Walid Salem


Time for a “Regional Road Map”

                Now it is time for a “Regional Road Map” for peace in the Middle East, not only given the emergence of new forces in the region -Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and the growing power of the right-wing parties in Israel- but also because of the crisis of the thirty-year Arab-Israeli peace process (which began with the Israeli-Egyptian Camp David agreement in 1978) due to barriers from each side. It is now acknowledged, after all the accumulated experience, that the issues of regional security, as well as those of the Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem, can only be solved in a regional arena or, at least, with a heavy regional involvement.

                It is this regional comprehensive track that will be responsible to find ways for an active participation in the peace process of the new political forces in the region. If an involvement is not achieved, no peace process will be successful.

The Failure of both Conflict Management and Conflict Resolution

                Within the framework of this new regional peace process, previous approaches to peace – need to be revisited.

                On one side, the approach of ‘conflict management in the name of conflict resolution’ that has been prevailing for the last seventeen years of official, Track I diplomatic process between Israelis and Palestinians has severely failed, making that very process more an alternative to “peace” than a genuine effort toward it. (See more on that in the Strategic Assessment 1 attached).

                On the other side, Track II conflict resolution approach did not work either in the last seventeen years. This approach was built on the idealistic, romantic idea that there would be a “permanent status solution” that would solve all the thorniest issues of the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation and cancel any further claim from both sides. Its strength is that it has provided us with a perception of how a final deal would look like, but not with a clear definition of the stages that leads us there.  

Opposite to the practical approach of conflict management and the idealistic one of conflict resolution, the regional approach suggests we focus on creating a successful course of action in order to get to the preferable solution. This is what we call a conflict transformation strategy. George Mitchell’s experience in Northern Ireland is an example of what is meant by that. He did not solve the British – Irish conflict all at once as the conflict resolution approach suggests, but succeeded in the creation of a nonviolent dialogue combined with concrete steps that have led to a durable and successful solution.

In the Israeli-Palestinian case, we are in the opposite position. We have an understanding on how the permanent status solution would look like (mainly based on the Geneva Initiative and the Nusseibeh – Ayalon plan) but we lack the viable steps that enables us to get there. This is what needs to be worked out.

The Road Map, indeed, tried to designate a phased process towards an ideal solution, but unlike what happened in Northern Ireland, it was unsuccessful given the disagreements of both sides on the interpretation of some of its parts and their unwillingness to implement it. The regional approach can help to eschew this problem by revisiting the negotiation agenda so as to resolve Middle Eastern security issues, Jerusalem and refugees within a broader context.

This regionalization of the solution, however, will require a growing and renewed role for Track II diplomacy, given the Track I impasse. Now, with a party in power in Israel -the Likud- not recognizing the possibility of a two-state solution, Track II can offer new formulas for a future possible engagement. It can, moreover, give the opportunity to present ideas for an engagement between Hamas and Israel and how to bring together the concept of “Hudna” with that of “Peace Agreement”, in addition to that of dialogue between Islamic movements and the rest of the world on the issues of peace, nonviolence, diversity, democracy and human rights.

Regionalisation in Action

The regional Road Map suggested within the new Middle East context might proceed according to the following steps:

First: Preparation for an international conference to promote a Comprehensive Middle Eastern Peace.

Second: Holding of the international conference to launch the various tracks for an inclusive  Middle East Peace (also with the presence of Turkey and Iran).

Third: Negotiations in five Tracks (including two Tracks on Palestine) as follows: one track with Syria, another one with Lebanon, a third with the Palestinians for the completion of the independence of Gaza and a fourth for the independence of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and a fifth with the Arab countries to deal with the refugee problem, Jerusalem and security issues, in addition to the follow-up of the peace process in all the other tracks.

Here are the details of each one of these steps:

Step One: Preparation for the international conference: two months

During this period, the following activities will be conducted:

–          The Israeli Government will be encouraged by the Quartet to release a statement ensuring its commitment to a comprehensive Middle East Peace in all tracks -without giving any track a privilege over the other- and also a commitment for a two-state solution and for the fulfillment of all Israeli obligations under the Road Map. These include dismantling the settlements outposts, freezing settlement expansion, lifting checkpoints, creating a link between Gaza and the West Bank, reopening PA institutions in East Jerusalem, restoring the independence of Area A and Palestinian Civil responsibilities in Area B of West Bank and releasing Palestinian prisoners.

–          The Arab countries (including the PA) will be encouraged by the Quartet to release a statement ensuring Arab commitment to a comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East based on the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. The Statement will also guarantee that the Palestinians continue to take their responsibilities as stated in the Road Map, including security responsibilities and all those related to the building of transparent and professional state institutions. Such declaration from twenty two Arab countries that promise normalization of their ties with Israel in case of full withdrawal is something the new Israeli Government will not find easy to reject or ignore as it has been happening since 2002. This is the more so because the new American envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell will closely follow it and persistently demanding answers from the Israeli government.  

–          The Quartet will distribute invitations to the conference to Israel, the twenty two Arab Countries, as well as Turkey and Iran, given that the last was invited by the USA to a conference on Iraq and Afghanistan in order to help move issues forward towards a solution. Moreover, this attendance might encourage to start a discussion on the issue of armaments and nuclear weapons in the region.

Step Two: The Conference: two days in June 2009

                 Attended by all the Arab countries, Israel, Turkey, Iran, the Organization of the Islamic Countries (OIC), China, Japan and the G20, in addition to the Quartet, the Conference will discuss the overall regional issue of armaments and nuclear proliferation and also launch the five tracks as here described:

First: An Israeli-Lebanese track aimed at returning the Sheba Farms to Lebanon and at an agreement between the two sides on a long term Hudna (Armistice). The issue of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon will not be discussed in this track.

Second: An Israeli-Syrian Track aimed at returning the Golan Heights to Syria and also at achieving agreements on economic and cultural cooperation between the two countries, in addition to the exchange of diplomatic relations. No discussion about the Palestinian refugees in Syria will take place in This Track.

Third: An Israeli-Arab track with the participation of the four countries of residence of the Palestinian refugees (Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon), in addition to two other Arab Countries, probably Saudi Arabia and Morocco, since they have already played (Morocco) or are going to play (Saudi Arabia) a role with regard to Jerusalem, and, finally, a representative of the Arab League.

This third track will be in charge of following the negotiations on all the other tracks. It will also discuss regional security arrangements and provide solutions on that, including the establishment of a regional council for security and cooperation for the whole Middle East similar to that of the EU. This track will also deal with the refugee question and make it an issue for trade-off with Israel, since a solution of the refugee problem in Lebanon and of refugees and displaced persons in Jordan will allow two Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel. This track will also treat the issue of Jerusalem and explore formulas for the sovereignty over the Temple Mount and the custodianship of the Islamic holy places. It will probably see Saudi and Moroccan participation in order to ensure, on one side, protection for Jewish prayers at the Wailing  wall and, on the other, protection for Muslims from any possible kind of attack from Jewish prayers. Turkey and the Quartet representatives might also participate to the meetings of this track and, if they are successful, even Iran might get fully or partially involved.

Fourth: Two tracks with the Palestinians (combined or separate according to the developments of domestic Palestinian politics):

–          One of them for the completion of the independence of Gaza, to be run by Israel partly with the PA in Ramallah and partly, directly or indirectly (via Egypt), with whomever will be ruling Gaza Strip at the time. If Palestinian elections were held before the start of this track and the PA of Ramallah won the majority of the votes in Gaza, then all the negotiations on this track would be conducted with the PA instead of Hamas. In contrast to the previous relatively unsuccessful progression of this Track (apart from the six month Tahdia’a agreement of June 2008), this time Gaza, which was freed from both the Israeli settlers and the Israeli Army in 2005, should gain external independence by opening the crossing borders between Gaza and Israel leading to the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In addition to a renewal of a Tahdi’a agreement that includes Hamas’s assurance to stop launching rockets at Israel and Israel’s clear commitment not to attack Gaza or wage war on it, Israel also needs to commit itself to bring in all the materials necessary for the reconstruction of Gaza. Moreover, a new arrangements should be created to reopen Rafah crossing borders with Turkish participation (besides EU monitors) and give Hamas the right to select the Gazan members of the PA Presidential Guards who will preside the border. Moreover, Hamas policemen might deploy outside the border, thus taking an indirect role in its running and Israeli indirect monitoring of the crossing border should be transferred to the EU and Turkish observers. In a future step, Rafah crossing borders should be rehabilitated by a special international fund in order to allow free movements of goods -and not only individuals- in and out. This is something that would allow the Strip to get rid of Israel’s monopoly over its products, which are very expensive in comparison to those of other countries in the region.

Once these conditions are achieved, Gaza might become an economic free zone that, if accompanied by a durable Tahdi’a (Calmness) agreement for one year or more, will reach a certain level of stability likely to encourage Hamas to move to a Hudna with Israel for a stage of 10 years. With a Hudna and stability prevailing, Hamas’s need to bring weapons into Gaza will diminish and any weapon will be put “out of use” as happened with the Irish Republican Army after the signature of the “Great Friday Agreement”. Therefore, a plan for peace via Hudna agreement, unlike the unsuccessful program against arms smuggling into Gaza since 1967, by creating circumstances that will cancel the need for new weapons and putting existing ones out of use, might be the solution to the problem.   

Gaza, then, will become a fully independent zone with a developmental approach and open borders with its neighbors. If reconciliation between the Palestinian factions fails, Gaza might have its own elections, currency and so on, until the situation becomes mature for regaining unity with the West Bank. This separation from the West Bank, however, will not affect Hamas good calm relations with Israel but, on the contrary, might be very beneficial for such relation.

–          The second track with the Palestinians is for the independence of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It no longer is about what has traditionally been called “a track on permanent status solution”. In this regard, the issues of the future of the refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza and of UNRWA should be left to the Arab-Israeli track mentioned earlier, as well as the issues related to the Islamic Holy Places in Jerusalem. This track will instead deal with the question of East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state. Finally, the issue of external security will be treated together with Jordan in regard to the West Bank and with Egypt in regard to the Gaza strip. Furthermore, throughout the process of independence of the West Bank, a deployment of international forces in the Palestinian Territories for an interim period might be a preferable move for the protection of Palestinians and Israelis from attacks and violations coming from the other side. These forces might redeploy mainly in the seamlines between the West Bank and Israel.

Lastly, the new agenda should include the issue of human security for both Israelis and Palestinians, especially the question of how to insure equal access for both to all the components of freedom from fear and freedom from want.

Obstacles as opportunities

What is described above is a process of transformation that might lead to the achievement of the comprehensive solution included in the Arab Peace Initiative, the Genève Initiative and the Nusseibeh-Ayalon document. The five tracks should all start together directly after the international conference, but not necessarily finish at the same time. One track might go faster than the other, but all should end in a timeframe no longer than two years.

One might argue that the Likud electoral platform -that is against the two states solutions with the Palestinians and against any withdrawal from the Golan Heights- will be a big obstacle for moving forward in the process described above. On the other hand, however, it can be said that, as the Likud was brought into the peace process through an international conference (Madrid,  1991), now it can be brought again into the peace process through another international conference. That latter would differ from the former in that the one in 1991 was about launching a  peace process in the Middle East while the conference required now is for a comprehensive solution of all the tracks. With this difference at hand, it is clear that more incentives will be necessary to advance in this new conference. In this regard, providing Israel with an offer of normalization and guaranteed security from twenty two Arab countries will be something Likud leaders cannot easily refuse, since a rejection could generate tensions inside the Government coalition and lead to early elections that could create a better atmosphere to move on in the peace process. In both cases (Likud’s acceptance of the Arab offer or early elections in Israel) the obstacle will be transformed into an opportunity for a successful peace process.

The other obstacle is related to Likud’s plans to prevent any new calmness (Tahdi’a) agreement with Hamas in Gaza and, probably, even to start a new war there. The international community should persistently move in order to prevent such a scenario, convincing Israel that, in this way, it will not solve the problem of the rockets, which will continue to land in the Southern part of the country. Therefore, at the end, the Likud will be obliged to use the political, non-military track of Tahdi’a to solve the problem with Gaza. There are already some advisors to Netanyahu who suggest him to directly embark on the path of Tahdia with Hamas, on the basis that Hamas’s continuity in ruling Gaza is good for Israel since it keeps the Palestinians divided. This division, their argument goes, might be used by the Israeli government as a justification for not moving in the peace process with President Abu Mazen under the claim that he is weak.

Iran should also be invited to the conference and engaged in the Middle East peace process  maybe by fully or partially joining one of the five tracks described earlier. The obstacles coming from this country, indeed, will need some attention and a US involvement in dialogue, so as to  transform these challenges into an opportunity.

A fourth obstacle could come from the inability of Palestinians and Israelis to get to an agreement on the independence of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In this case, the Quartet should prepare bridging proposals based on the previous agreements between the two sides and align itself with the Arab Peace Initiative, Genève Initiative, and Nusseibeh – Ayalon document. Unlike the 2001 Clinton parameters and other early proposals, this one will be completely based on previous agreements between the two sides and, therefore, met with less rejection from them and most likely implemented. Robert Malley and Hussein Agha in their article “How not to make peace in the Middle East” ignore this important difference when they suggest that the new American Administration should not initiate any new bridging proposal and take its time to understand the new political realities in the region. This sounds like a call for the USA to stop its leading role in the Middle East Peace Process, thus giving Israel a free hand to continue with its ‘facts on the ground’ in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Nathan Brown, on his side, in his proposal “Time for Plan B”, ignores the track on the future of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for the sake of a track on Calmness to be followed by a Hudna, while Palestinians statehood will be postponed for an open-ended period without any guarantee or international pressure to get to it!

A fifth obstacle might come from Israel if it continues its settlement expansion in violation to the commitment made at the conference. In this case, international actors will be required to use their economic leverage to pressure Israel to stop their settlement enterprise.


Plan B: Unilateral Initiation of a Palestinian Statehood

In the case of a failure of the above, the international community should allow the Palestinians to unilaterally declare their state in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem and, unlike the 1988 declaration, this time the Palestinians should be allowed to practice their sovereignty  on the ground by nonviolent means. This would include cutting the roads to the Jewish colonies in West Bank and East Jerusalem, demolishing the new construction in the settlements combined with an offer to the settlers to become Palestinian citizens and offer passports to those who accept, boycotting the Israeli products, creating a Palestinian currency and so on. In the political arena, it could entail dissolving the PLC and conducting elections for a Parliament of an independent state and dissolving the PA and replacing it with the government of an independent state. These type of moves might end the disagreement between Fateh and Hamas and induce them to work together for the defense of the Palestinian state and the creation of its sovereignty on the ground.

Once declared, the international community should support this state by recognizing it, sending Ambassadors to its territories and preventing Israel from attacking it as they did by protecting the independence of Kosovo and all the provinces of the former Yugoslavia. The international community should stop Israeli settlement expansion in the new state’s territory and accept it as a new member in the United Nations.

The Center for Democracy and Community Development

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 23 Mar 2009.

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