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From Unilateralism to Multilateralism: Suggestions to Rescue Middle East Peace

Hanan Ashrawi

This article appears on the web site of MIFTAH

In one fell blow, US President George W. Bush, having carried out a revolutionary reversal in American policy towards the Middle East, “succeeded” in subverting not only the road map, but any prospects for peace in the region.  By lending legitimacy to the Israeli occupation’s lawlessness and violations of international law, the US has ultimately negated UN resolutions, including 194, 242, 338, 1397, international humanitarian law, and all other legal foundations on which a viable and just peace must be based.

By fully accommodating Sharon and his extremist government, the US is preempting and negatively prejudging permanent status issues—primarily boundaries, settlements, Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and water rights.

Furthermore, President Bush has become complicit with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon in completely excluding the Palestinians as partners in negotiations that determine their future.  Ironically, Bush thereby gave himself license not only to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians, but also to compromise and relinquish their inalienable rights.

His endorsement of Sharon’s unilateralism and control is in effect a significant acquiescence to the transformation of Gaza into a massive prison, entirely besieged by Israel, with no attributes of sovereignty or independence.  Israel will maintain full control of airspace, territorial waters, and crossing points of Gaza.  In addition, the Gaza Bantustan will be cut off from the rest of the world and, most devastatingly, from the rest of Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Granting unqualified support to Sharon, Bush implicitly allowed Israel to extort the “right” to carry out incursions into Gaza and to maintain military presence there, as it sees fit, while simultaneously accepting the claim that Gaza is no longer “occupied territory."  The implications are enormous in that Israel will avoid any obligations or accountability in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention.  Conversely, the Palestinian Authority will be held responsible for issues (most prominently security) it has been rendered incapable of controlling.

The US has effectively subverted the road map and replaced it with Sharon’s designs to introduce a long term interim phase in which Israel can have a free hand to create irreversible facts and finally eradicate the possibility of establishing a viable Palestinian state on the June 4th, 1967, lines.  In this context, Sharon has managed to transform the Quartet into a US monopoly, sidelining the remaining trio.  He has also rid himself of the Palestinian “demographic nightmare” as well as the “security” concerns of the densely populated Gaza Strip.  He demanded and received “payback” from the Americans in the form of territorial and demographic concessions in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, to serve Israel’s expansionist policy.

Israel manipulated the US in such a way as to gain retroactive legitimacy for its illegal settlements, while pressing ahead with its punitive wall of separation and land acquisition.  In addition, Israel got tacit American approval for its assassination policy (which encouraged Sharon to threaten the life of the elected Palestinian President Yasser Arafat), as well as for its siege and fragmentation of the occupied territories.  Furthermore, by making Sharon the promise of not allowing any other peace initiatives, including the Arab initiative adopted during the Arab League summit in Beirut, Bush passed up the historic opportunity of achieving a comprehensive peace in the region.

In an unprecedented policy shift, the US has become a partner in Israel’s illegal occupation, disqualifying itself as an evenhanded peace broker.  It has further inflamed Palestinian, Arab, Islamic and even global public opinion by adopting such irresponsible policies that betray total ignorance of regional realities, thereby undermining its global credibility and standing.  Most seriously, the US has fed the flames of extremism, radicalization, fundamentalism and violence, hence contributing to the causes of terrorism rather than eliminating them.

Given all of the above, is there any room for rectification or damage control?

It is incumbent upon the international community to address and redress the negative ramifications of such shortsightedness.  The fact that the Quartet will be meeting in New York on May 4th, requires a swift formulation of remedial measures starting with the convening of an international conference to rearticulate a global commitment to a negotiated settlement that would bring about complete Israeli withdrawal and the establishment of a viable and independent Palestinian state on the June 4th, 1967, lines.  This conference must also reaffirm the legal terms of reference for any peace process and ensure that no permanent status issue will be prejudged or preempted by any unilateral actions or declarations by the parties and the sponsors alike.

The Quartet can issue its own statement of assurances and guarantees to the Palestinians in order to undo part of the damage done by Bush’s assurances to Sharon.  It is also the responsibility of the Quartet to incorporate any Israeli withdrawal within the road map as part of an ongoing peace process with a self sustaining momentum and clear steps of implementation.  In addition, the Quartet must enter into negotiations with the Palestinians in order to work out a concrete plan for the empowerment of the PA, in order to be able to subsequently undertake its responsibilities and the takeover of Gaza.  Security issues can not be addressed apart from economic and political contexts and measures.  Part of this empowerment includes control over the Palestinian airport, seaport and land crossing points in cooperation with the international community and with Egypt concerning the Philadelphia border in particular.

It would be inadvisable to allow for the continued exclusion of the legitimate Palestinian Authority or to maintain the possibility of internal conflict or collapse.

However, the continued erosion of the PA’s power and standing and its inability to deliver to its own people, let alone to the international community, would require some form of third party intervention in the form of transitional arrangements.  Such issues as water, sanitation, power, trade, and labor, among others require full coordination and partnership with a Palestinian counterpart.  If the PA continues to be immobilized, then it should accept an international or multinational coalition to undertake such tasks, as well as overall responsibility for Gaza as a temporary measure.  Israel would, therefore, cede Gaza to an ad hoc international body (a coalition of the willing) that would in turn and at the appropriate time hand over full responsibility to the Palestinian side in the context of a viable and sustained peace process.

In light of rapidly deteriorating conditions on the ground, there is an urgent need to transform potential disaster into an opportunity for hope and peace.  This is a real test and challenge for the Quartet in their upcoming meeting.

[April 24, 2004]

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