Act quickly for change
A seasoned Palestinian politician offers some concrete steps to push the peace process forward
THE ANNAPOLIS meeting, despite the cynicism of the experts, was a resounding victory for the persistent efforts of Rice, Abbas and Olmert. The presence of Saudi Arabia and Syria signalled the desire of the Arab League to demonstrate its commitment to the Arab peace initiative. But Olmert and Abbas will return home to face formidable efforts to topple their governments by their domestic opposition. Olmert looks likely to weather the efforts to break his coalition. Abbas has to demonstrate to the Palestinian public that he did not come back empty-handed. Palestinian negotiators have constantly asked to return to the lines that existed on September 28, 2000. The process started before Annapolis in Nablus, where Olmert approved the deployment of 300 more Palestinian policemen to help secure the West Bank city. A gradual redeployment of Israeli troops from West Bank towns should complement the growing ability of Palestinian police to enforce law and order. Security success will allow the process to advance.
Both sides have to implement the commitments defined in the Road Map. A trilateral American, Israeli and Palestinian commission has to standardise those commitments and see them implemented. Simultaneously, joint teams should deal with final-status issues like Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, borders and fair distribution of natural resources.
In the meantime, this coming December, the Paris donors’ meeting should provide Tony Blair with the tools to rewrite the economic map. The Paris meeting should provide the funds to implement ambitious economic plans like the Rand Ark project, which will create jobs in the West Bank. Eventually it will be applied in Gaza.
Release of Palestinian prisoners in large groups, as is done now, does not help either camp. In Israel it raises emotional outbursts; in Palestine it is seen as too little at long intervals. A bilateral commission should meet regularly to establish standards, discuss all cases and release small numbers regularly. This can demonstrate a serious attitude toward the humanitarian needs of this influential sector of society.
On the Arab front, the Arab League should make a concerted effort to reverse the takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas and help Fatah and Hamas reconcile. Arab League troops can be introduced in Gaza to stabilise the situation, heal inter-Palestinian differences and stop the violence.
In Israel, the process should be a joint Kadima-Labour effort, in order to withstand the efforts of those who oppose ending the conflict. Meretz and the Arab Knesset bloc should be part of this partnership.
A second sequel to Annapolis should be convened in Moscow within the next three months to put the Syrian and the Lebanese issues on the negotiating table and to wean Syria off the influence of Iran. This will clearly demonstrate that a comprehensive peace is being sought for all the countries of the Middle East. Hanna Siniora is a member of the Palestinian National Council and co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Centre for Research and Information