The reformist illusion
It is easy to see why Sharon would want the clause included: it essentially eviscerates the roadmap of all meaningful content. For the Palestinians and the three non-American members of the Quartet (the EU, UN and Russia) the roadmap is already a done deal and has been ready for publication since December
By Graham Usher
Writing recently in the Palestinian newspaper Al Ayyam, editor and former PLO negotiator, Akram Haniyya, explained why the Palestinian leadership had embarked on the road of reform, including the decision to appoint a Palestinian prime minister. Dismissing all talk that the move had been made under international duress, he insisted “reform has been a national demand long before it was confiscated by the Americans, who do not really care about eliminating corruption or respecting the rule of law.”
He also elucidated the national strategy underpinning the reformist turn. “Appointing a PM with jurisdictions and responsibilities is a step on the roadmap which should be implemented to end the occupation and pave the way to negotiations based on a two-state solution. We believe it is a step that will end the political siege imposed on President Arafat,” he wrote.
In expressing such sentiments Haniyya is being true to the political philosophy of his mentor and the Palestinian PM-in-waiting, Mahmoud Abbass or Abu-Mazen. Ever since Israel’s reoccupation of the West Bank in June last year, Abbass has led a stream within Fatah that believes there are now only two ways to thwart Ariel Sharon’s ambition to bury all things Oslo, including the existing Palestinian Authority leadership.
One is to exert the maximum regional and international pressure on the factions (and especially Hamas) to end the Intifada, disguised as a one year Palestinian moratorium on all armed attacks, not only in Israel, but also within the occupied territories. The second is to “expose Sharon” by calling his bluff through implementing those reforms he and the Americans have made preconditions for any return to political negotiations.
Ending military operations and instituting reforms (Abbass told a meeting of Fatah activists in Gaza last November) would “force Sharon to present his political programme [for ending the Israel-Palestinian conflict]. We would not be the only ones to reject it. A major part of the Israeli people would also reject it because it in no way shows the man wants peace.”
Like many of Abbass’ political stratagems, “reform” appears long on wishful thinking (especially vis-à-vis the redemptive power of Israeli public opinion) but short on grasping how and why power is actually wielded in the region. The illusion came home to many Palestinians in responses Israel and America made to Arafat’s “courageous” decision to appoint a PM.
In a statement that had much more to do with rallying support for a war on Iraq than any revival of the peace process, on 14 March President Bush announced: “Immediately upon confirmation” of a Palestinian PM “with real authority the roadmap for peace will be given to Israel and the Palestinians”. He then added the following sentence, reportedly at the bidding of the Israeli government. “Once this roadmap is delivered, we will expect and welcome contributions from Israel and the Palestinians to this document that will advance true peace.”
It is easy to see why Sharon would want the clause included: it essentially eviscerates the roadmap of all meaningful content. For the Palestinians and the three non-American members of the Quartet (the EU, UN and Russia) the roadmap is already a done deal and has been ready for publication since December.
The first phase requires the PA to work to achieve a Palestinian cease-fire and comprehensive reforms while Israel would withdraw from the areas it has re-conquered since September 2000 and freeze all settlement activity. These mutual steps in place negotiations would begin on establishing a “provisional” Palestinian state sometime this year and on a fully-fledged peace treaty by 2005. The roadmap thus does not need any more “contributions” but only a timeline and mechanism to start implementation.
Israel’s position and so, apparently, George Bush’s is the reverse: there can be no implementation until there is an agreed content and that agreement will be “full and concluded” not between Israel and the Quartet, still less the PA, but between “Israel and the US”, according to a memo issued by Sharon’s office on 24 February. The same memo notes that the Israeli government “has many reservations and revisions to the draft [of the roadmap] that was presented to us by the American administration [last December].” On 16 March Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper detailed some of them.
First there should be no reference to an “independent” Palestinian state, but rather one that is “credible”, “law abiding” and possessing “certain attributes of sovereignty”. Second, there can be no movement to the second phase of the roadmap until there is “a complete cessation of [Palestinian] violence and terrorism, full disarmament of terrorist organisations, complete collection of illegal weapons and the emergence of a new and different [Palestinian] leadership.”
Nor will there be any dismantling of the 107 settlement outposts that currently pepper the occupied territories but only a vague commitment to “enforce the law in relation to the outposts”. As for a settlement freeze, this will not include the “natural growth” of settlements and will only come “following a continuous and comprehensive security calm”.
There is no mention of a Palestinian cease-fire or an “empowered” PM. Nor, apparently, does Sharon fear “exposing” his political programme. He knows “the major part of the Israeli people” supports it, and that so, apparently, does the US administration, at least this side of the war on Iraq —Al Ahram