Sadie Goldman With Jason Proetorius And Ipf Staff
Israel Policy Forum
April 4, 2008 - 6:11pm

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may have brokered the first tangible achievement in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating process since the Annapolis peace conference four months ago.

Bilateral negotiations on the final contours of a Palestinian state are reported to have been gaining momentum recently (Itamar Eichner wrote in Yediot Acharonot on Sunday that chief negotiators Tzippi Livni and Ahmed Qurie have met over 50 times since November). However, those talks are so shrouded in secrecy that they have provided neither a tangible sense of hope nor a significant change in the status quo.

But tangible results are what Rice demanded during her most recent trip to the region. On Sunday, she unveiled an agreement between Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on the concrete steps they will now undertake to implement the Roadmap obligations that they reaffirmed in November.

Both sides have specific obligations to fulfill, including the Israeli removal of West Bank roadblocks and Palestinian progress on securing law and order and stopping terror. But the heart of the Barak-Fayyad plan is its holistic vision that security for Israelis and free movement and economic prosperity for Palestinians are not mutally exclusive. This approach, Rice explained to the press on Sunday, integrates security, movement, and economic issues: “and then comes up with concrete steps that can move all three together in an integrated fashion.”

For progress to be made, each side is reliant, at least in part, on the other’s accomplishments in order to fulfill its own. Without cooperative efforts, furthermore, it is unlikely that much will be achieved.

Israel’s Commitments

The major Israeli commitment in the Barak-Fayyad agreement is the removal of a permanent checkpoint near Jericho and some 50 of the roadblocks that have stopped traffic between the West Bank cities of Jenin, Tulkarem, Kalkiliya, and Ramallah.

Along with other economic projects, like the building of new homes around Ramallah as well as new police stations throughout the West Bank, and allowing more Palestinians to work in Israel. These measures are meant to enable Palestinians to drive to work and earn a living, and to reinvigorate the West Bank economy as a whole.

According to Israeli economist Ephraim Kleiman, “Israel has an interest in not having hungry neighbors.” That interest “is much more important than any moral obligation,” he said in an Associated Press article by Laurie Copans last week. To illustrate his point, Copans gave the example of the Israeli-Palestinian textile industry, “Israeli clothing shops need cheap labor and West Bank Palestinians need work. But Israeli and Palestinian businesses are working together less these days because of distrust and ongoing violence.” Palestinian-Israeli cooperation has been further hampered by travel restrictions that have stopped Palestinian workers from getting to work and Palestinian goods from getting to Israel.

The easing of travel restrictions that began on Monday could make a significant change in Palestinian lives. But if they also result in an increase in terror attacks (in Israel or in the West Bank where a Palestinian nearly stabbed two Israelis on Monday), checkpoints would pop right back up and the whole process would be threatened.

Palestinian Commitments

For this reason, greater freedom of movement is planned to go hand-in-hand with greater Palestinian control of policing and maintaining law and order. In addition to removing roadblocks around Jenin, for example, the Fayyad-Barak plan heralded the deployment to Jenin of 600 Palestinian Authority policemen who are currently being trained under U.S. supervision. These officers, in addition to the Palestinian police previously deployed in Tulkarem and Nablus, are charged with enforcing law and order and fighting armed gangs.

As there is greater order, the plan details, there will be greater freedom of movement and, therefore, more economic prosperity. In Rice’s words, the Jenin plan “gets at one element of the Roadmap, which is increasing Palestinian security, competence, and authority, and it begins to get at the questions of improvement of movement and access and economic life for people.”

The Palestinian Roadmap requirements, which entail streamlining the Palestinian security forces, the demilitarization of armed groups, and effective intelligence and police work to stop terror attacks, will not happen without Israeli-Palestinian coordination. The pending Israeli transfer of over 100 military vehicles, including 25 Russian made armored personnel carriers to the Palestinian security forces, is one such move.

For genuine and lasting security, however, more direct coordination is also necessary. According to a report on Saturday by the Palestinian news agency Maan, Jenin will be policed, at least in the short term, according to the “Nablus model,” (which has been popularly referred to as PA police in the day and the IDF at night). In this arrangement, Maan cites, “the Palestinian police will be tasked to enforce law and order while the Israeli army will continue to have the right to arrest Palestinians…wanted for activities that are hostile to Israel.”

The Trump Card

The plan for securing Jenin while easing restrictions around it exemplifies Rice’s inclusive vision that “Israel and the Palestinians together will be able to do some things that are meaningful both for security and for economic viability.” Glaringly absent from her remarks on shared responsibility in the West Bank, however, is the one party that could torpedo the whole process—Hamas—and the half of the Palestinian population that lives in Gaza.

The Barak-Fayyad initiative is concentrated mostly on improving conditions in the West Bank. It is compatible with the Bush Administration’s policy of isolating Hamas-run Gaza while engaging the Abbas-Fayyad government in the West Bank. According to an April 1 Bitterlemons article by the Palestinian political analyst Ghassan Khatib, “the strategy seeks to make the ‘West Bank model’ more attractive to Palestinians than the Gaza model. . . by imposing political and economic sanctions on Hamas in Gaza and at the same time providing increased economic aid to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.”

Nine months after Hamas’ takeover of Gaza, however, Gazan desperation has not weakened Hamas but rather entrenched it, little progress has been made in the West Bank, and there is a consensus among Middle East experts that the ‘West Bank model’ has backfired. The argument is no longer about whether to deal with Hamas, but how to deal with Hamas: through military confrontation or through dialogue.

This question has a lot to do with whether rockets continue to fall on Israel from Gaza or whether some sort of Hamas-Israel ceasefire takes hold. In Israel, there have been growing calls for talking to Hamas, if only to secure the release of POW Gilad Shalit and to stop the attacks. Even the State Department raised this issue in its blog entitled, “Should the U.S. Engage Hamas in the Peace Process between the Israelis and Palestinians?” (For Israel Policy Forum’s position on Hamas see the letter below).

Focusing on the Achievable

During her trip to the region, Rice avoided the “Hamas issue” and instead focused on the practical steps needed to provide Israelis with security, improve the lives of Palestinians, and strengthen the Abbas-Fayyad government, which supports the peace process.

Those steps, she declared, necessitate that Israelis and Palestinians work in parallel and in coordination. It also means, she said in a press roundtable on Sunday, that the United States, must “be much more systematic about what is being promised and what is being done.” While she admitted that “we actually haven’t been monitoring and verifying for the last two and a half years,” she stressed that the Bush Administration would be an active monitor of the Fayyad-Barak plan. Her presence in the region secured that plan, and only a continued presence will assure its sucess.


Israel Policy Forum Letter to Secretary of State Rice:

March 21, 2008

Dear Madame Secretary:

We are writing to urge you to continue and intensify your efforts to end the violence along the Israel-Gaza border and to help establish conditions that would enable Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas to implement any agreements they may have reached in their bilateral discussions. Clearly, until all violence ends, any Israeli-Palestinian agreement, no matter how acceptable to the respective sides, will languish on the shelf.

With your determined and sustained personal involvement, a Hamas-Israel cease-fire and a border agreement among Israelis, Egyptians, and Palestinians could be reached. This could facilitate the conditions for reaching a Final Agreement on Permanent Status by the end of the year.

This requires finding a way to bring Hamas into the process. While we share your concerns over direct engagement with Hamas, we believe that it is impossible to achieve an agreement on any of the key issues -- including the release of Corporal Shalit -- without engaging Hamas through some means, simply because Hamas is the governing authority in Gaza.

Furthermore, no progress can be made with a divided Palestinian polity. Abbas cannot make peace alone. Nor can Israel reach a binding agreement with the Palestinian Authority while at war with the de facto Palestinian government in Gaza. Israelis cannot be expected to make the sacrifices needed to establish peace if Hamas, the most violent actor, is not included, at least tacitly.

Accordingly, we support your actions encouraging Arab states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar or whichever interlocutor you deem appropriate, to determine Hamas’s willingness to establish a cease-fire and to help stabilize the current situation. We say this with the recognition that -- as in the case of Israel's indirect dealings with Hamas to free Gilad Shalit -- no progress can be made if Hamas is totally excluded from the process.

Should a ceasefire be established, we urge you to craft a new regime for protecting the ceasefire, either through international monitors, a multinational force on the Gaza borders, or at least through better coordination among Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinians. A ceasefire must not only be created; it must be sustained.

This is a moment of decision. An immediate end to the Israel-Hamas violence and a rejuvenated peace process are of critical importance to the Israeli and Palestinian people, and to American interests in the Middle East. This is an essential step on the difficult road leading to Israel living in peace and security alongside a stable and peaceful Palestinian state.

The Bush administration should act decisively to help bring an end to the deaths and suffering on both sides and to immediately revive the peace process. Otherwise, the initial gains of Annapolis and the President's trip to the region in January will be lost, and the current American policy will have failed.


Seymour D. Reich Peter A. Joseph Nick Bunzl

President Chair Executive Director


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017