One of the strong points of the Road Map was the concept of Simultaneity. The idea that the controversial and unpopular steps required of both sides should be carried out in parallel was an important one for, as Amos Oz pointed has pointed out (Two Dr Jekylls, Two Mr Hydes) the alternative would be for one side to go first in carrying out steps that might consume it in civil war, while the other sits back and rejoices that the implosion of the other side has removed all pressure on it to do anything to tackle the opponents of peace in its own ranks.
Unfortunately, simultaneity was one of the casualties of Israel’s “14 reservations” on accepting the Road Map. Once the US quietly agreed to drop the insistence on simultaneity, and allowed Israel’s demand for the PA to destroy the infrastructure of HAMAS and Islamic Jihad to become a prerequisite for any Israeli compliance with the Road Map’s demands, the result was bound to be stalemate. Henry Siegman, senior fellow on the Middle East at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York commented in The Road Map was Doomed From The Outset that, for all the insistence the US and the Israeli Right placed on dismantling the terror infrastructure, the fact is that halting and dismantling Israeli settlements is just as vital a prerequisite for the success of any peace plan:
Just as a peace process cannot proceed while Israeli civilians are being blown up on the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, it is absurd to expect that such a process - whose avowed purpose is to end the occupation and allow the emergence of a viable Palestinian state - can proceed while land is forcefully removed by Israel from under the Palestinian negotiators' feet.
Washington - and even many Israelis - understood that Abbas needed time to rebuild his security forces if the Palestinian Authority was to prevail in a confrontation with the Islamists. Sharon and his government, however, insisted on an immediate assault by Abbas's security forces against Hamas's "infrastructure." Sharon did so even as the Israelis intensified settlement construction and confiscations of Palestinian territory, including some of the most productive Palestinian agricultural land, destroyed for the wall Israel is erecting. These activities undermined Abbas's credibility and public support, and clearly violated the road map's demand for the immediate and unconditional cessation by Israel of all further land confiscations and settlement expansion.
…[N]o Palestinian government can "dismantle" Hamas and other terrorist organizations without popular Palestinian support. That support will never be forthcoming without a credible commitment from Israel or the United States that such a costly confrontation with extremists would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel's pre-1967 borders. Sharon has not only refused to give Abbas this necessary assurance, but has done the opposite. In repeated public statements, Sharon has told his supporters that the road map's goal of a "viable and sovereign Palestinian state" alongside Israel's pre-1967 borders would never be granted by Israel to the Palestinians, even if all violence were to end. Indeed, Sharon's vague promise of "painful concessions" for a peace agreement, it has become clear, was not intended to assure territorial continuity even within the walled-in Palestinian bantustan he envisions.
That is why the road map was doomed from the outset. While Bush repeatedly praised Abbas and occasionally even criticized Sharon for failing to give Abbas the support he needs to survive, his statements fell far short of the forceful presidential intervention that was needed to put an end to the continued theft of Palestinian land that made a mockery of the road map.
Siegman comes to the conclusion that: What hope there may be for Israelis and Palestinians for something other than a worsening cycle of bloodshed and destruction rests on forceful American-led intervention to shut down Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah-affiliated terrorist gangs, as a prelude to imposing a genuine two-state solution on both Israel and the Palestinians.
That word “imposed” has cropped up with increasing regularity in the past few weeks, as various commentators consider how on earth a settlement might come about in a scenario where the two parties are so deadlocked that they are unable even to start a peace process. Ze’ev Sternhall’s An Imposed Solution Is The Only Option maintains unequivocally that, by their refusal to tackle the mythology and the extremists on their own respective sides of the conflict, the PA and the Israeli government have dug themselves into a hole too deep to climb out of:
Hence, the only possible solution is an imposed settlement authored by the international community and implemented under its watchful eye. What is needed is swift, no-nonsense, U.S.-European intervention based on a comprehensive regional plan, and not just another road map to nowhere….An imposed solution that also incorporates the physical presence of an international, rather than a purely American, observation force, is the only realistic option today.
Sternhall acknowledges that it is very unlikely that the US will push such a controversial move in the run-up to a Presidential election, but sees it as a real possibility for a second-term lame duck President, who would not have to worry about losing the Jewish vote, as his Daddy once did in the aftermath of the Madrid Conference and the Loan Guarantees confrontation with Yitzhak Shamir.
One final item worthy of comment in Sternhall's article is his willingness to countenance a multinational force on the ground in the Occupied Territories, a prospect usually anathema on the Israeli side. The need for international intervention was taken up by one member of the (incredible vanishing) Quartet, in the form of Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who told a press conference on 10 September:
It seems that soon ... tough demands must be presented in order to keep to the peace roadmap, and in order for these demands to be met, we may need to introduce international forces in the zone of conflict. Ivanov added he was greatly concerned with the escalation of violence and stressed that without a more decisive international involvement a solution could not be found to stop the circle of violence.
In reporting this, al Jazeera noted that the Palestinians, as the weaker side bearing the brunt of Israel’s military might, would certainly welcome the interposition of a multinational force between the two sides, but no one in Tel Aviv or Washington will welcome the idea. (Slightly off subject, veteran Israeli politician Meron Benvenisti seconded that emotion when he wryly commented in Ha’aretz on the ironic fact that [t]he government of Israel is totally opposed to "internationalizing the conflict" and to posting international observers in the territories, but it has no objection at all to internationalizing the financing of the occupation.
The Palestinians managed to survive thanks to the international aid, but as usual in these cases, the beneficiary of the international community's rallying to the rescue was their Israeli enemy. Moreover, the contributing states' humanitarian enlistment became a safety net, enabling Israel to impose a deluxe occupation in the West Bank - total military domination with no responsibility for running the life of the occupied population, and no price tag attached.
Had Israel been required to fulfill its commitment as an occupying power, it would have had to pay NIS 5-6 billion a year just to maintain basic services for a population of more than three million people. But it created an international precedent - an occupation fully financed by the international community. The harsher the Israeli measures with "closures, blockades and safety fences," the larger the international aid "to prevent a humanitarian crisis," and Israel is not held accountable. Israel isn't even required to display minimal politeness and gratitude to the donor states for their generosity in providing the economic safety net. Indeed, the greatest contributor - the European Union as a body and European states individually - are treated with contempt and condescension: pay up and shut up, or we'll accuse you of anti-Semitism.
Israel will not pay for its actions, but the international community will, because according to the Israeli concept there is no connection between humiliation, poverty and loss of hope to violence and terror, and any attempt to link them "justifies the murders." Only the international community must worry about the loss of the chance of reconciliation and pay for it dearly. Israel does not believe in reconciliation "because there is no partner to peace."
Benvenisti wonders whether it might be worth the consequences of calling Israel’s bluff, and having the donor nations say: "we're fed up with giving in to your extortion. Cope with the humanitarian situation you've created yourselves". Although Benvenisti mentions this tongue-in-cheek, there were hints almost a year ago (in Winner Takes Out The Garbage) that the PA was debating this very approach. If the Israelis want to restore a full Occupation, so be it, but let their already-battered economy pay the price:
Growing numbers of key people in the Palestinian Authority and Fatah are talking about the idea of formally handing over the civilian keys to the Israelis and announcing they have lost interest in what is called "the peace process."
They say Israel can't demand the PA conduct far-reaching security reforms and at the same time do whatever it wants inside the territorial jurisdiction of the PA. It's not credible that Ariel Sharon will decide when the children of Nablus get to go to school or have to stay home, while Yasser Arafat has to pay the teachers' salaries.
The mounting calls demanding that Israel be made formally responsible for running the police and the health and welfare services in the territories have also reached the ears of the Israeli defense establishment. Nobody opened any bottles of champagne. On the one hand, the return of the civil administration would cost the Israeli taxpayer at least a billion shekels a month. On the other hand, highway robbers, epidemics and hungry children - under Israeli responsibility - won't go over well with the international community.
Dahlan said yesterday that he's been talking with his colleagues in the leadership for weeks about the need to give Sharon full responsibility for the lives of the Palestinian civilian population. Erekat confirmed the idea is gaining support in the leadership. He prefers to phrase things more cautiously. "If Israel wants to reinstate the occupation, it can pick up the garbage," he says, adding, "on the day you deport Arafat, there won't be a PA anymore." )
OK, back on topic.... The idea of the imposed international solution was also taken up recently by Clinton’s former Ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk (currently director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy), who renewed his call for a trusteeship to govern the West Bank and Gaza, including an American-led force to help Palestinian security services tackle militants on the ground, and help in the task of nation-building:
Trying to save the road map is a worthwhile cause; both sides have already agreed to it, and it represents the best chance for restoring immediate order. Sooner rather than later, however, a much bolder approach will be called for: an international protectorate, led by the United States, that would put the Palestinian territories in trust and supervise the establishment of a Palestinian state with democratic political institutions, a transparent economic structure, an independent judiciary and an effective security force.
(NB: On similar lines, it was reported earlier this year that a foreign policy think tank at Oxford University was drawing up detailed plans for how post-Occupation Palestine might function as a UN protectorate, under the suggested transition-to-independence governorship of Bill Clinton, so maybe the Big Dog hasn’t seen his last input to the I/P conflict yet).
Another Clinton appointee, former Middle East advisor Robert Malley (who was the first participant from Camp David to break ranks and debunk the “We offered them everything and they turned it down” meme in the aftermath of that summit) co-authored with Hussein Agha a variant form of the “imposed solution”, which appeared as a Guardian commentary on 8 September. As everyone understands roughly the outlines of a final settlement, but can’t find a way to get there in incremental steps like the Road Map, Agha and Malley recommend that:
The US should, together with the United Nations, European Union, Russia and Arab and Muslim nations, put forward a comprehensive, non-negotiable final agreement that would resonate with the Israeli and Palestinian people, addressing the vital needs on both sides. The outlines of such a plan are familiar. It would not be concocted outside the region; it would grow out of the history of the parties' negotiations.
Washington would not seek the agreement of the Israeli or Palestinian leadership. It would invite them to put the plan directly to their peoples. Both the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority are more than willing to say no to one another. Each also is capable of turning down a US plan. But on what basis could they rebuff the simple and straightforward request to check whether their own people are prepared to live with a US-led, internationally backed solution?
Putting forward a final deal, proposing a US-led international mandate and submitting it to referendums would shift the locus of decision-making to where the balance of power is far more favourable to proponents of an agreement. It would remove responsibility from vulnerable leaders and place it in the public's hands. It would create genuine incentives for Israelis (who stand to gain security) and Palestinians (who stand to gain an end to occupation) to take on extremists in their midst.
The drawback of course is that such a decisive settlement - and all variants of the Imposed Solution - requires co-operative, imaginative and disinterested international leadership by the US; this at a time when the ongoing fiasco in Iraq suggests that the sudden emergence in the current administration of these three qualities is about as likely as the sudden discovery of WMDs north, east, west and south of Tikrit.