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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace


COMMENT: Gaza Withdrawal Requires Solid Leadership and Guidance

Detroit Free Press
May 6, 2005
By Rafi Dajani and Daniel Levy

As America busies itself with the first 100 days of the second Bush administration, Israelis and Palestinians are engaged with marking two other 100-day yardsticks that may define their respective futures. We have just marked the first 100 days of President Mahmoud Abbas, and are fast approaching 100 days to the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

At this critical juncture, the majority of Israelis and Palestinians may finally be realizing that they sink or swim together. For the Abbas government and the Gaza withdrawal both to succeed would be good news for Israelis and Palestinians alike, as well as for the United States.

Abbas represents pragmatism, reform and the inadmissibility of the use of violence. A complete Gaza withdrawal represents hope for both peoples, and a long overdue Israeli recognition that only leaving the occupied Palestinian territories can guarantee Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic nation, and end the situation whereby the settler tail has been wagging the dog.

But the success of both will require heavy lifting by the United States.

Following his internationally monitored election victory, Abbas has fulfilled several key requirements of both the road map and the Sharm el-Sheik understandings.

He has begun consolidating the Palestinian Authority security services, replaced the leadership of the security branches with younger, professional heads, as well as retiring 1,150 senior personnel.

Most significantly Abbas has ended the intifada, something Israel was unable to do for over four years despite deploying its considerable military force. He has pursued an unequivocal platform of renouncing violence and embracing the political process as the only way Palestinians will achieve nationhood. Progress on internal reform and combating corruption has proceeded too, albeit at a slower pace, in the face of entrenched opposition.

Israel's response can at best be described as "wait and see." By adopting this default position, Israeli actions serve to undermine Abbas with his own public, and to strengthen the position of Palestinian militant groups. This makes Palestinian Authority security reform more difficult and increases the prospects of an opposition victory in upcoming Palestinian legislative elections, a victory that would seriously challenge Abbas' political platform.

As the party with the most control over the daily lives of ordinary Palestinians, there is much more Israel can do without compromising its security in any way. These steps include freezing settlement activity, the release of Palestinian prisoners held without charge or trial and the removal of the numerous West Bank checkpoints that serve only to cripple Palestinian social, educational and economic life and generate hostility.

To realize the viable two-nation solution that Israelis, Palestinians and Americans have all apparently signed up for, there will need to be an empowered Palestinian partner and an end to creating facts on the ground, mainly settlement expansion, that negatively prejudice this desired outcome.

The interests of the parties can coincide. This will mean all sides, America included, delivering on their commitments.

The importance of the Gaza withdrawal should not be minimized, but there is an urgency to Israel implementing its commitments to improve daily Palestinian life and cease creating new obstacles on the ground.

This is critical in demonstrating to Palestinians that their president and his way can deliver for them. It would legitimatize his platform of negotiations and reform as the road to independence and freedom. Equally important, it would minimize the resonance of militant claims that Israel is withdrawing from Gaza because of violent resistance.

The consequences of the failure of Abbas' presidency include the very real possibility of a return to violence and a third intifada. Even more ominous are implications for both Palestinian and Mideast moderates; that their method of negotiation, engagement in a political process and the shunning of violence is fruitless.

For the United States, a successful peace process and Palestinian nation will remove the major irritant in relations with the Arab and Muslim worlds, eliminate the major recruiting tool for extremists and greatly increase prospects of democratization in the Middle East.

According to polls, a viable and contiguous Palestinian nation that meets the national aspirations of the Palestinian people, alongside a secure and recognized Israel that remains demographically Jewish, is a goal shared by the majority of Israelis and Palestinians.

The Geneva Initiative gave an example of how this might be achieved. If Israel leaves Gaza in 100 days, it might be the beginning, not the end, of a process leading to real peace negotiations and the end of both occupation and conflict.

This will require the active resumption of American leadership in Mideast peace-making. Israelis, Palestinians, and yes, Americans, deserve no less.

Rafi Dajani is executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based American Task Force on Palestine. Daniel Levy is lead drafter of the Geneva Initiative and former Israeli negotiator and adviser in the Prime Minister's Office.

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