Both the Aqaba and Sharm Al-Sheikh summits were incentives to boost the political movement toward the settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict according to the vision suggested by Bush one year ago and drafted by the international Quartet, to become what is called the Roadmap. Palestinian-Israeli meetings, which had been frozen by the Sharon government for over two years, resumed and both parties held a long and large series of meetings that failed to yield any significant results. The only success achieved was pushing Palestinians and Israelis to resume official meetings and draw the attention of the Palestinians that the Israelis are in no hurry.
In addition, the Palestinian scene witnessed before and after the summits several reactions and activities, and there were different opinions about what happened in both of them and about the Roadmap and its prospects. Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas heard harsh critics about his speech in Aqaba, not only by Hamas or other opposition forces, but also by Fatah cadres, especially because he omitted to demand the release of arrested people and the freezing of settlement building, not to mention that he committed to fight Palestinian terrorism, while ignoring the Israeli one and talked about the Jews’ sufferings during the past decades and ignored over half a century of Palestinian suffering. They disapproved the fact that Abbas did not demand lifting the house arrest imposed on Arafat. Arafat expressed his dissatisfaction with the results of Aqaba, when he wondered ironically “what does removing a caravan from here or there mean?” While criticizing the summit and defending Abbas, he said: “they did not let my brother Abbas read the rest of his speech.” His words were enough to kindle Fatah opposition to the summit even before knowing what happened there. Hamas and the other opposition forces took advantage of this in order to attack even more harshly the premier.
Some Palestinians pinned their hopes in the summits, and dismissed the absence of certain points from Abbas’ speech. They viewed it as an efficient tactic to create a gap between the American and Israeli stances. They thought that by personally intervening, Bush was embarrassing Sharon and forcing him to support the American efforts and bear minimum responsibility for their failure. They expected the American administration would work on reinforcing Abbas and his government in the Palestinian street and imposing on Sharon’s government to relinquish its racist policy against the Palestinians, in addition to freeing arrested people and ending the policy of siege, blockade, killings, destruction and uprooting trees that it has been practicing for over 30 months. The Fatah leaders expected Abbas would succeed in lifting the house arrest imposed on President Arafat, but none of this happened and Palestinians witnessed the opposite of what the optimistic people were hoping for.
Only 48 hours after returning from Aqaba, Sharon ordered the murder of Rantissi, blackmailed and attacked the Abbas government and accused it of failing to fight terrorism. He described its prime minister as a weak person who could not protect himself and needed someone to take care of him. He stressed Israel’s intention on pursuing war on terrorism until Abbas became strong… the Palestinians retaliated and described Sharon as an owl that adores living in destruction. The Israeli army escalated its offensive actions against Palestinians and their properties. They killed around 50 of them in less than two weeks. Al Qassam Brigades, affiliated to Hamas, along with the forces of other factions retaliated and killed around 25 Israelis.
These stances and actions came to certify that the Aqaba summit didn’t change anything in the bilateral relations and rekindled their three-year old bloody conflict instead of stopping it. There are doubts about their ability to settle their problems and stop the deterioration of the situation, without the on-the-ground intervention of a third party to separate them. The Bush administration rushed to contain the situation and sent John Wolf and his team to the region to start working on and implementing the first stage of the Roadmap. He attended the meetings held by the Palestinian Minister of Security Dahlan with the Coordinator of the Affairs of the Region, Amos Gilad, and contributed in bringing the points of view of both parties together regarding the cease-fire. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell went to the region shortly after. On June 20th, he met both the Palestinian and Israeli Premiers in Ariha and Jerusalem hoping to draft an agreement (Gaza and Bethlehem first) about the cease-fire, which would become a common starting point to resume political negotiations about implementing the first stage of the Roadmap, according to which Israel would stop all its operations, murders and arrests, or in other words, stop the war on Palestinians. The Authority undertakes to stop Palestinian military actions against Israel and Israelis everywhere. In case these steps succeed, the Israeli troops will gradually withdraw from the Authority’s territories in Gaza and Ariha to their positions before September 2000.
It is true that Powell returned from his visit without declaring the agreement; but according to Palestinian sources, he helped bring together both parties’ points of view and brought them closer to an agreement. In a meeting held by the Quartet at the foreign ministers level on the Red Sea in Jordan, in the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, Powell presented the progress made toward reaching an agreement and called the committee’s members to activate their role and participate in implementing the Roadmap, knowing that Powell knows that the role of the Quartet in implementing the Roadmap became quasi-paralyzed when Sharon succeeded in getting the Bush administration’s approval to isolate the other parties towards having “the U.S. and not the Quartet will supervise the implementation.”
He thought it was early to state the final judgment on the American efforts to implement the Roadmap, for the American movement is still strong, and those who oppose the cease-fire from both sides are numerous and strong. Sharon’s insistence on pursuing his assassinations policy is evidence that he insists on imposing his own point of view on all parties, even if this leads to sabotaging efforts to reach an agreement and destroying all previous arrangements reached in Washington with Condoleezza Rice and in Jerusalem in the presence of Powell and envoy John Wolf. He was caught red-handed on June 12, when he murdered one of Hamas’ main cadres Sheikh Abdullah Qawassmeh. The Bush administration mildly denounced the murder, before holding Hamas responsible, which encourages Sharon to despise the American stance and cling to his policy.
Nobody in this sensible period of negotiations can assert whether the American efforts are failing, but the success of pushing both parties to agree on a cease-fire is only partial and fickle, especially since Sharon insists that the agreement be a first step towards destroying the infrastructure of the Palestinian “terrorist” opposition forces and disarming them. However, he never talks about the settlers that are heavily armed. He also insists on keeping the right of launching anticipated attacks to what he calls the “human time bombs,” or those who plan and execute suicide attacks.
By keeping pace with Sharon’s policies, claims and impossible conditions related to the agreement, the Bush administration encourages him to prolong the security meetings and negotiations with Palestinians, blackmail them and split the already split Israeli commitments. The American approval of 12 of Sharon’s 14 reservations on the map has complicated the implementation of the first stage, and totally blocked the way to the second and third stages – that is, if the first stage is fully implemented. For example, the Bush administration’s approval (on the fact that both parties abiding to the implementation is the ground for moving to the next stage and not abiding to timetables) means that both parties will remain in their places after implementing the first stage of the map until further notice. And accepting to link the withdrawal of the Israeli army and the redeployment of its units outside the Palestinian Authority’s territories it occupied after September 2000 to the security circumstances mean it will remain there and will humiliate the Palestinian police and security forces before the Palestinian people. Saying that the map does not impose restrictions on the army’s activity against terrorism means for the rightists to keep on killing people, destroying houses, attacking cities and camps and cutting trees where the “destroyers” are hidden.
There is no need to go over why it is impossible to implement the Roadmap in its three stages, under the Sharon government. A close look at the other Israeli reservations raises doubts not only about Sharon’s sincerity to reach a political settlement, but also about the seriousness of the American efforts to implement the Roadmap. If the U.S. administration will not accept the fact that the fate of President Bush’s initiative will be similar to that of the plans of Mitchell, Tenet, Zinni and Burns, the best they can do is to push both sides to agree on a cease-fire and start long negotiations about the implementation of the first stage. I think that the Palestinians – the Authority, opposition and people – need a truce in order to be able to revise their actions and define the advantages and disadvantages of the Intifada. They shall not forget that the Abbas government has become the direct target of Sharon. Before they used to say, admitting one’s mistake is a virtue.