Middle East Roundtable /
A Palestinian View:
Fig leaf or prelude to progress?
by Ghassan Khatib
Optimists on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are basing
their hopes on a number of recent changes. These include the Labor-Likud
coalition in Israel, the new-old administration in Washington, the absence
of late President Yasser Arafat and the smooth transition and upcoming
elections in Palestine.
The coalition in Israel seems to be the least significant among these,
though it can be considered an indicator of possible change in Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's speech at the Herzliya Conference did
not include anything new in substance, but it did set a slightly different
tone, especially with this right wing leader's reference to the problems
resulting from Israelis occupying another people (this new tone falls short
of significant change since he did not refer to the problems of controlling
another people's land).
From a Palestinian perspective there is less excitement about the coalition
than there may be from an Israeli perspective. One reason is the previous
experience of such a Sharon-led coalition, which did not mark any serious
change in the positions and practices of Sharon's leadership. Indeed, the
previous coalition government including Sharon and Labor leader Shimon Peres
was really a continuity of the Likud government, only with a better PR image
because of Peres' high international standing.
The coalition comes at a relatively significant time, a time of a possible
unilateral withdrawal of the Israeli army and settlers from a few
settlements in Gaza and the northern West Bank. This plan, if implemented as
declared, is not going to move things forward. According to the World Bank
report published last month, it will rather lead to further decline in
economic indicators, including income, growth and unemployment.
The plan can, however, be developed in a way that can serve the cause of
peace if it is put into a more comprehensive context and is no longer
implemented unilaterally. For that to happen it would need to include three
additional components. 1) The withdrawal from Gaza should happen in parallel
with a full cessation of all settlement activities in the West Bank. 2)
There should be a full end to the occupation in Gaza including ending
Israeli control over borders and allowing the free movement of goods and
people through the sea and airport. 3) Free movement between and inside the
West Bank and Gaza must be allowed.
Add these three elements to the plan and the overall situation can improve
politically, economically and security-wise, and might even prepare the
ground for a resumption of negotiations.
If the Labor party, after joining the government, is not able to develop
this unilateral plan in the direction indicated above, then Labor's
inclusion in the coalition will be a harmful development because it will
simply serve to strengthen the current Israeli leadership that is
responsible for getting us into the mess we are in.
This is a significant juncture in the history of the conflict, and many
people see opportunities to move ahead. But an increase in the international
efforts by the Quartet countries and on the basis of the roadmap will be
timely and useful. The first phase of the roadmap provides the comprehensive
package that is necessary to move things forward because it includes
political components, such as stopping settlement expansions; economic
components, such as increasing foreign aid and removing Israeli-imposed
obstacles to economic recovery in the Palestinian territories; and finally
security components, a commitment by both Israelis and Palestinians to
simultaneously stop acts of violence against each other.- Published
20/12/2004 (c) bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and
bitterlemons-international.org. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of
labor, acting minister of planning and has been a political analyst and
media contact for many years.
Bitterlemons-international.org is an internet
forum for an array of world perspectives on the Middle East and its
specific concerns. It 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