Give us a month, two weeks, three days without terror, and we will start to conduct negotiations. That was the sales slogan of the national unity government at the height of the intifada. The new government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was ready to make do with a 100 percent effort by the Palestinians to prevent terrorism - even if the effort was not successful - in order to start proposing "painful concessions." If only a Palestinian prime minister was appointed - as long as it wasn't Yasser Arafat - and if the incitement ceased, some small move, a hint, then you will see what I am ready to do, Sharon promised.
The coveted cease-fire was achieved following a huge effort. Israeli army officers say the Palestinian security forces are making a sincere and wide-ranging effort to thwart terrorist operations, intelligence cooperation has been renewed and even the skeptical chief of staff is speaking in terms of a historic turning point and perhaps even the end of the intifada. This, it would seem, is the appropriate time to launch the next stage of the road map: to withdraw to the positions the Israel Defense Forces occupied on the eve of the intifada, to begin preparations for elections to the Palestinian Authority, to demarcate the provisional borders of the Palestinian state, to reopen the Palestinian trade offices in east Jerusalem and to enter into serious, intensive negotiations on basic issues such as the status of Jerusalem, the status of the settlements, the right of return, the water sources and the other volatile subjects.
Here's the dilemma. Now things are quiet, we have a hudna, there is no terrorism, the number of warnings about possible terrorist attacks have fallen dramatically, so what's our rush to start negotiations? If the Palestinians lose their patience and if the hudna is canceled after three months and the terrorist attacks resume, there will certainly be no need to conduct negotiations, as it's well known that we don't negotiate under terrorism. If they decide to extend the hudna so they won't have to bear the blame for violating the road map, there is also no need to hurry to the negotiating table. In short, our political situation has never been better.
The Israeli government appears to be adopting the current quiet as a permanent situation that does not oblige action of any kind. The release of prisoners can wait - after all, nowhere does the road map state that Israel has to release prisoners - and the removal of the illegal outposts is being delayed. True, there was a minor motion a month ago, an involuntary reflex action that brought about the removal of two or three outposts, but that has passed.
The IDF left most of the Gaza Strip and removed itself from the heart of Bethlehem, but the rest of the West Bank remains under full occupation. Freedom of movement, removal of checkpoints, going to work, transit of merchandise - no real change has occurred in any of these areas. After all, why change old habits, especially if things are quiet and there's no terror?
It will be interesting to see how many meetings with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), will need before he understands that the only Palestinian achievement is meetings with Sharon. In the near future he will even achieve a leap forward: a meeting with U.S. President George Bush. From the outset, a frightened Israel is trying to calculate how much damage this visit will cause and the price Israel will have to pay. But there's no cause for concern. Anyone who remembers the apprehension that attended the visits by Secretary of State Colin Powell and the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, knows that their cost did not exceed that of the bourekas and juice they were served.
It's also a safe assumption that Sharon's visit to Washington will not generate new political momentum in the region. Bush has his own private occupation in Iraq, which has sunk its teeth into him like a stubborn mastiff, the other participants in the Quartet are suffering from an Israeli boycott after their representatives insisted on meeting with Arafat, and Egypt, too, the only country that brought about a genuine shift in the situation by achieving the hudna, will soon also become fed up with Israel's attitude that it is not really involved in the events.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now