12.07.2006
After the Road Map
№3 2006 July/September
Alek D. Epstein

Alek Epstein is a lecturer at the Open University of Israel, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Institute of Asian and African Studies at the Moscow State University, an expert at the Moscow Institute of the Middle East. He has a Doctorate in History.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict – which may also be described
in the broader sense as the Arab-Israeli conflict – has for decades
been one of the driving forces of modern geopolitics. The victory
of the Hamas movement in the recent Palestinian elections added
more complexity to the situation and it is certain that the Middle
East standoff will remain one of the major headline-making issues
which pose a threat to the global collective security system. This
conflict has involved the most influential international players,
including Russia as a member of the UN Security Council and
initiator of a number of crucial resolutions, such as Resolution
1515 of November 19, 2003, which endorsed the Road Map peace plan.
For example, cooperation between Russia and the Moslem states in
the field of military technologies, on the one hand, and the
presence of an influential million-strong community of immigrants
from Russia in Israel, on the other hand, predestine the huge
import that the conflict has for Russian politics and
diplomacy.

American and Russian diplomats insist that the Road Map plan for
a peaceful settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, which the
U.S. Department of State published on April 30, 2003 on behalf of
the Quartet of international mediators (Russia, the U.S., the UN
and the European Union), is a fundamental document capable of
bringing the sides to a breakthrough in peace negotiations. And yet
it seems that the document has proven its practical insolvency over
the last three years.

DEMOCRATIZATION AS A PRELUDE TO ISLAMIZATION?

The political rise of Hamas, the extremist Islamic movement,
within the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), together with the
consequential overturn of the entire system of Palestinian-Israeli
relations, have been so far the only real effect of the Road Map
plan.

The Palestinians’ “free, open, and fair elections,” which were
organized according to the precepts stipulated in the Road Map, “in
the context of open debate and transparent candidate
selection/electoral campaign based on a free, multiparty process,”
thrust open the doors of the PNA for forces that do not recognize
the very right of Israel to existence.

While the second Intifada was still in progress, Hamas became
the chief engineer of terror against Israeli targets. From October
2000 through to March 2006, its shaheeds carried out more than 50
terrorist attacks, killing 269 civilian Israelis and 27 security
servicemen, and leaving over 1,700 people wounded.

More than that, the Road Map broadly extended the authority of
the Palestinian government. In a bid to neutralize – or,
alternatively, to minimize – the clout Yasser Arafat enjoyed as the
head of legislative and executive branches of power, the Americans
demanded that the PNA be turned into a kind of a parliamentary
republic in which the Prime Minister, and not the President, would
hold power and control the security and military forces. A
corresponding reform was carried out, but in a situation where the
radical-minded Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh stood in opposition to
the moderate President Mahmoud Abbas, it played into Hamas’ hands.
Thus, the negotiating process retreated a few decades.

Israeli officials had maintained permanent contacts with
Palestinian leaders since 1991, when a delegation of the West Bank
and the Gaza Strip, with Dr. Haidar Abdel Shafi at the head, joined
the Madrid international conference on the Middle East. Israel did
not suspend these contacts even after the second Intifada broke out
in September 2000. The public negotiating process came to a halt
due to the collapse of the talks in Taba in January 2001 and Ariel
Sharon’s coming to power in Israel, but relations with the
Palestinians continued in the realms of the economy and security
even during the Israeli government’s boycott of Arafat.

In spite of Hamas’ election-day victory on January 25, 2006, the
Israel Defense Forces coordinated actions until the end of March
with Palestinian security forces that were guarding the Gaza
Strip’s border with Israel and Egypt. However, as control over
defense and security forces in the PNA officially went over to
Hamas on March 30, and the new Interior Minister Saeed Siyam took
the ministerial powers over from General Nasser Yusuf (getting
control of the police, security agencies and civil defense
machinery), Israel decided to stop any cooperation or coordination
of actions with Palestinian official representatives.

Previously, Israel criticized the leaders of the Palestine
Liberation Organization and the Palestinian National Authority for
holding talks and steering terrorist attacks against Israel, or
simply overlooking them. Arafat’s team would predictably reject the
accusations of foul play (usually delivering their statements in
English, not Arabic) and stressed its willingness for “peace of the
valiant.” Today, the leaders of the Palestinian government –
one-party and only comprised of Hamas activists – do not speak of
peace with Israel in any language. Instead, they have been openly
declaring their clear goal of erasing the State of Israel.

CAPTIVE TO DEADLINES

Formally, the Road Map was to be in effect from May 2003 (the
first stage) till late 2005 (the third stage).

The authors of the Road Map fully replicated the mistake made in
the 1990s by the diplomats who drafted a Declaration of Principles
on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, commonly known as the Oslo
Accords, which the then Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres
(Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister now) and Mahmoud Abbas (then a
member of the PLO Secretariat) signed on September 13, 1993. The
document said: “The aim of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations
within the current Middle East peace process is, among other
things, to establish a Palestinian Interim Self-Government
Authority, the elected Council […] for the Palestinian people in
the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, for a transitional period not
exceeding five years.” The transition period began with the Israeli
forces’ withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and from the Jericho area in
the West Bank. With the expiry of that period of time, the Oslo
Accords and the term of powers of the Palestinian Legislative
Council, elected on January 20, 1996, would expire automatically as
well. In other words, the Oslo Accords neither established
mechanisms for an extension of the allotted time bracket, nor
specified actions to be taken should the sides fail to reach
agreement – within the designated five years – on more complex
issues pertaining to permanent status. As history shows, events
took precisely such a turn.

By the same token, the Road Map does not contain provisions for
a possible prolongation or for its replacement by any other
document if the measures it spells out fail. And that was exactly
what happened.

Russia’s official diplomacy has noted the discrepancies between
the Road Map and the real situation. “We should have reached
creation of a full-fledged Palestinian state by the end of the year
but actually we’re still in the beginning of the Road Map’s first
phase. It’s not possible to meet those deadlines. So let’s not put
a good face on the matter,” said Alexander Kalugin, Russia’s
special envoy for Middle East peace settlement, on August 18, 2005.
Since then, Palestinian-Israeli relations have deteriorated, while
the Road Map’s legal effect has expired.

DISREGARDING MAIN PROBLEMS

The Road Map does not provide for any specified solutions – even
provisional – to the two most acute problems of Palestinian-Israeli
relations, specifically: the status of Jerusalem and the fate of
the refugees. It only repeats the errors found in the Oslo Accords
which predetermined that document’s failure. When representatives
of the two sides held a summit in Camp David in July 2000, they
discussed these issues without any prior preparation at the stage
of a “provisional” settlement. Those talks collapsed, triggering
the second Intifada. The issues that the sides put off “until a
better day” eventually served as a time bomb, which set the entire
Middle East process ablaze.

The Road Map only makes a brief and vague mentioning of both
issues. It says: “Parties reach final and comprehensive permanent
status agreement that ends the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in
2005, through a settlement negotiated between the parties based on
UN Security Council Resolutions 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 that takes into account the
political and religious concerns of both sides, and protects the
religious interests of Jews, Christians, and Muslims worldwide, and
fulfils the vision of two states, Israel and sovereign,
independent, democratic and viable Palestine, living side by side
in peace and security.”

This provision is nothing more than an act of wishful thinking,
especially since Israelis and Palestinians understand it
differently. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger
commented: “The treatment of the refugee issue in the ‘Road Map’ is
a good example. It calls for an ‘agreed, just, fair, and realistic
solution.’ To the Palestinians, ‘fair and just’ signifies a return
of refugees to all parts of former Palestine, including the current
territory of Israel, thereby swamping it. To the Israelis, the
phrase implies that returning refugees should settle on Palestinian
territory only” (The Washington Post, February 27, 2006).

It is impossible to comprehend why the Road Map authors reversed
to the lame logic of “don’t wake up a sleeping dog” that underlay
the Oslo Accords concept. It is not surprising that the fruits of
the Road Map were even more lamentable: having endured a bitter
experience and realizing perfectly well how the negotiations on
Jerusalem and refugees will end, the sides did not even seek
discussion of these issues.

STEPPING ON THE RAKE A THIRD TIME?

There is no sense trying to guess what chances the Road Map may
have after the new leadership’s accession to power in the
Palestinian National Authority. Haled Mashal, who heads Hamas’
Damascus-based Political Bureau and who is viewed as its most
influential figure, said in an interview with the Italian daily La
Repubblica that all the talks beginning with Madrid, Oslo and so on
had led to nothing. He noted that the peace process was stagnant,
while the Palestinians’ life had deteriorated and the Israelis
continued building the security wall that was swallowing ever more
Palestinian lands. Mashal also said the Road Map was unacceptable
since it set forth detailed conditions to the Palestinians like
disarmament, arrest of the mojaheddins, and the renunciation of
resistance. However, the plan was too obscure when it came down to
the Israelis’ responsibilities, Mashal claimed. He insisted the
document did not say anything about Jerusalem, the plight of
refugees and expansion of the ‘colonies’ [the term the Palestinians
apply to Jewish settlements in the West Bank]. Hamas’ position,
supported by a big majority of Palestinian voters, is clear-cut:
talks are senseless if they ignore the status of Jerusalem and the
destiny of the Palestinians who became refugees, together with
their descendants, beginning in 1948. As for the Road Map, the very
document that helped Hamas come to power, Mashal calls it
‘unacceptable’.

In this context, Kissinger’s proposal to sign “an interim
agreement of indefinite duration,” in the course of which “both
sides would suspend some of the most intractable claims on
permanent borders, on refugees and perhaps on the final status of
the Arab part of Jerusalem” is utopian. The picture of some future
peaceful coexistence as drawn by the former Secretary of State is
idyllic: “Israel would withdraw to lines based on the various
formulas evolved since Camp David and endorsed by American
presidents. It would dismantle settlements beyond the established
dividing line. The Hamas-controlled government would be obliged to
renounce violence. It would also need to agree to adhere to
agreements previously reached by the PLO. A security system
limiting military forces on the soil of the emerging Palestinian
state would be established. State-sponsored propaganda to undermine
the adversary would cease.”

In the meantime, the whole story spins around a movement that,
according to a keen remark by Russian orientalist Grigory Kosach,
“has not abandoned its main objective of restoration of the
Palestine stretching from the River [Jordan] to the [Mediterranean]
Sea as an inalienable Islamic wakf [property], i.e. its objective
of liquidating Israel, which Hamas tried to implement fairly
recently in Israeli cities with the aid of suicide bombers.” It is
precisely this organization that Kissinger expects to denounce
terror and recognize earlier political agreements between the PLO
and Israel. As he passes the imaginary for the real, the patriarch
of U.S. diplomacy actually calls for repeating once again the error
already made twice in the past. It is impossible to understand the
motives of people who believe that all the attempts that have
failed over the past three years can suddenly become successful
now.

THE SHORT-TERM MEMORY OF THE DIPLOMATS

The current situation in the region calls for a revision of the
presumptions that the Road Map is based on and for a dismissal of
that document as failing to meet the new realities. It is also
important to remember that the political situation in Israel has
changed dramatically. Since the establishment of that state,
leaders of the “right-wing” Likud or “left-wing” Labor Party have
occupied its key posts. Today the country is governed by the
centrist Kadima party, which is not bound to past obligations.

In the past year and a half, the Israeli government has been
building its policies on the principle of comprehensive ethnic and
territorial disengagement with the Palestinian Arabs, instead of
clinging to the principle of “territories in exchange for peace”
espoused by left-wing parties in the past. Nor is there a desire to
“create a Jewish state over the entire territory of the former
Palestine Mandate,” which was the goal of the right-wing parties.
The Israeli government says it is ready to withdraw from the West
Bank territories that are inhabited by a predominantly Arab
population, although it realizes that such steps cannot bring about
a peace settlement.

Many failures of international diplomacy concerning the solution
of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict arise from the fact that
Israel’s retreat behind the so-called Green Line has been viewed as
an essential prerequisite for a peace settlement. The Green Line is
Israel’s border before the Six-Day War of June 1967 or, more
specifically, the ceasefire line established in 1949 by armistice
agreements between Israel and the neighboring Arab countries.
Specifically, Paragraph 2 of Article V of the Israel-Egypt
Armistice Agreement (February 24, 1949) says: “The Armistice
Demarcation Line is not to be construed in any sense as a political
or territorial boundary, and is delineated without prejudice to
rights, claims and positions of either Party to the Armistice as
regards ultimate settlement of the Palestine question.” All other
bilateral agreements contain such paragraphs as well.

Suggesting that Israel’s retreat to its pre-1967 borders is the
main condition for achieving peace is as hopeless as supporting the
demagogical statements by the U.S. Department of State on its
commitment to the Road Map. Let us recall that even at the time
when the Green Line was Israel’s state border the Arab countries
refused to recognize it.

It is also important to note that those agreements left out the
Palestinian Arabs and fully ignored the UN General Assembly’s
Resolution 181, which stipulated a simultaneous creation of the
Jewish State of Israel and the Arab State of Palestine. The
aggression against Israel that was launched right after its
creation in May 1948 and was provoked – to a great degree – by
Jerusalem’s Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, resulted in a defeat of the
Arab armies. The situation hit the Palestinian Arabs especially
hard: large numbers of Palestinians fled the country, and their
state never came into existence. The problem of Palestinian
refugees has not been solved till the present day. Moreover, only
Palestinians living in Israel and in Jordan have citizenship.
Especially difficult is the position of refugees in Lebanon (more
than 95 percent of them are descendants of the people who were
forced to emigrate in 1948). These refugees have been living in the
south of Lebanon for almost six decades deprived of any political
rights. Therefore, the international community must exert stronger
pressure on the Lebanese government for improving their
position.

Clearly, Israel’s return to the Green Line will not solve the
Palestinian problem. Furthermore, it may provoke a civil war in the
country. Israel’s Arab population increased fourfold since 1967 and
now exceeds 1.3 million people. The attempts to fully integrate
them into Israeli society have failed – those people do not feel
part of the Jewish state even though they are its citizens. On the
other hand, more than 250,000 Jewish settlers now live on the
territories of the West Bank – Judea, Samaria, and Jordan Valley –
where there had been no Jews before 1967. Naturally, they do not
link their future with the Palestinian National Authority.

GROUNDS FOR HOPE

Russia has a unique opportunity for playing a successful role in
the Middle East negotiation process. On the one hand, it has
especially trustworthy relations with Arab and Moslem countries
(for example, the latest meeting between President Vladimir Putin
and Mahmoud Abbas took place on May 15, 2006). On the other hand,
it supports normal working relations with Israel both in the
political sphere (reaffirmed by Putin’s visit to Israel in April
2005) and in defense cooperation (the Israeli spy satellite Eros B1
was launched on April 25, 2006 from the Svobodny Space Center in
the Russian Far East). Officials of the highest rank are
considering supplies of Russian natural gas to Israel. Joint
efforts in fighting Islamic extremism may play the role of a bridge
in the system of Russian-Israeli bilateral relations.

Russia’s growing importance in world politics and economy helps
it assume a more independent role in international policies in the
Middle East. Specifically, Russia should come up with its own
proposals on the Middle East issue, taking into account the causes
of the failure of past initiatives. Moscow has partners to
negotiate with in both Israel and the PNA, especially considering
that many of them speak Russian: apart from Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas, one in nine members of the Israeli parliament
Knesset communicate in this language.

Russia (possibly in cooperation with other international
mediators) could offer a new diplomatic initiative for scaling down
tensions in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This may occur if it
bases its incentive on the principle of ‘demographic disengagement’
of the Israelis and Palestinian Arabs. The initiative may proceed
as follows: Israel annexes – by accord from the international
community – regions on the West Bank beyond the Green Line that are
populated exclusively by Jews (including Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel,
Givat Ze’ev, Gush Etzion, Modiin Illit, and Beitar Illit, each of
them having populations between 10,000 and 32,000). As
compensation, Israel will transfer over to Palestine’s jurisdiction
– on proportional terms – those lands that have a predominantly
Arab population located on the sovereign territory of Israel within
the Green Line (primarily, the so-called ‘Triangle’, in which the
Arab towns of Al-Tira, Umm al-Fahm, Baka al-Garbiya and some others
are located).

As regards the problem of Jerusalem, a possible solution could
be an “umbrella-type” municipality, in which the Jews and Arabs
would work together, as was the case during the British Mandate
over Palestine. A municipal body of this type may be formed with
each of the city districts, including Arab ones, delegating its
representatives to a united municipal assembly – as an alternative
to the regular municipal elections. This innovation could break the
40-year situation where Arabs, who now account for one-third of
Jerusalem’s population, boycott municipal elections and are
reluctant to take part in managing the city. In the medium and long
term, Jerusalem, too, should be delimited on the demographic
principle, under which separate Arab districts of Jerusalem, such
as Shuafat and Beit Hanina, would be included in the Palestinian
state, while Jewish Jerusalem (districts currently populated by
Jews) would be recognized as Israel’s capital.

Contrary to widespread erroneous belief, Washington does not
support Israel in its conflict with the Arabs in many of the vital
litigious issues. The U.S. has not recognized Jerusalem (even its
western part, to say nothing of a united Jerusalem) as Israel’s
capital, and hence it has not moved its embassy there. Not a single
statement has ever come from the U.S. that would reaffirm Israel’s
right to deny the readmission of the Palestinian refugees of 1948,
or their successors. On the contrary, one of the five possible
solutions to the refugee problem that Bill Clinton came up with in
December 2000 implied their return to Israel. In particular, the
proposal involved those people who live in refugee camps in
Lebanon. Since many of them have relatives in Galilee, Clinton
suggested that Israel should readmit them, proceeding from the
principle of reunification of families and humanitarian
considerations.

The U.S. vehemently opposes the establishment or expansion of
Jewish settlements. It has not recognized Israel’s annexation of
Eastern Jerusalem or the Golan Heights. Even the closest political
advisors to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert do not harbor illusions
concerning the possibility of getting U.S. consent to the Israeli
annexation of any territories on the West Bank, whatever arguments
there may be for a ‘consolidation program.’ A completely absurd
situation may take shape: Israel may abandon sizable territories
that will go over to the Palestinian National Authority, and yet
the border between the two states and nations, separated by the
security wall, will not be recognized, thereby turning from a
factor of stability into a new source of tension. This is exactly a
situation where other international mediators, including Russia,
could have considerable input.

The collapse of the Oslo process and the Road Map, against the
background of Israel’s revamped relations with Egypt and Jordan,
shows that the only way to peaceful coexistence between Israelis
and Arabs is found in a model of interstate relations built on
recognition of borders between countries. In the future, it is
extremely important to think out the best possible pattern of
cooperation between the Palestinian National Authority and Jordan.
The possibility should not be excluded that the Palestinian
National Authority fails to be politically and economically viable.
In such a situation, its federation with Jordan may appear as the
best possible option for all the parties involved in the
conflict.

It is critical that the Israeli-Palestinian border be built
according to the current state of affairs as opposed to past
realities. The more comprehensive and impermeable the delimitation
of territories between the two nations becomes, and the sooner the
international community recognizes the border between them, the
greater the chances that the Middle East will cease to be a source
of persistent tension for the entire world.