Step Backward, A Step Forward
After a long and harmful
interruption in the Palestinian-Israeli track of the peace process, the
two sides reached an understanding regarding the implementation of the
Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum. The
break in negotiations was the result of Israeli attempts to evade
obligations under the Memorandum and other existing agreements.
This included attempts to unilaterally undertake a third stage of
redeployment from 6.1% of the West Bank and attempts to forego the third,
and much more substantial, phase of redeployment.
The recent understanding
was reached after two meetings between President Arafat and Prime Minister
Barak, with the participation of the U.S. Special Envoy to the Peace
Process, Dennis Ross in the second meeting.
At a later stage, both Arafat and Barak flew to Sharm el-Sheikh to
meet with President Mubarak in recognition of the role played by Egypt, in
cooperation with the role of the U.S., to overcome the stalemate and reach
With this understanding,
the two sides solved the issue of the third stage of redeployment after
the specific areas were discussed, and the third phase was reaffirmed and
will be implemented in June 2000. The
two sides also agreed to engage in intensive negotiations, which are to
take place in Washington, D.C. with the assistance of the U.S.
negotiations will aim at reaching a framework agreement by May, all on the
basis that the final settlement agreement should be concluded by September
2000. In addition, the
understanding also covers important issues such as the release of
prisoners, the opening of the northern safe passage, and the release by
Israel of Palestinian money in the form of taxes and other payments due.
All of this is good news. However, in light of previous experiences with this Israeli government, it has become very hard to be really optimistic with a government that takes one step forward followed by one step backward or vice versa. That may be better than the Netanyahu government, which routinely chose one step forward and two steps (or more) back. But it is not good enough to ensure the successful conclusion of the peace process by the agreed time.