Truce Not Enough To Salvage The Roadmap

by Mamdouh Nofal on 30/11/2003

Following a long period of stagnancy, a local, regional and international political activity surfaced to deal with the peace process, in the hope of reaching a new truce between Palestinians and Israelis and putting an end to the violent conflict that has been going for over three years. Mediators are trying to resume negotiations as far as the Roadmap. The U.S. administration encouraged the Egyptian leadership to pursue the action. The head of the Egyptian Intelligence, General Omar Suleiman, went to Ramallah and met the Head of Shabak in Israel to examine ways of reaching a truce and resuming negotiations. Minister Suleiman also met with the Palestinian President and ignored Israel’s position of boycotting whoever meets Arafat. In Ramallah, he invited all sides of the Palestinian leadership, in power and in the opposition, to hold a round of national dialogue in Cairo about the situation in the region and the internal Palestinian relation in addition to the truce, scheduled for early next month.
The Egyptian step was accompanied by Sharon’s statement saying he was ready to meet Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Qureih. During the same period, the Security Council unanimously adopted, on November 11, a draft resolution presented by Russia supporting the Roadmap and calling upon the two parties to implement it. On November 20, President Bush, speaking from London, harshly criticized Sharon’s government accusing it of humiliating the Palestinians, pursuing the building of the wall and expanding settlements. He reiterated his stance against Yasser Arafat and invited the European states to boycott him. Are the truce, the Security Council and the planned Palestinian-Israeli meetings capable of saving the peace process and bringing about the implementation of the Roadmap? Is the Bush administration convinced by Mahmoud Abbas’ position voiced in Aqaba, according to which a cease fire is better than an internal Palestinian war, which results are not guaranteed? Are Bush and his chiefs of staff ready to force Israel to respect the truce and stop their raids, assassinations, settlement building, and the construction of the wall on Palestinian territory?
According to the information at hand, the U.S. administration is asking Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Qureih to achieve four steps before forcing Sharon’s government to take any measure on the ground. Yet, the required steps are no different from those required by Mahmoud Abbas during the first part of the Roadmap, and they are: total cease fire in all regions, closing tunnels used for arms smuggling, preventing the bombing of cities and settlements, detaining whoever does not abide by these steps. Fourth, taking the necessary measures, such as establishing check points. In case the Palestinians implement these steps, the U.S. administration would compel Sharon’s government to put an end to the settlements, remove illegal settlements, end the assassination operations, withdraw the Israeli army from cities and open the roads as well as put an end to the blockade. The Palestinians have understood that the U.S. pressure included putting an end to building the racial fence in the Palestinian territories.
Communications and statements showed that the positions of all parties concerned by the truce are optimistic, and based upon this optimism the Egyptian delegation pursued its actions. It even received some Palestinian primary approvals to take part in the dialogue. Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Qureih met the leaders of the opposition in Gaza, yet he didn’t meet some parties participating in the authority and in the liberation organization. Arafat condemned this move and the parties issued communiqués against him.
During the meeting between Palestinian Prime Minister and the Egyptian delegation, Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they were ready to spare civilians on the two sides, while national and Islamic powers refused to announce a unilateral free truce as the one declared during Abbas’ tenure. Palestinian Prime Minister confirmed to the parties that he refused the idea of a free truce, and that he is holding to the principle of exchange in the truce and in the Roadmap. This means in his government’s point of view to stop seizing lands, building the fence and settlements, preventing assassinations, invasions, detentions etc… as well as withdrawing from the cities and releasing Palestinian detainees with no distinction between them.
I guess that General Suleiman’s optimism is based on good grounds, and it is expected that he will not face great obstacles as far as reaching a truce. All parties with no exception need a truce, even if temporary.
The U.S. administration needs to waste time to be devoted to presidential elections, to fight international terrorism, to settle embarrassing situations witnessed by its army in Iraq, and to ease the growing critics of the Arab and Muslim world because it is taking Likudniks Israel’s part and because of its great mistakes in Iraq.
It seems that Sharon and his government need a truce in the current situation more than the other parties. It eased its political and security conditions, and doesn’t condition the Palestinian Prime Minister to be independent from Yasser Arafat and to control all security institutions. These institutions should be away from the control of the source of terrorism, Arafat.
Yet if local, regional and international factors are combined to a truce, it doesn’t mean that conditions exist for a long or permanent truce. It doesn’t also mean that the truce is capable of salvaging the peace process. This truce might be violated not only because of Israeli bad intentions and the absence of a control tool, but also because of the weakness of Palestinian security institutions and their incapability in preventing radical groups from violating the truce; in addition to the lack of a political horizon and the fact that the Roadmap is reaching the fate of the Mitchell and Tenet plans, and all other initiatives. Bush administration’s reiteration that the Roadmap still exists and its insistence on implementing it cancels its approval on 12 of the 14 conditions imposed by Sharon, and its decision to delay the return of the U.S. envoy John Wolf, concerned by pursuing the Roadmap, all these factors confirm that the administration is not serious.
Sharon’s exaggeration while talking about the importance of the Roadmap shows that he doesn’t care for Security Council resolution 1515 related to its implementation and to the voting of the U.S. envoy in favor of the decision. Sharon didn’t seriously take the critics proposed by Bush in Britain for two reasons: First, Bush and his administration being busy with presidential elections, and Sharon’s knowledge that they will not jeopardize their relation with Israel. Second, Sharon’s feeling that the U.S. position is not serious.
Following exhaustive negotiations, Sharon might propose to the Palestinians the removal of some dispersed settlements and might allow Palestinian Prime Minister to talk about some painful concessions that Sharon is planning to offer implying that he will expulse the Netsarim settlement. But Sharon will not remove one settlement, which might contradict his ideological beliefs and his security principles. If it is hard to revive the peace process with a government that represents settlers, and has no horizon for the implementation of the Roadmap’s second step, then the high Palestinian interests impose on Muslim and national powers to decrease casualties, put an end to the deterioration and accept a truce, which implementation would be controlled by a third party