Today (Sunday) is election day in occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Apart from posting a biography of “the other candidate” I haven’t really blogged at all about the Palestinian Authority Presidential race. There are two reasons for that: first, I wrote a long piece about the prospects for the elections shortly after they were announced. A large part of that post was about Marwan Barghouthi, and why I was sure he wasn’t going to run for the Presidency this time. The day I was ready to publish, I logged on to read headlines all over the place announcing his candidacy, so I quietly deleted the offending piece and gave thanks that I had checked the news headlines before publishing, and so saved myself from looking like a complete idiot. Of course, Barghouthi subsequently reversed himself, but by then my blog item was long-since deleted, and I really wasn’t inclined to reconstitute it from memory.
The other reason I have haven’t been able to work up any enthusiasm to blog about the PA elections is that I am convinced that all the happy talk we hear in the U.S. about new beginnings for peace opening up with the death of Arafat and the (presumed, at this point) election of Abu Mazen is utterly, utterly delusional.
Take for example, the Dennis Ross opinion piece I just linked to. Of course Dennis Ross says the death of Arafat changed everything for the better: he has to, doesn’t he? Dennis Ross, President Clinton’s honest-broker-Middle-East-peace envoy has spent the last four years – from his new perch as a Fox News commentator and fellow of the neocon-friendly Washington Institute for Near East Policy – explaining that the collapse of the peace process was nothing to do with his mediation, and nothing to do with the Israelis, but all the fault of the wicked Arafat. That leaves Ross – and the Americans in general, who blamed Arafat for the failure of the peace process - in a bit of a quandary now doesn’t it? If Arafat the “obstacle to peace” is gone, and there is still no sign of peace, then Ross must have been incompetent in mistakenly attributing the blame to Arafat, or dishonestly trying to use him as a scapegoat. So Ross has to either fess up and issue a mea culpa, which he is never going to do (fortunately others have done it for him), or he has to proclaim loudly that following the death of the "obstacle to peace", everything really is coming up roses after all, despite what your lying eyes tell you to the contrary.
But peace isn’t spontaneously breaking out all over, and it won’t. Because absolutely none of the fundamental issues that prevent peace between Palestinians and Israelis are changed by the death of Arafat:
Arafat's death will not change any of the essential underpinnings of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are still 3.5 million Palestinians living under a brutal Israeli military dictatorship in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel still keeps tens of thousands of heavily armed troops and hundreds of thousands of settlers in these territories, in violation of international law and UN resolutions. Millions of Palestinians still live in enforced exile, deprived of their fundamental human right, encoded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and UN General Assembly Resolution 194, to return to their own country. These stark facts ensure that suffering will continue, and possibly even escalate, until the root causes of a conflict that has taken tens of thousands of Palestinian, Lebanese, and Israeli lives are directly addressed and resolved. (Attribution)
These are the issues that prevent peace, not the failings of Arafat. We have to rid ourselves of the delusion that the Bush Administration sidelined Arafat because Arafat was a “terrorist” who was deliberately sabotaging everyone else’s honest endeavors for peace. The fact is that the Bush Administration sidelined Arafat because Ariel Sharon wanted him sidelined and George Bush is too spineless, and too lacking in a coherent Middle East policy, to say “no” to Ariel Sharon. And Ariel Sharon wanted him sidelined not because Arafat was no “partner for peace”, but precisely because he was a partner for peace negotiations leading to a two state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders, a solution that Ariel Sharon does not now, and never has, believed in.
Sharon rejects Arafat as a partner for dialogue not because army intelligence whispered in his ear that the guy is a bastard. It's because he knows the conditions for an agreement with Arafat (or any other Palestinian leader) are the same as those insisted on by Sadat - withdrawal to the `67 borders and saying goodbye to the settlements. And that is not on Sharon's agenda, even in his worst nightmares.
-- Yoel Marcus, Don't knock the power of words; 15 June 2004.
For at least twenty years, Sharon’s goal for the Palestinians has been not a two state solution but confinement instead inside a series of as many as thirteen South African-style “tribal homelands”; one in the Gaza Strip and 12 on the 45% or so of the West Bank where they are most concentrated. And this is what Sharon has been actively creating over the past four years with his wall-building and house demolitions, all under the pretence of “security for Israel”.
The massive home demolitions Israel carries out are explained to the world as collective punishment for the families of suicide bombers, and yet the vast majority are nothing to do with terror attacks, they are simply the homes of Palestinians who live outside the proposed areas Sharon intends for them, often on land that Israel wants to expropriate and annex to itself. Which is why, "[a]ccording to United Nations figures, less than 600 of the 10,000 houses demolished since the occupation began in 1967 involved security suspects. The rest—94 percent—were simply houses of ordinary people who were in Israel’s way" (Attribution). And then there’s the illegal Wall, that is supposed to “keep the suicide bombers out of Israel”, but doesn’t actually stand on the border between Israel and the Palestinians, but snakes instead as a series of walls and barriers through Palestinian land, dividing Palestinian communities not from Israel but from their land resources and from each other, marking out the first boundaries of the isolated Palestinian “homelands”.
You don’t even have to read between the lines to know that this is Sharon’s intent, all you have to do is listen to what he plainly says. Remember how he spoke very publicly last May about ending the occupation, but then - in a retraction that attracted much less attention than the original comments - clarified that he didn’t mean the occupation of the land, “only the people”:
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has backtracked from controversial remarks that indicated recognition of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as occupied territories...
Sharon stunned listeners Monday when he addressed his Likud Party's Knesset faction and repeated the world "occupation" four times in one sentence. "The thinking and the ideas that it is possible to continue holding [people] under occupation - it's occupation; one may not like the word, but what is happening here; it's occupation - to hold 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation in my mind is bad for Israel, also for the Palestinians, also for Israel's economy."
An aide to Sharon told United Press International the prime minister's earlier remarks had been "misunderstood." When he referred to the 3.5 million Palestinians living there as people living under Israeli occupation, he meant the people are under occupation, not the land, the aide argued.
-- Sharon Backtracks on Israeli 'Occupation', NewsMax, 28 May 2003.
In other words, the Palestinians can run their own administrative affairs inside their own cities and towns – delivering their own mail, collecting their own garbage, issuing their own postage stamps, etc. - but Israel will keep the land, and Sharon will call that “ending the occupation”.
And compare how he spoke at Aqaba, where the U.S Administration forced him to pledge support for a “viable Palestinian state” with “territorial contiguity”:
We can also reassure our Palestinian partners that we understand the importance of territorial contiguity in the West Bank for a viable Palestinian state.
- Text of Aqaba Summit statements, Islam Online
with how he has spoken ever since of a Palestinian state that has instead “transportational contiguity”; i.e. a series of separated territories that are linked by transportational infrastructure, like tunnels and bridges. This is the “Palestine” that Ariel Sharon has in mind, and it’s apparently a vision that the Bush Administration has now signed on for, if this recent “transportational contiguity” comment by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is anything to go by. Palestinians are to be restricted to pens in Gaza and the remaining un-annexed parts of the West Bank, allowed to travel to neighbouring "homelands" when they are good, but easily confined within their individual enclosures by the closing down of the tunnels and bridges in the event that they don’t behave.
Like all Israel’s land-annexing "security measures" over the years, Sharon will insist that this fencing in of the Palestinian towns is purely an “interim” measure, and will even point out that Phase Two of the Road Map calls for the establishment of an interim Palestinian state. He will of course ignore the part of the Road Map that says that by the end of 2005 the interim state should be replaced by a sovereign Palestine, with all final status issues resolved by negotiation. Instead, for "security reasons", P.M. Sharon’s interim period will have to stretch out for at least 10 or 20 years, by which time the annexation of the Palestinian lands will be an irreversible “fact on the ground”. If Palestinians want to call the Israeli-surrounded statelet they will then be locked inside a “Palestinian state”, that’s fine with Mr. Sharon. That’s what he means by a two state solution.
Sharon has three problems in implementing his plan for the Palestinians. Firstly, herding Palestinians inside enclosures and stealing their land on the outside involves massive and repeated violations of Palestinian rights under international law. There is no foreign country (except the U.S.) nor international body that will sanction Israel’s treating its Palestinian neighbours this way. For this reason, Sharon cannot allow the I/P conflict to be internationalized. Just look how Sharon reacted to the uppity Tony Blair’s suggestion of a Middle East peace conference: Israel will absolutely not take part in any international dialogue on substantive issues between Israelis and Palestinians, because debate in an international forum will be conducted on the basis of international law and consensus, which inexorably leads down the road to where Sharon does not want to go, i.e. to a two state solution based on the 1967 borders. So Tony Blair has been given a good talking too and left to slink away protesting falsely that all he really had in mind was a glorified donors’ conference on the subject of “Palestinian reform”. That’s a useful, open-ended excuse for putting off indefinitely final status issues, isn’t it? First the Palestinians have to “reform”. Again. At this rate, by the time the wall is complete and they are locked up on their reservations, the Palestinians will be the most reformed people since the Calvinists. What other occupied or colonized people had to “reform” to the satisfaction of its occupier before it could enjoy its so-called inalienable right of self-determination?
The second problem with trying to provide security for Israel by locking up the whole Palestinian population behind a wall is well, it doesn’t work. The one “homeland” that is actually already fully enclosed, and is supposed to be the prototype for those on the West Bank, is of course the Gaza Strip. And the security situation there is turning out just spiffy, isn’t it? The problem with thinking that shutting Palestinians behind a wall will mean the end of their independence struggle is that this only works if the Palestinians agree to it. And the Palestinians in Gaza apparently didn’t get the memo: they didn’t realize that it was all supposed to be over once Israel decided the answer was build a fence, announce a disengagement, and unilaterally declare the problem solved. Palestinian militants simply circumvented the fence by finding ways to tunnel under it, and fire rockets over it: a response that was obvious as long as the root causes of the violence remained unaddressed, and was predicted long ago. So the whole security-through-tribal-homelands project is falling apart before 12 of the 13 homelands are even built. Building a barrier and just hoping the violence goes away proves to be just a deadly form of whack-a-mole: the manifestations of violence prevented by the barrier simply pop up in another form.
(This – as an aside – is why P.M. Sharon’s military response to the firing of homemade mortars and Qassem rockets is so disproportionate to the damage they have caused. Tactically, they are crappy, homemade weapons as likely to blow up in the face of people launching them as they are to kill Israelis, but strategically they are proof that all the walls in the world are not going to stop the I/P conflict unless Israel will negotiate on the core issues and reach an agreed settlement with the PLO. Unless Sharon can find a way to stop them being fired, his whole tribal homelands strategy is strangled at birth. The IDF hasn’t managed to put a stop to the firing of small, mobile weapons that are gone before there is time to respond to them, and what the IDF can’t do militarily, the PA would not be able to do either – even if Sharon wanted to involve the PA in policing Gaza, which he doesn’t. So Sharon has simply warned the supposedly-protected civilian population of the Gaza Strip that they are going to find a way to stop attacks on Israeli targets, or they are going to suffer for it. When a Qassem kills two children in Sderot, the IDF will go into Jabalia with order to be “light on the trigger”, and kill over 100 people in response. Should a mortar land on Nissanit, the IDF will drop an anti-personnel weapon in a field in Beit Lahia, and drop everyone within 300m of the impact. This is not "collateral damage", according to Arnon Soffer, the Israeli demographer whose work provided the impetus behind Sharon's disengagement plan, but collective punishment that is a deliberate and necessary accompaniment to the Wall:
First of all, the fence is not built like the Berlin Wall. It's a fence that we will be guarding on either side. Instead of entering Gaza, the way we did last week, we will tell the Palestinians that if a single missile is fired over the fence, we will fire 10 in response. And women and children will be killed, and houses will be destroyed. After the fifth such incident, Palestinian mothers won't allow their husbands to shoot Kassams, because they will know what's waiting for them.
Second of all, when 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it's going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It's going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.(Attribution).
Sharon hopes that if the pain among the civilian population is bad enough they will be willing – and somehow able – to stop what he cannot. It’s an illegal and disproportionate response to Qassems, but it’s a reflection of how scared Sharon is of what homemade rockets and mortars will do to his cherished “tribal homelands” plan, when the people of the West Bank are enclosed like the people of Gaza, and import or devise the same kind of low-tech rocketry as a response).
The third problem with confining Palestinians in pens and unilaterally declaring that that is the “Palestinian state” is that no-one in the world will give recognition to the arrangement, any more than the international community recognized Venda, Ciskei or Bophututswana (and I take no responsibility for my spelling here) as independent countries. As President Bush found out when he decided that it was up to him to rewrite international law and allow the Israelis to keep the major settlement blocs, without the consent of the Palestinians no-one else accepts unilateral declarations by Israel or the U.S. as a legitimate means of setting the borders of Palestine and Israel. Imposing "homelands" on the Palestinians will leave Israel rejected and increasingly isolated, as apartheid South Africa progressively was, as the Israeli Foreign Ministry understands very well. And that points to a great irony in the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians: the Israelis are infinitely more powerful in military terms, but the Palestinians have one weapon that will always frustrate Israel’s desire to impose a one-sided solution, and that is the power to say “no”. As long as Israel cannot force Palestinian consent to the solutions it wants to impose, the Israeli regime in the Occupied Territories will never enjoy legitimacy, and Israel itself will never enjoy normality, in the eyes of the international community.
While Arafat was alive, there was no prospect of Israel finding a Palestinian leader who could be browbeaten into saying “yes” to accepting a patchwork of tribal homelands as a settlement of the I/P conflict. An Arafat who had refused to endorse the more benign offer of a Palestinian client state that Barak generously offered at Camp David II was never in a million years going to a give Sharon the legitimacy he needs by agreeing to settle for life on a reservation.
Enter Abu Mazen.
Ever since Abu Mazen emerged as the likely successor to Arafat, we have heard repeatedly that he is “moderate” and “pragmatic”, principally because he has voiced opposition to the militarization of the intifada. And somewhere along the line, we have managed to convince ourselves that because he doesn’t wear military drab, and has outspokenly different views on the use of violence in the intifada, then Mahmoud Abbas must have different views from Arafat also on the core issues at the center of the I/P conflict, and will somehow be amenable to whatever solution Israel tries to impose on him. This is wishful thinking, and it is a kind of wishful thinking that we seem to engage in repeatedly.
John Podesta, former Chief of Staff to President Clinton, has explained  how at Camp David, the U.S. mediators (“mediators”) adopted a “divide and rule” strategy in dealing with the Palestinians, in the belief that the younger generation of negotiators – whose mastery of English and Hebrew, nice suits and Westernized ways made them more simpatico to the Americans – would be more forthcoming than the older generation of Arafat contemporaries. The Americans hoped – mistakenly, as Podesta acknowledged in retrospect – that focusing on the younger Palestinian negotiators would lead them to pressure Arafat to accept Barak’s Generous Offer, or perhaps to even launch a mini-coup to circumvent Arafat altogether. The strategy failed: instead of producing agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, it resulted instead in suspicion and negotiating gridlock within the Palestinian negotiating team, whose members understood very well that they were being pitted against each other in order to gerrymander an agreement. The U.S. attempt to promote a more compliant Palestinian leader at Camp David was based on the same mistaken premise that the current beatification of Abu Mazen is based, i.e. that a leader who doesn’t look like Arafat, or sound like him on peripheral issues, will also differ from Arafat on the core issues, of borders, refugees, Jerusalem, etc.
The main target of U.S. attention at Camp David was Gaza Strip security chief, Mohammed Dahlan, who was apparently well aware of the danger that the Americans would confuse his personal traits and capabilities with their own delusions of “flexibility”, especially on core issues. He often took to reminding them, “Look, on the serious issues, there is no flexibility.” Dahlan went on to explain that, while he would keep an open mind on tangential issues, there would be no deviation from the core issues, in which the Palestinians were united. 
Apparently, the U.S. determination that the Palestinians would accept whatever was offered to them if only Arafat were not in charge was handed down from the Clinton to the Bush Administration. In an interesting insight into what “promoting Middle East democracy” actually boils down to, President Bush and P.M. Blair apparently decided at one of their get-togethers at the Presidential ranch in Crawford in the Spring of 2002 that there would be a new leader after the (then-ongoing) Israeli re-invasion of the West Bank. Again, the assumption was that if you can find a next-generation Palestinian with a nice suit and good English, who says all the right things about making peace, then the core issues will simply cease to be a problem.
And when it turned out that Saeb Erekat had some odd idea that Palestinian leaders are chosen by the Palestinian people, and didn’t relish being the Palestinian Ahmed Chalabi during Operation Defensive Shield any more than Mohammed Dahlan had done at Camp David, our attention turned to Abu Mazen, firstly as a means of circumventing Arafat through the newly-created post of Palestinian Prime Minister, and now as Arafat’s Presidential successor.
Abu Mazen isn’t one of the younger generation, and his English isn’t that great, but he has been extremely flexible in the past in promoting trial balloons for a peace agreement and, most famously, he has made all the right noises against the use of violence. And somewhere between our euphoria over the death of Arafat and our determination to miraculously arrive at a Mid East peace without ever truly addressing the causes that make peace impossible, we have turned Abbas into the anti-Arafat, who will accept what his predecessor wouldn’t: CNN has even started prefacing their references to Abbas with the qualifier “former Arafat foe”, Mahmoud Abbas! So suddenly it’s a shock to discover that the basis for a peace deal under the premiership of Abu Mazen turns out to be the same as it was under Arafat, i.e. a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders:
Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) presented the main features of his political doctrine at a closed meeting held this weekend of the Revolutionary Council of the Fatah movement, which selected him as the movement's candidate for chairman of the Palestinian Authority. He emphasized, of course, that he would follow Yasser Arafat's national last will and testament to the letter, and specified the following: creation of an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with its capital in Jerusalem, and a just solution of the refugee problem, in accordance with UN Resolution 194. In addition, he spoke about a release of the prisoners (the captives, in Palestinian parlance), and added that the proposal of a permanent settlement with Israel would lead to a referendum, which would give the entire Palestinian public a chance to express its views on the subject.
- Danny Rubinstein, Abu Mazen's Minimum; Ha'aretz, 29 Nov 2004.
The difference between Arafat and Abu Mazen is that Arafat did not believe Israel intended to make a peace deal with him on the basis of a two-state solution on the 1967 borders, and was not going to take on the militants in a fratricidal civil war in furtherance of a peace that was not on the table. Abu Mazen, on the other hand, is actively opposed to the use of violence because he believes it actually takes the Palestinians further away from their national goal. But the goal he is thinking of is exactly the same one that Israel could have had with Arafat: a negotiated two state solution based roughly on the 1967 borders, with a shared Jerusalem and a fair resolution of the refugee issue (i.e. Israel finally stops with the “land without a people nonsense” and acknowledges the refugees’ right to return, to which the Palestinians reciprocate by exercising that right to return primarily to the new Palestine, not the refugees’ former homes in what is now Israel).
Abu Mazen knows there is no constituency whatsoever among the Palestinians for accepting a Sharon-type deal of an “interim” statelet made up of Palestinian homelands. From the Palestinian perspective, the ultimate and most painful concession has already been made, i.e. in Arafat’s recognition that Israel should exist on 78% of historic Palestine. For the Palestinians, this is the real Generous Offer: that a people who had nothing to do with Europe’s historic anti-Semitism, or with the Holocaust that it culminated in, should nevertheless recognize the right of the Zionist movement that the anti-Semitism spawned to keep 78% of the homeland, while the indigenous population keeps only the 22% that remains. That was the PLO’s historic concession at Algiers in 1988; that was Arafat’s historic concession in signing the Oslo Accords; and the Israeli assumption that the remaining 22% is now up for grabs (other than through agreed land swaps) is not accepted even by the most accommodating of the Palestinians. To pretend that peace is on the horizon because Abu Mazen can force Palestinians to accept a lesser deal that even Arafat, the father of the nation, could not have sold to the Palestinians, is a cruel hoax.
There was considerable concern voiced in the U.S. media last month about the fact that Abbas began his election campaign in Jenin in the company of armed militants of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade. This event prompted dark warnings from Israel that Abbas should not run on an “extreme” platform that left him hostage to the demands of the militants, meaning presumably the kind of (strangely familiar) platform expressed at the Jenin campaign stop by Jenin's al-Aqsa leader, Zacharia Zubeida:
Let us be clear," said Zubeidi in Jenin. "I do not support the political path of Abu Mazen (Abbas). I support him, because I support the Fatah candidate. But if Abu Mazen starts to mess with our unalterable positions -- with Jerusalem, the right of return, a Palestinian state, the release of prisoners -- we will not recognise his leadership."
-- Elections under Fire; al-Ahram Weekly, 6 Jan 2005.
But there was a much more telling – and a much less reported - event the same week, in the form of an open letter to Palestinian public opinion by over five hundred of the leading political, cultural, academic and security figures in Palestinian society, including many of the “moderate” personalities most associated with the search for a negotiated peace and the rejection of violence. In their letter, What We Want From The Elected President, the petitioners reiterated their support for the goal of a two state solution based on the 1967 borders, and gave an explicit warning in their very first paragraph that the new President should have nothing to do with the Sharon-type interim statelet that Israel is currently imposing:
This program is based on international resolutions, first and foremost UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, and aims at the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the June 4th 1967 borders and reaching a just and agreed upon resolution to the refugee problem in accordance with UN General Assembly resolution 194 and the Beirut Arab Summit resolution. Accordingly, the so-called “interim state” and any partial solutions that aim at preempting a permanent, comprehensive solution must be rejected. Similarly, illegal facts on the ground such as settlements and the apartheid separation wall – facts that were established by the occupation throughout the years in order to stifle our aspiration to a fully sovereign state – must not be succumbed to.
That letter to Abu Mazen was signed by, among others, Abdul Qader Husseini, Hanan Ashrawi, Hanna Siniora, Nabil Amr, Nabil Qassis, Qaddoura Fares, Salim Tamari, Yasser Abed Rabbo, Zahira Kamal and Ziad Abu Zayyad: all leading political figures associated with the moderate, mainstream search for a political solution, some of them personally associated with Abu Mazen and former Ministers in his 2003 government. My point is this: we don’t need to waste our time worrying about how Abu Mazen is going to persuade the likes of Zakaria Zubeida (and beyond him, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad) to settle for what Sharon is willing to offer, when what Sharon is willing to offer is so far short of what international law, international consensus, and even the most moderate Palestinians will settle for. If the Americans seriously expect Abu Mazen to sign a peace deal that not even Nabil Amr, Qaddoura Fares and Ziad abu Zayyad can accept, then they are setting him up for political suicide, and Abu Mazen apparently knows it:
Why then have top figures in the Fatah leadership, among them Abu Mazen's leading supporters, nevertheless seen fit to send him a stern warning on the eve of the election?
It turns out that these lines were written as a kind of deterrence in advance of the day after the elections. They are based on an accumulation of reports of an Egyptian-European effort to persuade Abu Mazen and his people to lower their expectations of Ariel Sharon….
If Abu Mazen comes down with the malady of amnesia that infects Israeli politicians the day after elections, and is tempted to forget the bitter lesson of an Oslo-type interim agreement, which is divorced from any permanent status solution, it is not certain that he will be afforded 100 days of grace. A source in Abu Mazen's election campaign headquarters who is among the signatories to the petition says the great expectations from Abu Mazen are giving him sleepless nights. The size of the disappointment will be equivalent to the size of the expectation, he fears, and the dimensions of the national disaster will be equivalent to the dimension of the victory in the presidential elections.
- Akiva Eldar, “Dear Weak Leader ...” ; 31 Dec 2004.
The death of Arafat was an opening for peace in one sense only: it gave everyone who was using the former PA President as an excuse for their own failings the opportunity to quietly reverse themselves and adopt new, more productive policies, without losing face. It’s very unlikely that the U.S. is going to take this opportunity, however, bearing in mind that our foreign policy during the second term is going to be in the hands of Condoleezza Rice who, unbelievably, really does seem to believe that the I/P conflict is not about land at all, but about the person of Arafat:
A recent front-page New York Times article on Condoleezza Rice's role in shaping US foreign policy reported that in the spring of 2002, when violence was escalating between Israel and the Palestinians, President Bush asked the following of Dr. Rice: Beyond the question of whether the US is "pushing this party hard enough or that party hard enough," what is the "fundamental problem" that has defeated all previous peace initiatives and continues to stand in the way of a political agreement?
Dr. Rice's answer was that the fundamental problem is Yasser Arafat- his refusal to act to stop terrorism and the absence of democracy and accountability in Palestinian political institutions. She concluded, therefore, that sidelining Yasser Arafat, democratizing Palestinian institutions, and bringing to the fore a new Palestinian leadership would improve the prospects of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. This insight, according to Dr. Rice, countered the "prevailing wisdom" that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was "just about land."
- Israel: The Threat From Within; NYRB, 26 Feb 2004.
And I am quite sure that the Israeli government of Ariel Sharon is not going to moderate its policies, but will simply do what worked so well in the Arafat era, i.e. find some “no partner for peace”-type myth that can be used to taint Abu Mazen and justify refusing to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians. In fact, I think I already know what the Abbas-era meme is going to be: I think that Sharon is going to insist that of course he wants to talk peace with Abu Mazen… “but first he must dismantle the infrastructure of terror”.
That’s not a very original excuse: Sharon used it already in Arafat’s day as his pretext for not implementing the Road Map, when he pretended that “first they dismantle the infrastructure of terror” was a prerequisite for its implementation. Of course it isn’t a prerequisite: there are no prerequisites in what is supposed to be a parallel, not a sequential, program. Phase One of the Road Map actually requires not the immediate dismantling of the militant groups but an immediate ceasefire from them (which the Abu Mazen government of 2003 delivered, only to find it unreciprocated by Israel). And even when dismantling of the militant groups is eventually required, the PA isn’t required to make war on them, but may dismantle them by subsuming them into government security forces (as then-Interior Minister Mohammed Dahlan reportedly proposed in 2003, and as the Palestinian National Security Council is quietly doing in Jericho today). So “first they must dismantle the infrastructure of terror” is based on a completely phony reading of the Road Map, but in the absence of effective U.S./Quartet monitoring, and general ignorance/apathy about what the Road Map actually says, it is a wonderfully effective excuse for Sharon to use for avoiding dialogue.
From Sharon’s point of view, the beauty of recycling the “first they tackle the terror” myth and making it a prerequisite for substantive negotiations is that it puts Abu Mazen in an impossible position. His choice is:
1. Launch a fratricidal civil war against the militants, that will tear Palestinian society apart and leave the Palestinians so weak that Sharon feels no pressure to negotiate with them anyway.
2. Refuse to make war on his own people - which he will, because Abu Mazen is no more going to make war on his own militants to please his occupiers than Ben Gurion was willing to take on his own militant rejectionists until after Israeli independence was achieved - then have Sharon explain to Bush that surely Israel cannot sit down with a Palestinian leader clearly on the wrong side in the War on Terror™.
Either way, Abu Mazen loses, and the threat of peace talks is removed from PM Sharon. Can you see how this works? Once you come to terms with the fact that the absence of peace talks is not an unfortunate by-product of Arafat’s failings, but an absolute prerequisite for the policies of the Sharon government, it is easy to understand why there have been no substantive negotiations for the past four years. You can even predict what the excuses are going to be for evading them in the next four years.
Given the irresistible force of Israeli unilateralism, and the immovable object of the Palestinian determination not to accept Israel’s chipping away at the remaining 22% of historic Palestine, Abu Mazen might well decide that his best and only option is to maintain Palestinian unity and passively sit back while the democratic Jewish state hurtles over the cliff it seems so determined to throw itself off. Abu Mazen knows as well as anyone that in the next couple of years the Palestinian child will be born who will make Israeli Jews a minority in Greater Israel/ Mandate Palestine. By 2020, Palestinians will comprise 55% of the population; by 2050, they will probably outnumber the Jewish population almost two-to-one. Given that reality, a disorderly descent into a single state may seem to offer more to Abu Mazen than the dictated one-and-a-half-state solution that is currently on the table.
That’s why the enthusiasm over the presumed election of Abu Mazen is pointless. Abu Mazen can do nothing to put meaningful peace negotiations on the Israeli agenda, only the Israelis themselves and their U.S. backers can. Henry Siegman of the Council for Foreign Relations posed the question succinctly when Arafat died:
"As long as Arafat was in power, the question was whether there was a Palestinian partner for peace… If he is replaced by a Palestinian leadership that opposes violence, the question will become: is there an Israeli partner for peace, and what is the United States doing to make sure there is?"
And the answer is, quite frankly, the U.S. will do nothing, because that’s what Sharon wants.
That’s why all the happy talk over new openings for peace after the death of Arafat is for nothing. Because the only realistic basis for a peace settlement at this moment is a negotiated two state solution, and it was not Arafat who was ever averse to that. The window of opportunity for the two state solution is closing fast. It will soon be lost entirely: not because of some supposed failing in whoever the Palestinians choose as their leader, but simply because Israel has a Prime Minister who does not believe in a two state solution, and his enablers in Bush Administration insist on burying their heads in the sand and pretending that he does.
 In a 12 Feb 2003 interview, recounted in Clayton Swisher's The Truth About Camp David (Ch 13, footnote 50).
 From Mohammed Dahlan's 22 May 2003 interview with Clayton Swisher, recounted in the above book (Chapter 13, footnote 51).