So, the fog is lifting, and the mist is clearing. Or, perhaps it is the smoke — as in smoke and mirrors…
Remarks made by Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat after Friday’s meeting in Jerusalem between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) seem to indicate that the Middle East peace conference (or “meeting”) that the U.S. has talked about convening in Annapolis in late November (or later) is not a new, improved initiative at all.
No, it now seems to be the same old thing — another attempt at implementing the 2003 Road Map, sketched out by the U.S. following George Bush’s 2002 vision of a two-state solution (which would necessarily mean the creation of a Palestinian State), and of course following the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq (which aroused considerable regional reaction).
Just to refresh our memories: the Palestinian leadership rushed to accept the Road Map — however unhappy and anxious they were about it, they realized that not going along would make their immediate situation much worse. The then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, however, smiled, sighed, dawdled, and dragged his feet — then submitted a list of 14 “objections” to the Road Map, without formally objecting in so many words.
Immediately prior, and during, her last visit to the region a week ago, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice suddenly began talking about the need to implement first-stage requirements of the Road Map — before the Annapolis peace conference (or “meeting”). That remark alone is enough to put in serious doubt any imminent convening of this proposed Annapolis event, despite the “diplomatic capital” that Rice is investing.
A summary of elements of Phase I of the Road Map (which were supposed to be accomplished by May 2003), also published in Haaretz, requires the following: “In Phase 1, the Palestinians immediately undertake an unconditional cessation of violence according to the steps outlined below: such action should be accomplished by supportive measures undertaken by Israel. Palestinians and Israelis resume security cooperation based on the Tenet work plan to end violence, terrorism, and incitement through restructured and effective Palestinian security services. Palestinians undertake comprehensive political reform in preparation for statehood, including drafting a Palestinian constitution, and free, fair and open elections upon the basis of those measures. Israel takes all necessary steps to help normalize Palestinian life. Israel withdraws from Palestinian areas occupied from September 28, 2000 and the two sides restore the status quo that existed at that time, as security performance and cooperation progress. Israel also freezes all settlement activity, consistent with the Mitchell report.”
The elements of the Road Map published in Haaretz newspaper can be found here.
See the Road Map “elements” on our page here.
Haaretz’s correspondent Avi Issacharoff is reporting, apparently after both attending a post-“summit” press conference on Friday and then speaking directly with Erekat, that “both parties agreed that the first stage of the road map must be implemented immediately. He said that while the Palestinian side already has implemented some parts of the first stage and will implement others shortly, the Israeli side has not kept up its side of the bargain: halting construction in the settlements and withdrawing to the September 28, 2000 borders. He said the PA is about to deploy about 500 police officers in the Nablus area. Erekat [also] told Haaretz that part of the withdrawal to the September 2000 borders necessitates the dismantling of 16 roadblocks, including those in the following locations: Qalandiyah (south of Ramallah), Tarqumiya (west of Hebron), Hawara (south of Nablus), Hamra (in the Jordan Valley), southern entrance of Jericho, Wadi Nar (northeast of Bethlehem) and Beit Furiq (east of Nablus)”. The Haaretz report on Sa’eb Erekat’s revelations about Friday’s “summit” meeting between Olmert and Abbas is posted here.
The day before the “summit”, according to another Haaretz report, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni indicated (following her meeting Thursday morning with Condoleeza Rice’s proxy in the region, U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley) that “Israel will not remove illegal outposts in the West Bank as long as the Palestinians have yet to fulfill their security obligations as part of the road map … ‘This is a complex process and we must handle it wisely in order for us to reach agreements after which the Palestinians will carry out their security responsibilities in the road map, and only then can Israel fulfill its part of the understandings’, Livni said Thursday”. The Haaretz report on Livni’s remarks on Thursday is here.
The Palestinian independent news agency Ramattan is reporting from Ramallah on Sunday that “Regarding Abbas-Olmert meetings, [the Secretary General of Palestinian Presidency Tayyeb Abdurraheem] Aburrahim said in an interview on Palestinian TV that the last meeting, last Friday, was a ‘brain storming’ on some issues especially deploying Palestinian security men in the West Bank”. The Ramattan News Agency report from Abbas’ aide on Friday’s “summit” meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister is here.
Meanwhile, Palestinian officials in Ramallah have reportedly said over the weekend that “The Palestinian Authority government is planning to cut the number of policemen in the West Bank by half … The decision was in the context of the PA government’s efforts to reconstruct and reform the Fatah-controlled security forces, the officials explained. But the move, which will leave about 30,000 policemen unemployed, has drawn sharp criticism from some Fatah leaders and security officials, who warned over the weekend that it would trigger a ‘revolt’ against the PA leadership and destabilize security in the West Bank. A senior Fatah official said that it was ‘inconceivable’ that the PA would reduce the number of its policemen while Hamas was recruiting more men to its security forces in the Gaza Strip. ‘I don’t know whose idea this is, but it’s a very dangerous one that will only weaken Fatah in the West Bank’, he said. ‘Instead of getting rid of the policemen, we should be looking for more to join our security forces’ … The PA has an unusually high ratio of security forces to civilians. Agreements signed between the Palestinians and Israel in 1994 and 1995 limited the PA security forces to some 30,000. Under pressure from the US and EU, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayad recently agreed to reduce the number of policemen in the West Bank by half.
Previous attempts by the PA leadership to lay off thousands of policemen were called off for fear of a mutiny inside the Palestinian security services. Some Palestinians argue that Yasser Arafat made a huge mistake by recruiting tens of thousands of Palestinians to the security forces. ‘Arafat wanted to provide jobs for as many Palestinians as possible, so he recruited as many people as possible to the dozen or so security forces’, said Gaza-based businessman Abdel Karim Darwish. ‘The international community was anyway paying the salaries of the members of the security forces. This way Arafat managed to provide an income for tens of thousands of families … He said that the best solution would be to ask the Gulf countries to absorb many of the unemployed policemen. According to the new PA plan, all policemen over the age of 45 would be forced into retirement. In addition, thousands of men and women whose names appear on the payroll of the security forces but don’t do any work would be fired immediately”.
The Jerusalem Post article reporting that the U.S. and EU are pressuring the Palestinian Authority to fire half of the security forces in the West Bank is posted here.