palestinian leaders should obtain guarantees from the world community on all agreements they sign. In doing so, they could possibly save themselves, the Palestinian people and the Arab world countless lifetimes of agony and disappointment.
MICHAEL S. LADAH is an Arab American who lived and worked in various parts of the Middle East. He is the author of “Quicksand, Oil and Dreams: The Story of One of Five Million Dispossessed Palestinians.” He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org