A PLAN FOR PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST
by Prima Soho
American Reporter Correspondent
DALLAS, Tex., April 13, 2002 -- Editor's Note The following broad outline for a peace plan for the Middle East is the work of Dallas-based telecommunications entrepreneur Prima Soho, a graduate ofthe London School of Economics and a Catholic whose childhood was spent inLatin America, Europe and the Middle East.
The American Reporter believes that the Palestinian Authority will present elements of such a plan to Secretary of State Powell during or shortly after his meeting withChairman Yasser Arafat on Sunday, April 14. As such, it may represent the last chance for peace in a regionwhose conflicts, though ancient, are not yet beyond resolution.
Despite repeated attempts by the international community, efforts to end the devastating cycle of violence in the Middle East have thus far failed.
Palestinians live under siege and large-scale military attacks,Israelis live in constant fear of the next suicide attack.
Thanks to Sharon's extreme policies, the Palestinian Authority isvirtually dismantled, incapable of dispensing basic social, political orsecurity services.
From Europe, the Atlantic and beyond the Persian Gulf, anger at Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people, and seeming U.S. complicity is threatening to destabilize the region as a whole.
Eight years after the signing of the Oslo accord, and less than two years after Israelis and Palestinians engaged in intensive negotiations to end their conflict, the two sides are closer to all-out war than they have been for decades. If the international community does not promptly engage in athorough re-examination of its approach and jettison some of the conventional tools upon which it has come to rely, there is every reason to believe that the region will slide further into chaos. Israeli hard-liners may seek to exploit new-found opportunities, challengemoderation and open up a morass of problems in the area - all of whichwould have grave humanitarian and strategic implications.
While there are signs that such a reassessment may be under way,the international community needs to act promptly and boldly to hope tomake a difference.
What most of the current initiatives share is an emphasis on an incremental, step-by-step approach that seeks to rebuild the fabric of trust, resume security cooperation and renew the bargain originally struckat Oslo: increased security for Israel in exchange for increased controlover their daily lives for the Palestinians with recognized boundaries.
Its focus is on getting Israelis and Palestinians to start once more from the bottom up before they can re-engage on the most contentious issues that divide them: the final borders, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of the Palestinian refugees.
But more than eight years of a see-sawing peace process have severely undermined faith in the type of incremental process that began in 1993. As seen by many Israelis, that process entailed Israeli territorial concessions without any tangible Palestinian concessions in return. In the meantime, Israeli policy in the Palestinian-controlled territory encouraged radical groups which distrusted Israeli intentions.
For their part, Palestinians believe the process left them without any leverage while Israel retained all the cards - basic control over land, water and security; a free hand to expand settlements or demolish Palestinian homes; ultimate power to determine the scope of territorial withdrawals; and no monitoring international body to ensure compliance.
In short, both sides have come to view Oslo as a process wherethey sacrifice a great deal for little in return - for Israelis, relinquishing land in exchange for an illusory promise of peace; for Palestinians, relinquishing the right to resist in exchange for an unenforceable promise to end the occupation.
The disagreements in the Camp David summit in July 2000, the premature abandonment of the Taba follow up, by then Israeli prime minister Barak, and the ensuing eighteen months of violence have only accentuated and accelerated the profound political changes on both sides.
For Palestinians, the redrawing of the political landscape is dramatic. Faith in a negotiated solution is rapidly receding as younger, more militant activists are dominating the political scene and placing their hope in guerrilla warfare, aggravated by the devastating instrument of suicide bombs directed against Israelis. Far from wanting to return to the process inaugurated at Oslo, they hold to the view that only once Israel has agreed to end the occupation and withdraw from the land it conquered in 1967 will they lay down their arms.
In Israel, angry public opinion questions whether Palestinians will ever agree to live in peace, outside the June 4, 1967 borders, and wavers between its desire for a harsh military response - including the forcible transfer of Palestinians - and its yearning for an agreement that will end the conflict, even it means full territorial withdrawal.
As the situation has steadily deteriorated over the past several months, initiatives that once might have been capable of stabilizing the situation - most notably, the recommendations included in the Mitchell Report - have become increasingly detached from the realities on theground. With the virtual collapse of the Palestinian Authority by the Israeli assault on Palestinian security organs, the notions of real confidence building, wide-ranging Palestinian security steps or cooperation with Israel have simply become out of reach.
In the current environment, a successful initiative must amount to more than the efforts by General Zinni, the U.S. Special Envoy, to reach a ceasefire or to rebuild confidence. And it must mark a new departure for U.S. policy, with a commitment to a specific final political settlementplan, not just to a process that might produce one. The first step is for a fair and comprehensive final politicalsettlement plan to be laid on the table by the international community.
The vicious cycle in which Palestinians will not lay down their arms until they are persuaded that their political aspirations will be addressed, and Israelis will not contemplate political concessions until the violence has died down, can only be broken by the collectivepresentation of such a plan by key international actors.
Such a plan should be agreed to by the United States and European Union, supported by Russia and the key Arab states (Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia), and delivered to both sides by a Contact Group led by the United States and consisting of these players plus the United Nations Secretariat. The plan itself should be based on the progress that was made during the negotiations conducted at Taba in January 2001, taking account, as well, of subsequent pronouncements by the United Nations Security Council (Resolution 1397 of 12 March 2002) and the Arab League (Beirut Declaration of 28 March 2002). It should have these key elements:
It is very important how the international community handles the issue of property taken from Christians and Moslems and given to Jews. A very dangerous precedent could take place, mainly legitimizing what essentially is religious discrimination by the international community.
By building a broad international coalition around such a plan, the United States can cut through the paralyzing distrust and help break the current deadlock, building on its own credibility with Israel.
The second step is to achieve a lasting ceasefire. Of course any kind of commitment to this, and to end violence, is worth having at anytime, and there should be no let-up in attempts to achieve this.
But the chances of serious promises of this kind being made and honored will be much enhanced if the international community can quickly put on the table a fair and comprehensive final political settlement proposal. This will provide an incentive to Palestinian to end their uprising. An effective ceasefire will make it more likely that moderate Israelis will contemplate significant concessions.
The third step would be for an on-the-ground Implementation and Verification Group to be dispatched to help sustain the ceasefire, verify its implementation, register complaints and assist in resolving local disputes. In the right political context, an on-the-ground third party presence can be an important ingredient in stabilizing the situation and solidifying the ceasefire while the political efforts carry on. To be successful, however, it will need to be adapted to the complex realitieson the ground and attuned to the fears and aspirations of the two sides.
Israel traditionally has been wary of any internationalinvolvement, having massive military power and American support biased intheir favor. The Palestinians are interested in a third party presence precisely to the extent that it will herald an internationalization of the process and get more actors involved in the political discussions. Their main concern is to gain protection from Israeli attacks, intimidation and restrictions on movement.
All this means that the mandate, role and size of the third party presence cannot be precisely prescribed in advance, and will need to evolve as the whole settlement process moves forward. But it is an important element in the equation, and deserves more attention than it has so far received from policy makers.
The hardening of positions on both sides and the toll of eighteen months of ever-escalating violence severely diminish the prospect for success of any initiative at this point. But without a sustained and concerted political/security initiative by the international community,with the United States at its head, the further escalation and regionalspread of the conflict is a virtual certainty.
To The United States:
To The Broader International Community:
(a) monitor and verify implementation of a ceasefire(with the necessary authority given in highly specificterms);
(b) provide a forum for airing complaints;
(d) serve as a liaison between Israelis and Palestinians; and
To The Palestinian Authority::
To The Government of Israel:
Prima Soho can be reached at email@example.com