Final status in a new era
If Israel misses the opportunity to negotiate an end-of-conflict accord with Abu Mazen, not only will it face a wider negotiations gap in the future. It may find that there are no Palestinian moderates of stature left standing.
Israel's inability to deal with either Hezbollah's missiles or those from Gaza, makes it likely that some sort of provisionality, perhaps as envisioned in the optional Phase 2 of the road map plan, will be part of any peace process.
The real choice facing Israeli policymakers today is whether to limit negotiations to Phase 2 of the road map. This would mean postponing discussion of Jerusalem and of the refugees, and testing the Palestinians with a state with provisional boundaries. The alternative is to negotiate a comprehensive end-of-conflict agreement with Mahmoud Abbas [Abu Mazen], but subject it to performance-based implementation, moving gradually toward full sovereignty and final borders. This latter approach does not drop any of the phases of the road map, but reorders them, starting with Phase 3 negotiations and then making Phases 2 and 1 part of the implementation process.
Reaching a comprehensive final status agreement at the outset offers new opportunities for building peace:
Starting with the Temple Mount: While genuine borders might come late in the implementation process, with a full deal in place, it will be possible to immediately begin implementation of the final status provisions for the Temple Mount. Ideally, the treaty would affirm that "sovereignty belongs to God," vest operational control with the Palestinians, and establish an international mechanism to adjudicate disputes. Success here would change the tenor of the conflict and have far-reaching implications for the relations between Islam and the West.
Early movement to address the plight of the refugees: Once an agreement is signed, refugee compensation as well as resettlement could begin immediately. Europe, the United States and the Arab states could open their doors to refugees living in Lebanon who choose those venues. Whatever provision is made for a limited number of refugees to live in Israel would be held for later, cautious implementation. Inside the territories, sustained construction of new communities, with the help of the Arab states, could begin to replace the refugee camps. Movement in this realm, which has been stagnant since 1948, will add significantly to a transformation from despair to hope.
Linking de jure sovereignty to the achievement of de facto control: Israeli recognition of Palestinian sovereignty will gradually expand toward the final borders, but only when (1) the Palestinian state actually exercises a monopoly over Palestinian armed forces, and (2) the state is adequately implementing the end-of-conflict agreement. In effect this approach reverses the road map, moving from comprehensive negotiations, to a State with interim boundaries, and only then, as part of its successful assertion of sovereignty, to the Phase One requirement of dismantling terrorist infrastructure.
The key obstacle to initiating negotiations immediately is the problem of a "two-headed government" on the Palestinian side. Some have maintained that there is no point in negotiating until either Fatah defeats Hamas and exercises control over all of the territory, or alternatively, until Hamas (or the new unity government) accepts the three principles of the Quartet (recognition of Israel, nonviolence and acceptance of previously negotiated agreements). This is put forward as something of a mantra. To the extent that arguments are offered for such preconditions, it is said that (1) otherwise Abu Mazen cannot sign a real peace agreement, and/or (2) otherwise no peace agreement can be successfully implemented. This line of reasoning is wrong on all counts.
First, it should be seen that a peace agreement with Israel offers Palestinian moderates a potential path for bringing Palestine to their vision of a pluralistic society rather than one governed by Islamicists. A peace agreement will bring into being a new state, and with it a constitution and new elections. In that context, moderates may win.
Second, neither eliminating Hamas nor having Hamas accept the Quartet conditions up front is realistic. If Hamas is driven from political power, it will go underground and will ensure that no successor governing body will be able to govern. With respect to any peace process, if forced out of government, Hamas will use violence to undermine any negotiations.
Three, what is most needed today from Hamas is not agreement to the three conditions, but the movement's acceptance that Abu Mazen negotiates for all Palestinians, and its willingness to abide by any negotiated peace treaty, provided that it is ratified by a referendum of the Palestinian people. This is all that Israel needs, and seeking more is either foolish over-reaching or the cynical use of preconditions really designed to block a peace process or thwart the elections results.
Four, the above framework for coherence in governance on the Palestinian side, was already accepted, in principle, when Hamas supported the so-called "prisoners' document" last spring. It is stated in paragraph No. 7 of that document. What is needed is codification into Palestinian law. If Israel wants to avoid the chaos of a Palestinian civil collapse, and if it wants to empower Abu Mazen as a negotiating partner, all it has to do is signal that enactment of this framework into Palestinian law will trigger the start of negotiations and a relaxation of the siege on the Palestinian Authority.
Five, if negotiations do move forward under a coherence in governance framework, it is likely that Hamas will moderate politically. However, if this does not happen, and a peace agreement is signed and supported by the Palestinian public, Hamas will be reduced to minority party status. Importantly, the fact that extending Palestinian sovereignty beyond the initial Phase 2 state, will depend on the new government's having a monopoly of power, will make it extremely difficult, in a post-treaty environment, for Hamas or any other group to maintain themselves as armed forces.
Abu Mazen is the best interlocutor that Israel will ever have. His historic mission is the one that Arafat did not seize: to close the final status deal with Israel. His commitment to lasting peace is genuine. If Israel misses the opportunity to negotiate an end-of-conflict accord with Abu Mazen, not only will it face a wider negotiations gap in the future. It may find that there are no Palestinian moderates of stature left standing.
Jerome M. Segal is a senior research scholar at the University of Maryland's Center for International and Security Studies. He is co-author of "Negotiating Jerusalem" (2000).