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[For Part I, Click Here.]
In the wake of the Mitchell and Tenet failures, President Bush sent General Anthony Zinni (retired) to broker peace between Israel and Arafat on March 26, 2002. His plan was simple, clear cut, and straight-forward: both sides immediately and simultaneously declare cease-fires, Israel stops pro-active operations (i.e., arrests or assassinations of known terrorists) at the same time that Arafat orders field commanders to stop all attacks and arrest anyone involved in terror activities, the IDF then begins redeployment from most of the West Bank, and the Palestinian Authority assumes security responsibility for West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel agreed, and enforced its first part of the deal. Arafat said he agreed but then did nothing to stop terror attacks. As terror attacks continued, Israel had no choice but to deploy the IDF to stop them. Arafat’s unwillingness or inability to stop terrorism scuttled the Zinni plan. Some analysts suggest that Arafat continued the terrorism because he felt he could do better in negotiations with then Secretary of State Colin Powell who was scheduled to visit the Middle East very shortly after Zinni’s visit.
When he came to Israel to try again to broker a peace agreement, on April 4, 2002, Secretary of State Powell had no organized plan, just demands for a cease fire. He did, however, specifically call upon Arafat to step up to the plate, end terrorism and start negotiations. He demanded that Arafat make a public announcement over Palestinian media, renouncing violence. ”It’s time for him (Arafat) to make a strategic decision to combat attacks on Israeli civilians. Chairman Arafat must take that message to his people, he must follow through with instructions to his security forces (that) they must start to arrest and prosecute terrorists, disrupt terrorist financing, dismantle terrorists’ infrastructures and stop incitement” said Mr. Powell.
Sharon agreed to step down operations, but only if there will be a “dramatic change from the Palestinian side.” Arafat complied verbally, but the terror attacks and suicide bombings continued even as Israel intensified its Operation Defensive Shield, the re-occupation of the West Bank and destruction of terrorist bases of operation there.
Fed up with Arafat’s unwillingness, or inability, to stop the terrorism, President Bush took a step that no former President had ever done: on June 24, 2002 he promised the Palestinian people their own state, as long as they eschewed terrorism and violence.” Terror must be stopped,” he said. “No nation can negotiate with terrorists. For there is no way to make peace with those whose only goal is death.” He went on record that the United States supports the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a Palestinian state, such that the two states would live side by side in peace and security. He also went on record blaming Arafat for the merciless terror war he initiated against Israel on September 29, 2000, and recognized Israel’s need to use force against the terrorist networks attacking Israeli civilians. But Arafat ignored this offer and did nothing to stop the terror attacks. There was no one among the Palestinian leadership willing to oppose Arafat. The terror war continued.
Less than a year later, in April, 2003, for the first time in history, The USA, the EU, the UN and Russia convened in Washington to create a performance-based “roadmap” intended to lead to a permanent Two-State solution: the “Road Map for Peace.” The text acknowledged the ground-breaking nature of President Bush’s June 24th speech and acknowledged that the “destination” of this “Road Map for Peace” was a comprehensive settlement by 2005, following the guidelines of the President’s June 24th vision of a two-state solution. The first line of the first paragraph of the first section of part I of the Road Map stated that the Palestinian Authority must unconditionally and immediately stop the terrorism and incitement. Thereafter Israel must stop settlement expansion. Then Arafat was to enable the creation of a democratic Palestinian parliament with the appointment of a prime minister who will select a cabinet. Then both sides return to the peace talks, the clearly defined purpose of which was to create a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel accepted the Road Map with some reservations, while committing to painful concessions and acknowledging that the Palestinians could ultimately achieve statehood by ending terrorism and committing to peaceful co-existence. Arafat said he accepted the Road Map, but then postponed talks with Israel and put the Road Map’s peace process at risk by rejecting the cabinet of the newly appointed Palestinian Authority Prime Minster Mahmud Abbas. Reports from Palestinian West Bank officials revealed that Arafat continued the funding of his terrorist groups, while contingents of these groups attacked, abducted, and tortured supporters of Abbas. Thus, in the face of another international offer for the creation of a Palestinian state, Arafat chose to continue his war.
From February 3 to April 14, 2004 President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon developed together a plan for an unconditional and unilateral withdrawal of all Israeli forces from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Information about this plan was shared with Ahmed Qure’a, the Prime Minister of the PA (by this time, Arafat was too ill to function. He died on November 11, 2004), as was the assessment of this plan by US lobbyists. On April 14 Sharon sent Bush an official letter stating Israel’s willingness to disengage from the West Bank and Gaza Strip simultaneous with the PA’s assumption of effective security controls and the cessation of terrorism and other hostilities. Bush and Sharon held a press conference announcing the plan that same day.
The next day, PA Prime Minister Qure’a sent letters to UN Secretary General Kofi Anan, President Bush, and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair expressing the PA’s outright dismissal of Sharon’s plan. So Sharon, with Bush’s backing, offers the PA its freedom from Israeli control and its complete independence, and PA leadership says no.
Prior to the beginning of his discussions with President Bush about unilateral withdrawal from all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, on Dec. 19, 2003, Prime Minister Sharon had announced his plan to unilaterally and unconditionally withdraw all Israelis from only the Gaza Strip and turn it over, in toto, to the Palestinian Authority. President Bush, the UN and the EU all enthusiastically endorsed the plan and urged Palestinian leadership to step up to the plate and reciprocate by fulfilling the demands of the Road Map and beginning the process that would end with a peaceful two-state solution.
At first Sharon’s plan was rejected by the Israeli government, but after six months of internal negotiations and political gerrymandering, and after the negative responses from the PA about Sharon’s plan for more comprehensive withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza strip, the less ambitious plan for the Gaza Strip alone was approved on June 6, 2004. On August 15, 2005 Israeli security forces evicted more than 9,000 Israeli residents from 21 Israeli communities in the Gaza Strip. And on September 22, 2005 four additional Israeli communities in the West Bank were forcibly dismantled and their residents evicted. The execution of this plan was painful and difficult, causing enormous political and social upheaval in Israel, especially because of the forced evictions. But the Israeli government carried it out in order to make an incontrovertible and unequivocal statement that it was ready for peace and for the creation of a Palestinian state.
But Palestinian leadership did not reciprocate. Almost immediately, Hamas began qassam rocket attacks on Israel from the newly liberated Gaza Strip, forcing Israel to close its Gaza border crossings and police the coast and airspace to prevent Hamas from importing weapons. Over the next five years Hamas would fire more than 10,000 rockets and missiles and RPGs at Israeli civilians in communities around the Gaza Strip.
Five years after its first attempt at peace making, the Saudi royal family renewed its leadership with the Riyadh summit of March 28, 2007, which proposed a retread of its 2002 plan. This time, the demands on Israel were harsher, with the expectation that Israel, a priori, would return to the 1949 armistice lines and accept millions of so-called “Palestinian refugees” into what they claim to be their former homes and farms in Israel. Only after Israel completed these potentially catastrophic concessions would the Arab world agree to peace and a normalization of relations.
Despite this hardening of the Saudi position, Israel’s government, under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, was warm to the plan and referred to it as a “new opportunity” offered by “moderate Palestinians and pragmatic Arab leaders.” Olmert invited Arab leaders to a meeting at which they would discuss the plan in more detail. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, however, declined Olmert’s offer. This snub, and the wording of the plan itself, which presented Israel with a fait acompli, a take-it or leave-it offer which guaranteed that Israel would be flooded with millions of Arabs claiming descent from the refugee population of Arabs who fled Mandatory Palestine during the 1948 war, cooled Israel’s initial enthusiasm. Upon more thoughtful consideration, it became clear to Israeli leaders that the plan was not an invitation to peace negotiations, but an ultimatum that would put Israel in a severely compromised position in the event that the Arab side did not fulfill its requirements.
Moreover, the actions from the Arab side that would guarantee Israel’s security and provide follow-up stages of implementation were vague and overly general. Israel would first need to make substantive and irreversible concessions of territory and polity, and then hope that the Arab side would fulfill its commitments to easily reversible philosophical changes of language, attitude and behavior.
It is instructive that two years later, Palestinian advisor to President Abbas, Ghaith al-Omari, acknowledged that Israel’s concerns were reasonable, and that the Arab side did not properly address these concerns. He specified the same problems (all-or-nothing deal, no negotiations, refugees flooding Israel, vague and general promises of an easily reversible nature) that prompted Israel to look askance at the plan. Hamas’s leader, Khaled Mesh’al, expressed no opposition to plan but continued his opposition to any normalization of relations with Israel, and remained adamant about not accepting Israel’s right to exist. Other Hamas factions were bitterly opposed to the Riyadh plan because it formalized an Arab diplomatic recognition of Israel.
Just a few months after the plan was presented, Hamas ousted the PA from the Gaza Strip in a bloody coup and took full control of the Strip and promptly renewed rocket and mortar attacks against Israel. With Hamas stronger than ever, and the PA reduced in power and influence, Israel’s reluctance to fulfill the requirements of the Riyadh ultimatum seemed wise. Today, in light of the recent “Arab Spring” and the changes taking place in Arab governments across the Middle East, Israel’s hesitation, in hindsight, was clearly justified.
On October 21, 2007, Israeli military intelligence exposed a Palestinian plot to assassinate Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Mahmud Abbas arrested the perpetrators, but then immediately released them despite the fact that they had confessed to the plot. None the less, Olmert continued to support negotiations with the Palestinians and Israel’s participation in the Annapolis summit scheduled for November 27, 2007.
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