Middle East Peace Process: Positive Steps Taken in an Increasingly Negative Setting 

            The Palestinian-Israeli track of the Middle East peace process has been transmitting mixed signals.  The Israeli government, for instance, has shown seriousness in implementation of the provisions of the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum.  We have witnessed the execution as well of the first stage of redeployment and the second stage is expected to take place soon.  We have also witnessed the release of 250 Palestinian prisoners and the opening of the southern safe passage (albeit with some delay).  There have also been some developments in the right direction with regard to the Gaza Seaport and the northern safe passage. 

            However, two important issues in the agreements are being evaded by the Israeli side, namely the establishment of the Committee to negotiate the third phase of the redeployment and the commencement of the Quadrilateral Committee on the Return of the Displaced Persons of 1967, both of immense importance. 

            At the same time, the Israeli government has taken several destructive actions, such as its decision with regard to the hilltop settlements, which while removing 12 of those settlements, has effectively meant the approval of 32 new settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Enlargement of some of the existing settlements is also taking place, the most recent indication of which was the decision to enlarge a settlement called “Itamar” to ten times its current size.  Coupled with that has been the ongoing confiscation of land. 

            Further, the Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. Barak, recently stated that Security Council resolution 242, which calls for the withdrawal of Israel from the territories occupied in 1967, does not apply to the West Bank and Gaza.  Such a position, of course, destroys any real chance to reach a final settlement. It was only after the uproar against such a position, including a statement by the U.S. Department of State, that the office of the Prime Minister issued a statement expressing something akin to the following: While the resolution applies to the Palestinian-Israeli track, as it was agreed between the parties, nevertheless it is of less relevance to these territories than the territories of sovereign Arab states. 

            Many other Israeli political positions regarding the final settlement, such as the position on Jerusalem and the position on refugees, cannot be described but as extreme positions, which can only serve to ensure the failure of the negotiations.  So, while we do appreciate the Israeli implementation of the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum and the positive developments in this regard, we are increasingly worried about overall Israeli actions and the real intentions of Mr. Barak and his government.  The Israeli side must understand that this peace process is not about finding a solution for Israel’s problems.  It is about finding a solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, one which should respect the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people with the required minimum justice and one which should be based on international law and international legitimacy.