The Peace Process After Al-Khalil

Making peace requires going beyond reciprocity

And encompasses mutuality and parity

On the 15th of January 1997, the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) reached an agreement on a "Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron" and a "Note for the Record". The text of both documents did not depart much from that of the overall Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip of 1995. The changes related to Al-Khalil (Hebron) were limited and balanced, and that in itself is a plus for the Palestinian side, which has emphasized the importance of consistency and compliance with previous agreements.

More important than the text analysis, however, is the political meaning and significance of the agreement and what it might lead to. To begin, we can identify three new political facts. First is the official commitment of the Israeli government of Prime Minister Netanyahu to the Declaration of Principles of 1993 and the Interim Agreement of 1995 and its commitment to implementing those agreements as opposed to a vague commitment of that government to the peace process or the Oslo process. Second is the official and full recognition of President Arafat, the Palestinian National Authority and the PLO by that Israeli government as the counterpart representing the Palestinian people and as a partner in the peace process. Third is the full engagement of the U.S. in the process, not from a far and not only as a facilitator but also as an effective mediator and indispensable guarantor.

Those three facts have clear political significance. They mean that the Israeli government has resumed its membership in the peace process club, giving the process a fresh and important impetus. Of course, Arab parties will closely monitor the implementation of the agreement in the coming period and will try to assess the impact it might have on the other tracks, particularly the Syrian track. The agreement is also important in terms of broadening the constituency of the peace process in Israel and the support being given to the peace process by the Israelis in general. Then there is the fact that the conclusion of this agreement represents a heavy blow to the outlandish idea of "the complete land of Israel". It does not, however, necessarily represent a defeat of expansionist policies.

The important redeployment in Hebron has been successfully carried through and the Israeli occupation of over 80% of the city was brought to an end. Now what about the future? The immediate future will depend on the way the parties proceed with regard to implementation of the specific overdue issues mentioned in the Note for the Record, such as the release of prisoners, the airport, seaport and, more importantly, freedom of movement of persons and goods including the safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza. It is difficult to predict which way things will go but it seems more reasonable to assume that the tendency in this respect will be positive in spite of the negative actions taken and statements made recently by Israeli officials.

Next is the issue of further redeployments in the West Bank, which should be completed within twelve months, starting at the beginning of March 1997, but not later than mid-1998. By then, Israel is to have redeployed its forces to agreed military locations. Needless to say that we sharply differ with the Israeli side's interpretation of the letter of Secretary Christopher to Prime Minister Netanyahu in this regard. In any case, the text should be reconciled with the text of the Interim Agreement.

The future will depend largely on the Israeli government's plans with regard to the illegal settlements, which will have a decisive effect on the situation. If the government decides to proceed with settlement activities, coupled with negative positions on the above-mentioned overdue issues, we will be taken back to square one, which is the situation before Al-Khalil. If the government decides to proceed with settlement activities, yet adopts a reasonable negotiating position on the above-mentioned issues, the resulting situation would still be quite peculiar, undermining the prospects for a final settlement. While such contradictory positions might be reflective of petty political calculations, they might also be reflective of expansionist designs. In any case, they would clearly constitute a schizophrenic policy, preventing progress in the peace process and critically endangering it.

At a later stage, the focus will shift to how the Israeli government, the same one or a broader one, will formulate its positions vis--vis the issues of final settlement. Are we going to witness the difficult but needed political maturity or will we witness attempts to stick to unimplementable dangerous slogans, which contradict the requirements of peace and the logic of the process, while hiding behind easy-to-achieve "national consensus"?

For different reasons, Mr. Netanyahu and the Likud in general appear to have come to terms with the idea of the necessity of compliance with the agreements reached. The central question here is whether they have equally grasped the real meaning of the mutual recognition between the two parties and peoples, which is the crux of the two agreements and the peace process as a whole. Making peace requires going beyond reciprocity and encompasses mutuality and parity between the two sides. That means coexistence between two states. That means the right of the Palestinian people to establish their state with Jerusalem as its capital.