Middle East Roundtable /
Edition 4 Volume 1
AN ISRAELI VIEW:
All three are unrealistic
by Yossi Alpher
Of the three leaders whose vision of a Palestinian
state we are examining--Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, United States
President George W. Bush, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon--Bush's
vision of a Palestinian state is the clearest. On June 24, 2002, he stated
that "the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 will be ended through a
settlement . . . with Israeli withdrawal to secure and recognized borders."
On April 14, 2004, he added the "establishment of a Palestinian state and
the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel," and
indicated that Israel should be allowed to annex the major settlement blocs.
From an Israeli standpoint, this is a realistic formula. While it is not as
detailed as the Clinton plan of December 2000, and though it prejudges
issues best left by a US president to the parties themselves to resolve, the
real problem with the Bush vision is not its content so much as the absence
of a concerted presidential determination to pressure the parties into
reaching any settlement at all.
Arafat's vision is the least clear. Ostensibly he aspires to a two-state
solution based on the 1967 lines, including in Jerusalem. This is what the
now defunct Oslo process was all about. But in the course of final status
negotiations in 2000-2001, and particularly since their collapse in failure,
Arafat has presented positions on the Temple Mount/Harem al-Sharif and the
refugee right of return issue that call into question his commitment to any
genuine two-state solution, which must be based on at least an acquiescence
in Israel's self-definition as a Jewish state.
By denying any Jewish historic/religious link whatsoever to the Temple
Mount, Arafat appears to be saying (and he has said this in other ways many
times) that the Jews as a people have no legitimate roots in Eretz
Yisrael/Palestine. By insisting that Israel recognize the right of return of
1948 refugees, he is understood by many Israelis to be undermining the
foundations of a two-state solution based on the recommendation by the
United Nations in 1947 (General Assembly Resolution 181) that there should
come into existence separate Jewish and Arab states in mandatory Palestine.
An unwarranted admission by Israel that it was "born in sin" is hardly a
healthy foundation for a future two-state relationship.
Arafat's real intentions regarding a resolution of the conflict are the
subject of intense debate in Israel. His tolerance for the use of violence
against Israel--particularly his encouragement of "martyrdom
operations"--complicates the issue. Probably the ultimate reason why no
clear determination can be made is that his penchant for lying has destroyed
his credibility, and not only in Israeli circles. Consequently, making sense
of Arafat's position is no longer a political imperative, but rather an
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's position appears to be changing. Over
the years Sharon consistently presented a map of final status based on
minimum territory and maximum fragmentation of the Palestinian
entity--which, in recent years, he has agreed to call a state. Settlements
were the primary vehicle for fragmenting the land and ensuring an ongoing
Israeli grip on the main roads and hilltops, as well as on greater
Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, and the western Samaria settlement blocs.
But Sharon's readiness to evacuate the entirety of the Gaza Strip indicates
that he has softened his approach. Until very recently, Sharon argued that
Gaza would be divided into three Palestinian enclaves that were separated by
the settlements of Netzarim and Kfar Darum and reduced in size by the
remaining settlements. Moreover, the projected removal of four isolated
settlements in northern Samaria in the West Bank points to a possible
readiness to afford the mountain heartland area a degree of genuine
territorial continuity through the removal of additional settlements further
Sharon still appears to insist on holding onto the Jordan Valley, thereby
radically reducing the Palestinian land mass and cutting it off from direct
contact with the Arab world. Yet in Gaza he has indicated that he is
inclined, in cooperation with Egypt, eventually to abandon the Philadelphi
road and allow Gazans unfettered access to the Egyptian Sinai. Judging by
pronouncements from Ehud Olmert, the deputy prime minister who in recent
months has "fronted" for some of Sharon's new positions, even Sharon's
approach to greater Jerusalem may be softening.
While Sharon's vision appears to be changing for the better, it is hardly a
blueprint for a successful two-state solution. Moreover Sharon, like Arafat,
has a credibility problem; many who have watched him perform over the
decades, and particularly in the past three years, still expect him to
sabotage his own disengagement plan.
This analysis leads us once again to the recognition that none of the three
relevant leaders has a realistic peace strategy, meaning both a realistic
map and the necessary determination to implement it. One can only hope that
Bush in a second term, or Kerry if elected, will evince that determination.
Sharon's views may be evolving, but for the time being--and assuming Sharon
is serious--they appear to be adapted primarily to unilateral action. And
Arafat appears to be a lost cause.
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and
bitterlemons-international.org. He is former director of the Jaffee Center
for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former senior adviser to
PM Ehud Barak.
Bitterlemons-international.org aspires to engender
greater understanding about the Middle East region and open a new common
space for world thinkers and political leaders to present their viewpoints
and initiatives on the region. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can
be reached at