A Shortcut to the Goal Is, Even Now, at Hand
Los Angeles Times, March 11, 1994
The Israeli government’s concern about settler violence in response to the Hebron massacre fails to address the underlying issue: Why is the peace process so vulnerable? If it barely can survive this incident, how will it survive the next and the one after that? For, make no mistake about it, no amount of gun control will prevent future horrors by political terrorists who are willing to die.
The core problem is structural. The Declaration of Principles signed on the White House lawn did not address the key issues of the conflict. Instead it called for the quick negotiation of withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho and then, it is widely but erroneously understood, for the initiation of a five-year transition period, during the third year of which final status negotiations are to begin.
A long interim period and the delay of final status negotiations is an invitation to extremist violence. Essentially, the message to Palestinians is: “Demonstrate that you can live in peace with us, that you can harmoniously run your affairs and control attacks on Israelis and then we’ll talk about final status.” It is no surprise if extremists on both sides respond with attacks intended to create a climate of violence and hatred so intense that no final status agreement can be reached. There will be Palestinian retaliation for Hebron, and it can be predicted that Yasser Arafat will not respond in a way that is adequate to the demands of Israeli public opinion. Thus will peacemakers on both sides be further weakened.
Rather than pecking at the Declaration of Principles for not addressing final status issues, it is useful to read it more closely. It contains strengths that can assist in responding to what has happened in Hebron.
The declaration has been seriously misrepresented in the press and by various government spokespersons. For example, it does not set final status negotiations three years into the process. The declaration states that “they will commence as soon as possible, but not later than the beginning of the third year of the interim period.” And with respect to the transition period itself, the declaration describes it not as five years long but a period “not exceeding five years.”
Not only is the declaration consistent with moving rapidly to final status negotiations; it also calls for that to occur. And it is fully consistent with a greatly truncated interim period of, say, two or three years.
The advantages of quickly moving into final status negotiation are multiple.
For one thing, there would be much less reason for extensive haggling over the interim accord, since that would soon be superseded.
The onset of final status talks also would greatly strengthen the position of the Palestinian moderates who supported the declaration. Arafat’s credibility with the Palestinians has sunk to an all-time low; he is accused of having led the Palestinians into a tunnel with no end, and of having negotiated an agreement with no content.
If the United States were to call for starting final status talks within 60 days of concluding the details of a Gaza-Jericho withdrawal, this would bring the Palestinians back to the negotiations, and it would give them an incentive to resolve the outstanding issues, perhaps within two weeks.
It is time for the Israeli government to drop the fig leaf. As the Israeli right wing has pointed out, Yitzhak Rabin and other leaders know full well that a final agreement with the Palestinians means a Palestinian state. There is much to be gained by saying so. Rabin should announce that Israel accepts that as the Palestinian objective and sees the negotiations as a search for a way to ensure that such a state is compatible with Israel’s security needs.
Final status negotiations will also bring the Israelis to the decision point on settlers and settlements. If there is to be peace, either the settlements will have to be abandoned or the settlers will have to live as foreign nationals under Palestinian law. According to Israeli polls, 30% of the settlers would willingly leave if they were compensated for their property. Were Israel, with the help of U.S. loan guarantees, to announce a limited-time-only compensation program, it would produce a stampede of people seeking to leave.
By moving boldly, it is possible not merely to give the peace process one more chance, but to turn the Hebron massacre into a pivotal moment that brings peace a giant step closer.