Applying Baghdad Lessons to Khan Yunis

As soon as you say "we have to give Abu Mazen a chance," unilateralness is dead. And it's better that way. First of all, because the thing was a bluff from the outset.

Almost without anyone noticing, the name of Prime Minister Sharon's plan was shortened from "the unilateral disengagement plan" to "the disengagement plan." Because as soon as you say "we have to give Abu Mazen a chance," unilateralness is dead. And it's better that way. First of all, because the thing was a bluff from the outset. Shortly after the announcement of the plan, Egypt was already in the picture and intensive talks about its role after disengagement reached the agreement stage. Under those agreements, an Egyptian police force would train the Palestinians and take control of the border between Gaza and Sinai. Yasser Arafat was still alive at the time, and the Egyptian bypass came into being so that Sharon's word would not be broken. More importantly, the unilateral dimension lent a false patina to the very act of disengagement, as though it were the end of the occupation of the Gaza Strip.

Now comes the turn of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to give the plan its only chance of life. The threats voiced by the defense minister and the chief of staff about a wide-scale, long-term military operation that will cause the massive destruction of the "sources of Qassam rocket firing" may have a calming effect in Sderot, but anyone who remembers the big showcase operations in Lebanon and the withdrawal that followed them will not be able to reconcile the threats with the disengagement. Abbas, however, will be able to breathe life into the disengagement plan, because unlike Arafat, he is ready to take responsibility for it.

As such, Israel's situation in Gaza (and in the territories overall) may resemble that of the United States in Iraq. Though this doesn't sound encouraging, it does have certain advantages. The United States decided not to allow the terrorist organizations in Iraq to dictate the political-diplomatic agenda. It is cooperating closely with the provisional Iraqi government, even though the latter is incapable of dealing with the terrorism on its own. The U.S. administration is not complaining to the Iraqi prime minister and is not putting the regime of Iyad Allawi to a daily test. True, in contrast to Abbas' attitude toward Israel, Allawi does not consider the United States an enemy, and the U.S. is also not being called on to make territorial concessions. More importantly, American settlements are not threatened by Iraq.

However, the shared method of managing the occupied territory need not necessarily be different. The first step is the agreed "marking" of the enemy - not the Palestinian Authority and its institutions but the terrorist organizations and their activists. To this end, the Americans came up with the term the "Sunni triangle" to define the enemy, and they prefer to attribute attacks to specific organizations, such as that of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, even though it is not certain his group is behind all the terrorist attacks. This approach averts a full-scale confrontation between the occupying power and the broad population and its institutions. For a long time the Americans allowed representatives of the Iraqi administration to conduct negotiations with the separatists in Falluja and Ramadi, and entered Falluja by force only after the prime minister asked them to. Throughout the period (and afterward as well) terrorism against the Americans and against targets of the Iraqi government did not cease. The same tactics could be adopted in Israel.

The American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan shows also that there is no need to fear what's known as a "bear hug." The Abbas government, like that of Allawi or of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, needs aid to rehabilitate the economy and the society. The United States did not set prior conditions for such aid in Iraq and Afghanistan. In both countries it was clear from the outset that only unconditional aid would ultimately be able to bring about a central government, at least in important sections of the country. In Ramallah there is a Palestinian partner who wants to administer an orderly, quiet Palestinian state without terrorism. That has to be the working assumption. With that assumption, it will be possible to conduct negotiations in a bilateral disengagement plan, on unconditional aid and on the continuation of the political process.