Fifth, now that the Quartet has decided to explore establishing a "temporary international mechanism" to provide direct assistance to Palestinians, the Bush Administration should engage actively in its design to ensure that the Quartet does not head down a slippery slope of funding and engaging with Hamas-led PA ministries. To avoid such an outcome, the mechanism would need the following structure:
Hamas can be expected to object to what would be a purposeful diminution of its control over these institutions. It could use violence, for example by targeting international aid workers, occupying hospitals and schools, or by intimidating civil servants from "collaborating" with the president's office and the ITF. But as Palestinians' circumstances worsen by the day, they would face a clear choice between supporting Hamas and forgoing international aid, or supporting their elected president's partnership with the international community and acquiring the necessary health, education and welfare assistance. With the PA unable to pay salaries or fund welfare facilities, Hamas' ability to block the mechanism's operations could become untenable in the face of Palestinian desperation. Even if Hamas managed to prevent ITF operations in the short-term, the mechanism should remain available for use in the likely event of the PA's collapse, when international intervention would become a necessity;6
WHAT TO DO ABOUT ISRAEL'S "CONSOLIDATION" PLAN? Olmert's efforts to finalize Israel's borders may be impossible to implement if Palestinian violence and terrorist attacks escalate. In such circumstances, Israel is unlikely to contemplate removing its forces from the West Bank or allowing Palestinians free access to the Jordan border and Arab east Jerusalem, as this would increase rather than decrease the vulnerability of Israeli civilians.
Ehud Olmert will make his first official visit to the White House as prime minister on May 23, 2006. While Iran may top the agenda of mutual U.S.-Israeli concerns, Olmert's campaign promise of rapid disengagement from the West Bank Palestinians also demands American attention.
During the recent election campaign, Olmert signaled his intentions and his strategy to Israelis more clearly than any Israeli leader in recent history. He noted that while he prefers negotiated withdrawal to unilateralism, he will not wait indefinitely for the Hamas government to remake itself to enable negotiations. In some comments, he has suggested that his withdrawal timetable will begin at the end of the year.8 His government has also suggested that withdrawal could include Arab suburbs of East Jerusalem.9 Moreover, he has repeatedly stated that the withdrawal will set Israel's final borders, which have remained undecided since the state's founding in 1948.
No American president could seriously contemplate rejecting an offer of Israeli withdrawal and the evacuation of settlements from any of the territories occupied in 1967. The question is not whether the United States should welcome Olmert's "consolidation" plan, but how. Put otherwise, what requirements should be attached to America's support, and what diplomatic, political and security context can the United States foster for the withdrawal to ensure that it contributes to the U.S. goal of a negotiated two-state solution. These questions are pertinent because Prime Minister Olmert may make President Bush an offer that he will find difficult to refuse: that the extent of Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank be commensurate with the degree of U.S. willingness to legitimize Israel's new borders.
Presenting the Israeli withdrawal this way puts President Bush in a bind. He will want to maximize the Israeli withdrawal to promote the viability of a future Palestinian state and rightfully claim credit for laying its foundations. However, longstanding U.S. policy and previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements specify that those borders be determined through Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. If Israel unilaterally decides the extent of its withdrawal, with U.S. blessing for its new borders, then the United States will have acceded to Israel's unilateral drawing of the future Palestinian state's borders. Since "consolidation" would involve annexing settlement blocs occupying some eight percent of the West Bank, this Israeli imposed border will be rejected as illegitimate by the Palestinians and the Arab states. America's Quartet partners are also likely to strongly oppose the move.
Nonetheless, President Bush might be sorely tempted to respond positively to his Israeli ally's request to abandon the imperative of negotiating a final settlement. Bush tends towards radical and unconventional approaches to foreign policy, discarding, for example, thirty years of non-proliferation policy to secure a historic and controversial nuclear deal with India. Heading into his final years in office, his "legacy phase", Bush might ask himself whether a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from over 90 percent of the West Bank, including Arab suburbs of east Jerusalem, would enable history to judge him favorably as the father of a viable, territorially contiguous Palestinian state. With such a prospect before him, maintaining the U.S. commitment to an eventual negotiated solution might appear foolish given its meager prospects with Hamas in power. He might well see it as a theoretical ideal obstructing an attainable good.
If this prospect proves too powerful to resist, the Bush Administration should still shape Israeli "consolidation" to minimize negative consequences and maximize the chances for an eventual negotiated agreement. Any legitimization of Israel's withdrawal as fulfillment of its territorial obligations under UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 242 (1967) would therefore need to be combined with the following:
The Bush Administration would therefore be wise not to commit to any particular formulation regarding the Israeli withdrawal until it is actually carried out. The worst possible outcome for U.S. interests would be to make forward-leaning statements regarding the significance and implications of Israel's withdrawal, only to have the withdrawal curtailed or cancelled because of changing conditions in the Palestinian territories or an Israeli political crisis.
A "STATE WITH PROVISIONAL BORDERS"?
Taking all these requirements into account, President Bush might decide that legitimizing Israel's unilateral borders is too costly. He could then contemplate another option: use Olmert's evident willingness to withdraw from the West Bank to promote negotiations with Abbas over an interim agreement and the establishment of a Palestinian "state with provisional borders."
Transforming Israeli unilateralism into negotiations over Palestinian statehood contains several advantages. It would maintain the consistency of America's approach to a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian solution and enable President Bush to achieve his goal of a Palestinian state during his time in office. A negotiated agreement on statehood would undercut Hamas by preventing an Israeli withdrawal being viewed as a victory for violence (unlike Gaza disengagement), and would provide Palestinians with a credible political alternative to isolation and misery. Furthermore, a negotiated agreement on a Palestinian state would require the dismantling of the PA and its replacement with a newly elected, sovereign government. This time, however, election rules excluding parties that do not forswear violence or accept negotiated agreements could be devised and strictly enforced.
On the security level, negotiating a Palestinian state with provisional borders would be an improvement over unilateral withdrawal. Israel could retain in the interim certain security assets in the West Bank, obviating the extensive security arrangements required by a final withdrawal. The current multiple, competing PA security forces could be dismantled in favor of a functional structure. A Palestinian state would perforce have a monopoly on the use of violence within its territory, giving President Abbas the necessary grounds to act against militant groups and collect privately-held weapons.
Another advantage to this approach is long-range, but important: when Israelis and Palestinians finally negotiate an end to their conflict, they would do so as equals, state-to-state. This would eliminate the difference in status that has plagued past negotiations, and make Palestinian commitments more explicitly binding and enforceable under international law.
Prime Minister Olmert intends to spend this year testing whether a Palestinian negotiating partner is available. Using this time to promote a negotiation on "interim statehood" would not force Israel into an undesirable agreement, and would preserve the unilateral withdrawal option. The attempt would assuage discontent among Olmert's partners about "consolidation." Influential voices in Olmert's government, including his coalition partners in the Labor Party and ministers from his Kadima Party, prefer to negotiate Israel's withdrawal with Abbas than deliver territory gratis to the Hamas-led PA. By pursuing Palestinian statehood, Olmert could demonstrate to Labor his preference for negotiations, while reassuring right-wing critics that he does not intend to yield territory in exchange for nothing. Indeed, for Israel, withdrawal in the framework of an agreement on Palestinian statehood would enable it to secure Palestinian commitments to the demilitarization of that state and other critical security arrangements which might not be implementable in current circumstances but will be important in the future and would be unattainable if the unilateral withdrawal option is pursued.
The option of a Palestinian state with provisional borders is provided for in Phase Two of the Quartet's Road Map. Drafted in the middle of the second intifada and never implemented, the Road Map remains the only post-Oslo framework agreed by all the relevant actors. Under the terms of the Road Map, the parties cannot enter Phase Two until Phase One is completed—a phase that requires Israel to freeze settlement building and the PA to dismantle the infrastructure of the terrorist organizations. Pursuing a state with provisional borders involves jumping over Phase One requirements and moving directly to Phase Two.
While this shift would free the Palestinians of their Road Map obligation to fight terrorism, the fact is that Israel's withdrawal from West Bank territory unilaterally, without any Palestinian reciprocity, would render the PA's Phase One obligations irrelevant anyway. Moreover, if the Bush Administration laid out a new "road map" (see above) by which Hamas could comply with international obligations, it would be conditioning diplomatic and financial relations with the PA on fighting terrorism and dismantling the terrorist infrastructure. This is a more effective way, in the current circumstances, of achieving the same Phase One objectives. Palestinian security obligations should also be incorporated into any statehood agreement. A Palestinian counterterrorism commitment, however doubtful its implementation, is worth more than the absence of any obligation to responsible behavior that will prevail following Israel's unilateral withdrawal.
Should President Bush wish to pursue a state with provisional borders, he will first have to convince President Abbas, who has repeatedly rejected this option. Abbas is currently proposing immediate final status negotiations (Road Map Phase Three). Abbas objects to interim statehood because of fears that the international community will forget the Palestinians once the interim state is recognized, leaving the Palestinian state's provisional borders to become its de facto final borders. Alleviating this concern requires providing U.S. and international guarantees about what a Palestinian state's final borders will look like, and when they will be achieved. These guarantees could be provided in a letter of assurance enunciating the "Bush Principles" for a final agreement. The principles of "territorial compensation," refugees and Jerusalem that were discussed in the context of U.S. legitimization of Israel's borders could be similarly employed to facilitate negotiating a state with provisional borders.
THE DEFAULT OPTION: MINIMAL WITHDRAWAL
As he contemplates these options, President Bush may find his appetite for renewed activism on the Israeli-Palestinian front limited by the policy challenges he faces elsewhere in the Middle East. The outcome of the Iraq and Iran predicaments will likely determine Bush's legacy more than any move on Palestinian statehood. Even setting these issues aside, Bush has generally avoided major investments in Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, restricting his personal role to statements from the bully pulpit, while U.S. efforts have focused on short-term crisis management.
In current circumstances, he might wish to shun any Israeli-Palestinian policy option that demands significant new U.S. engagement. If Bush is not prepared to enable a major Israeli withdrawal or to jumpstart interim negotiations, then Israel will likely revert to a "default" option: a more modest, unilateral withdrawal from outlying West Bank settlements after completing the security barrier around key settlement blocs. The problem with this "default option," however, is that it will reinforce trends toward growing anarchy, and greater Hamas influence, in areas left to Palestinian rule. It will also complicate Bush's efforts on other Middle Eastern fronts, as Iran and Syria exploit the deterioration in the Palestinian arena to help them escape the isolation and containment that the U.S. seeks to impose upon them. The results will be increased Palestinian hardship, more terrorism against Israelis, and extinguished hopes for an outcome that would best serve the interests of Americans, Israelis and Palestinians: a negotiated, two-state solution.
American influence will strongly determine whether Israel's West Bank disengagement is conducted in a manner that facilitates a later negotiated settlement, is simply consistent with that possibility, or at worst undermines it. Similarly, while rejecting Hamas as an appropriate interlocutor, America's attitude toward the PA and its interactions with other segments of Palestinian society will strongly influence the possibilities of promoting alternative Palestinian leadership that will enjoy the ability and legitimacy to negotiate effectively with Israel and to implement agreements.
The Bush Administration's choices regarding whether to use its remaining influence to improve the current negative environment and increase the likelihood of future peace negotiations will be read as signs of U.S. diplomatic commitment and creativity, and more fundamentally of our commitment to an Arab-Israeli peace process begun and sustained through the efforts of seven consecutive American administrations. An American misstep, just as surely as precipitous actions by Israelis and Palestinians, could help to render this conflict insoluble. That outcome must be avoided at all costs.
The authors wish to acknowledge the research assistance of Ariel Kastner in the preparation of this paper, as well as the other staff of the Saban Center who made the Workshop possible.
IP WORKSHOP PARTICIPANTS:
Ziad Abu Amr, Member, Palestinian Legislative Council, Gaza
Ziad Asali, Founder, American Task Force on Palestine
Amjad Atallah, Founder and President, Strategic Assessments Initiative
Salam Fayyad, Member, Palestinian Legislative Council; Former Minister of Finance
Nisreen Haj Ahmad, Former Member of Negotiations Affairs Department, Palestinian National Authority
Lamia Matta, Legal Advisor, Palestinian Negotiations Support Unit
Khalil Shikaki, Director, Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research
Nahum Barnea, Saban Center Kreiz Visiting Fellow and Columnist for Yediot Ahronot
Giora Eiland, Chairman, National Security Council
Avi Gil, Former Director General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation
Eival Gilady, CEO, The Portland Trust; Former Head of Coordination and Strategy for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Gidi Grinstein, Founder and President of Re'ut Institute
Pini Meidan, Former Policy Advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak
Amnon Lipkin Shahak, Chairman of the Board, Tahal Group; Former Deputy Prime Minister
Baruch Spiegel, Israel Defense Forces Head of Civilian and Humanitarian Issues vis-à-vis Security Fence; Brig.-Gen. (Res.) Israel Defense Forces
Edward Abington, Bannerman and Associates; Former U.S. Consul General, Jerusalem
Daniel Abraham, Chairman, Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation
Robert Danin, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, U.S. Department of State
Martin Indyk, Director, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, former Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs and U.S. Ambassador to Israel
Daniel Kurtzer, S. Daniel Abraham Professor in Middle Eastern Policy Studies, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University; former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt
Scott Lasensky, Senior Research Associate, United States Institute of Peace
David Makovsky, Senior Fellow, Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Robert Malley, Middle East and North Africa Program Director, International Crisis Group
Kenneth Pollack, Research Director, Saban Center for Middle East Policy
Kim Savit, Senior Professional Staff Member, Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate
Puneet Talwar, Senior Professional Staff Member, Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate
Shibley Telhami, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Saban Center for Middle East Policy; Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development, University of Maryland
Toni Verstandig, Senior Policy Advisor, Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation
Tamara Cofman Wittes, Research Fellow, Saban Center for Middle East Policy
Hassan Barari, Center for Strategic Studies, University of Jordan
Markus Bouillon, Associate, Middle East and Special Programs, International Peace Academy
Ezzedine Choukri-Fishere, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Arab Republic of Egypt
Marc Otte, Special Representative to the Middle East, European Union