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" " - 6 2004
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http://www.iht.com/frontpage.html

Going it alone won't work

Aaron David Miller

WASHINGTON -- There is an old adage in the Middle East: If you give, you better get; otherwise, there will be no end to the giving.

This street-smart advice, which has underscored Israel's policy toward its Arab neighbors for the past 50 years, seems to have been turned on its head by the recent flurry of unilateral proposals toward the Palestinians, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Herzliya speech outlining Israeli steps should Palestinians refuse to negotiate.

Unilateral actions as a substitute for negotiations cannot work, and will only exacerbate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet for the past two years, the departure point for Israelis' actions toward their Palestinian neighbors has been a unilateral one, whether it is increased settlement activity or unilateral security and economic measures. Suicide terror, aversion to Yasser Arafat, and the absence of a reliable Palestinian security partner have understandably left most Israelis ready to act by themselves.

The most dramatic manifestation of this solo approach has been the security wall. The wall reflects the frustration and fear of large sectors of the Israeli public and political establishment. Its advocates argue that even with only a third of the fence completed, it has already paid off. From April 2002 to December 2002, there were 17 successful attacks in areas that the fence now straddles, resulting in 89 deaths; from January 2003 to November 2003, there were eight attacks resulting in 51 deaths.

Unilateralism not only drives Israel's current policy, it has also influenced Israel's thinking about the future. The peace plan known as the road map has been completely overshadowed by initiatives that exclude any meaningful participation by a Palestinian partner. Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's bombshell interview last week, in which he contemplated large-scale withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, does not include a Palestinian interlocutor. And the much anticipated initiative by Sharon calls for unilateral evacuation of some settlements, unilateral annexation of others and a trial period of negotiations with Palestinians - and, if they fail, unilateral disengagement from additional West Bank territory.

Under current circumstances, unilateralism has a powerful appeal. If it can enhance Israeli security, preserve a Jewish majority and disengage Israel from the Palestinian problem, why not pursue it? What other choice does Israel have?

Indeed, prospects for serious Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at this time are bleak. Yet pursuing unilateral initiatives that change the political and territorial status quo will neither enhance Israel's security nor end the conflict.

First, in the rough-and-tumble world of Arab-Israeli politics, withdrawal without reciprocity is an unmistakable sign of weakness that could easily diminish, not enhance, Israeli deterrence and security. The strategy of marhaliyya, the liberation of Palestine in phases, which is popular among some Palestinians, would be given a boost.

Second, unilateralism simply cannot produce the practical economic, security, and political arrangements required to end the conflict.

Israeli and Palestinian lives and futures are inextricably linked. This strategic predicament can only be resolved by cleverly negotiated and imaginatively conceived bilateral solutions.

Instead, unilateralism will leave problems galore: thousands of West Bank Palestinians within Israel's borders, no rational solutions to Palestinian labor flows, access to markets or shared water resources, and no practical security cooperation. In short, it will leave an angry and alienated Palestinian population with nowhere to go and nothing to lose.

In the end, the only outcome that has a chance of ending the conflict is a two-state solution negotiated with real reciprocity and continuing cooperation and interaction between Israelis and Palestinians. No amount of frustration with Palestinian behavior, nor the allure of unilateral solutions, will change that fact. Sadly, the only question is how long it will take Israelis and Palestinians to reach that point - and whether there will be a two-state solution to negotiate once they do

The writer is president of Seeds of Peace, a nonprofit organization that brings together teenagers from conflict areas. For 25 years he was an adviser on Arab-Israeli negotiations to six U.S. secretaries of state.


Copyright 2003 The International Herald Tribune
IHT - Tuesday, January 6, 2004 - iht.com

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hagalil.com 04-02-2004

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