By Gerald Steinberg - October 5, 2001
No one needed a crystal ball to predict the outcome of the overhyped Shimon Peres-Yasser Arafat meeting and the sixth "cease-fire" declaration of the past year. As in each of the previous rounds, the carefully negotiated details were designed primarily for public relations purposes. The same is true for Palestinian "condemnations" following the latest terrorist murders.
With the possible exception of Peres, it is hard to imagine that any Israeli expected the Palestinians to actually implement their end of the bargain. Arafat is unable or unwilling (or most likely both) to shut down the terrorist networks that he has fostered and supported for decades. The basic conditions remain unchanged, including incitement and the use of terror to generate Israeli military responses, creating more Palestinian "martyrs" and automatic condemnations of Israel for "excessive use of force." The initial Palestinian fear that the attacks on the United States on September 11 would force them to stop their own use of terror has disappeared, along with the images of public celebrations in Palestinian cities as the World Trade Center collapsed.
For eight years, the pattern of painstaking negotiations and detailed pacts that are never implemented has failed repeatedly, and it is time to change gears and adopt an entirely different framework. This pattern began with the 1993 Oslo accord (the Declaration of Principles) and continued through the Tenet accord and the most recent Peres-Arafat declaration. During the negotiation of the interim agreements, Israeli and Palestinian lawyers spent months writing numerous appendices, including a list of locations for Palestinian "police stations" and the exact number and type of weapons allowed at each. This exercise was useless, for as soon as this territory came under Palestinian control, these terms were ignored.
The same model is envisioned for proceeding from pseudo cease-fires to implementation of the Mitchell Commission report, and then to the resumption of the pseudo "peace process." But there is no light at the end of this tunnel. The Palestinians will continue to seek additional territory, while ignoring security agreements and cooperation aimed at ending the conflict. As demonstrated by Arafat's demands during last year's Camp David summit as well as Arab behavior at the Durban conference and on numerous other occasions, the deep hatred and goal of destroying Israel has not changed.
At the same time, the maintenance of the status quo, based on the Swiss-cheese map created by the failed Oslo process is untenable. However, the way out is clearly not via more orchestrated handshakes and detailed agreements on security arrangements that are violated before the ink dries. This formal approach has failed, not only in the Israeli-Palestinian realm, but also in Northern Ireland and in many other similar cases of what academics refer to as "protracted ethno-national conflicts." It is time to send the lawyers and wordsmiths packing, and to use other means for reducing the level of friction and violence.
The alternative, based on a process of unilateral separation and disengagement, provides a more pragmatic and down-to-earth approach. Unilateral actions do not carry the burden of unrealistic expectations or the charges or counter-charges of violations that feed the conflict. After years of discussion, the first moves in this direction were taken recently with the creation of a closed buffer zone between Israeli and Palestinian populations from Netanya to Kfar Saba. This concept, based on fences, patrol roads and surveillance equipment, needs to be extended across the map, including the Jerusalem region. While such separation measures are not going to provide total insurance, if properly implemented an 80 percent reduction in Palestinian infiltration would be a major improvement.
If a real cease-fire based on unilateral separation and deterrence takes hold, the confidence-building measures specified in the Mitchell report can be implemented, including the collection and decommissioning of tens of thousands of illegal weapons in the PA, the dismantling of the terror networks and an Israeli freeze on settlement construction. These actions should not be subject to more negotiations, which would only contribute to more charges and counter-charges regarding compliance or violations. Implementation, on both sides, should be unilateral and if this is not the case, the process will stop again.
In addition, Israel will have to consider means of reducing the level of exposure to attack by unilaterally converting some isolated settlements into military outposts. Under a more realistic Palestinian leadership that is willing and able to end the conflict and to take security agreements seriously, these areas would become part of a Palestinian state.
As Bush administration officials gear up for yet another American effort to square the Middle-East circle as part of the coalition-building process, they should consider the previous decade of failures very carefully. The tacit unilateral approach may not provide elaborately staged signing ceremonies at the White House, but as America prepares to fight terrorism, these should be very low priorities. Instead of orchestrating Peres-Arafat (or even Bush-Arafat) photo-ops and pseudo-agreements, both the US and Israel will be better served by promoting unilateral - informal but clearly visible - measures that reduce friction, increase security, end support for terrorist groups and begin to transform the conflict.
©2001 - Jerusalem Post