Vol. 5, No. 16 1 February 2006
The Palestinian Authority and the
Challenge of Palestinian Elections
Maj.-Gen. (Res.) Giora Eiland
The government of Israel could accept the roadmap because it differed from the Oslo process in one significant respect. In Oslo, the notion was that peace would bring security. The political process was to develop certain horizons for the Palestinian people, and hopes for a better future were to reduce the incentives and motivation for terrorism. But it didn't work.
The roadmap is based on the opposite concept, in which the security problems have to be addressed first. Israel does not intend to repeat the same mistake again and have a political process under the continuous threat of another wave of terrorism.
Israel made a historic decision in February 2003 to accept the roadmap, which envisions a two-state solution, with the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. However, the Palestinians have yet to make two crucial strategic decisions which they cannot ignore or escape. The first is to understand that political achievements cannot be gained through terrorism. The second is to recognize that a two-state solution means that on one side there will be a Palestinian state, but on the other side there will be a Jewish state. I have never heard any real Arab leader say loud and clear that Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state.
Prime Minister Sharon did not think a further unilateral withdrawal in the West Bank was a smart thing to do. This was not his intention and there were no such plans. The prime minister believed that Israel has to stay exactly where we are as far as territory is concerned, and to insist that the Palestinians begin to do what they have to do in the security realm before other political movement can take place.
Why the Gaza Withdrawal Passed Peacefully
In the months before the withdrawal from Gaza, we in Israel were sure that Hamas would try to take advantage of this very sensitive period and try to escalate the violence, not only because we were very vulnerable at the time as thousands of policemen and soldiers tried to evacuate thousands of other Israelis from Gaza, but because such a policy could reinforce the image Hamas wanted to create of Israel being forced to withdraw under Palestinian fire. Yet Hamas chose the opposite policy. Why?
Because Hamas was sensitive enough to the will of the Palestinian people at the time; because ordinary Palestinians understood what might happen if there was an escalation during the withdrawal. The Palestinians didn't feel it was worth the sacrifice in lives and property to initiate fighting to enhance Hamas's image if the Israelis were going to leave anyway. Most Palestinians - about 60-70 percent - are looking for a change and would prefer a peaceful solution rather than an increase in violence.
Hamas Sees Itself as an Equal to the PA
Hamas is thought to be a political opposition to the Palestinian Authority, but not in the ordinary Western sense, in which there is a legitimate government that is respected by the opposition, which may someday replace it. Among the Palestinians, Hamas considers itself not as an opposition but at least as an equal to the Palestinian Authority. Where it can agree with the PA, it will do so, but if it disagrees, Hamas is not going to follow PA instructions because it has its own policy.
This is why Hamas insists on having its own independent military force. There are certain areas in Gaza that are under Hamas control, and the Palestinian police do not enter these areas. Furthermore, Hamas claims an equal right to make decisions interpreting the real Palestinian national and security interest. Thus, if Israel does something to Hamas and it believes it is in the national interest of the Palestinian people to respond by launching Kassam rockets at Israeli towns, it will do so, whether or not the Palestinian Authority agrees, because Hamas sees itself as an equal to the PA. Everyone understands that under these circumstances it is impossible to proceed and to have any real political dialogue between the Palestinians and Israel.
In February 2005, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas met the leaders of Hamas in Gaza soon after he was elected, and they reached an agreement for a reduction in the level of violence. In return, Abbas promised that Hamas would be fully integrated into the Palestinian political system. Hamas would become a legitimate political party, part of the parliament and the other institutions of the Palestinian Authority, as well as the PLO. But at the same time, Hamas was allowed to continue to operate an independent militia with its own agenda and policy, deploying its military forces whenever it chose to do so. Israel views this situation not only as an obstacle to any real progress, but also as inconsistent with the spirit of the roadmap and a step backward.
How the Roadmap Differs from Oslo
Israel and the Palestinians see the future in completely opposite terms. The Israeli perspective is based on the lessons from the previous peace process, known as the Oslo process. There is much similarity between the Oslo process and the roadmap. The final outcome is the same - a two-state solution. There is only one significant difference between Oslo and the roadmap, and this crucial difference is the only reason why the government of Israel could accept the roadmap as a basis for a political process with the Palestinians.
In Oslo, the notion was that the political process would solve the security problems. The idea was quite optimistic, some would say quite naive. According to this notion, if there is a political process, this process would develop certain horizons for the Palestinian people, and hopes for a better future would reduce the incentives and the motivation for terrorist actions - thus solving Israel's security problems. According to the notion of Oslo, peace would bring security. But it didn't work. Many of the people who supported Oslo at the time now understand that it couldn't work according to this sequence.
The roadmap is based on the opposite concept, in which the security problems have to be addressed first, and only then can we touch on the very sensitive and delicate political issues. We remember very well what happened during the 1990s, even during the good days of Oslo. Whenever the Palestinians received political gains, then everyone was satisfied and the level of violence was low. But whenever the Palestinians were not satisfied with the political process, the result was that Hamas and other terrorist groups used their power to show us that they were not satisfied. In other words, the people of Israel were hostages to the goodwill of Hamas. Israel does not intend to repeat the same mistake again and to have a political process under the continuous threat of another wave of terrorism.
The Palestinian Perspective
The Palestinians say more or less the opposite. Abu Mazen says that at the end of the day there will be one authority and one law and one weapon. But he also says that he is not capable of implementing such a notion before there is a real political solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. He says that only when there is a full and detailed political solution to the problem, with clear and acceptable benchmarks and timetables and international guarantees, might he then be able to disarm Hamas and the other organizations and dismantle their military capabilities. Before such a political solution is agreed upon by the two parties, with international guarantees, he does not intend to dismantle those organizations.
Thus, the announcements we have heard so many times and particularly at the time of the withdrawal from Gaza, that this is a window of opportunity and a time for resuming a real dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, were not based on a real understanding of the dispute between us.
When Will the Palestinians Accept a Two-State Solution?
Israel made a historic decision, but it was not necessarily the withdrawal from Gaza. The real historic decision was made in February 2003 when the government of Israel formally accepted the roadmap, although with certain reservations. The core of the roadmap said that the solution to the Israel/Palestinian conflict is a two-state solution, the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. A strategic decision was made and we believe that it created the possibility to move forward.
However, the Palestinians have yet to make two crucial strategic decisions which they cannot ignore or escape. The first is to understand that political achievements cannot be gained through terrorism. This has to be a strategic decision made at the highest level and communicated down to the very lowest security levels. It is not clear that the Palestinian political leadership is capable of making such a decision. It is not a matter of having enough security forces or weapons, however. It is a matter of political determination.
The second strategic decision that the Palestinians have yet to make is to recognize that a two-state solution means that on one side there will be a Palestinian state, but on the other side there will be a Jewish state. This Jewish state is not taken for granted by the Palestinian leadership, nor by many Arab leaders in the world. I have never heard any real Arab leader say loud and clear that Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state. We are looking for real recognition of the right of a Jewish state to exist alongside a Palestinian state and we have not yet heard it.
Hamas and Democracy
In the Palestinian election there are two values in conflict with each other. The first value is democratization, which suggests that everybody can participate, every party can participate, everyone can elect and can be elected, and with no outside interference. But there is another value which is no less democratic, that says there are certain requirements that a party which wants to participate in an election must fulfill. Taking the new constitution in Iraq or Afghanistan as an example, we see there are certain commitments for parties that want to participate in elections.
Hamas does not comply with those principles that in Afghanistan and Iraq are accepted as obvious. We do not expect the Palestinians to adopt Israeli or European or American law, but we do expect something more or less like the standards in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is why Israel could not support the participation of Hamas in the election. We could not see this kind of election as part of an action that can create a better basis for cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians. We believe that any participation by Hamas in the election is a step backward as it relates to the road map and we think this would make it more difficult for Israel to work with the Palestinian Authority.
The Role of EU Monitors
Israel agreed that European Union representatives would be monitors at the Rafiah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, and that the same kind of monitoring activities would take place at the seaport in Gaza when such a seaport is built. In these two cases, it was obvious that Israelis were not going to be present at either place. In other words, there were only two options: either Palestinians alone or Palestinians with certain third-party monitoring and supervision. However, Israel never agreed to let such a third party be involved in any activities between Israel and the Palestinians.
Sharon Was Planning No Further Unilateral Withdrawals in the West Bank
Prime Minister Sharon was not interested in and did not think that a further unilateral withdrawal in the West Bank is a smart thing to do. This was not his intention and there were no such plans. I worked for him and I produced the plans after he gave me the instructions, just as I did during the withdrawal from Gaza when I was given the basic strategic concept and I had to develop it into a concrete plan. I can tell you, on the record, that no similar instruction to plan an additional withdrawal from the West Bank was ever mentioned. Furthermore, this was not the way the prime minister believed that things should be done. He believed that Israel has to stay exactly where we are as far as territory is concerned, and to insist that the Palestinians begin to do what they have to do in the security realm before other political movement can take place.
The Long Arm of Iran
The terrorist activities of Islamic Jihad reflect the active involvement of Iran in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In Iran we see a combination of certain elements that do not exist in any other state. First, the ideology of the regime suggests that religiously, the State of Israel cannot exist. This means it is not a matter of a political dispute that can be solved in some way. It is a matter of religious belief that suggests that it is forbidden to let the Jews control holy Muslim land.
The second element involves Iranian efforts to try to export what they call the Islamic revolution to the rest of the Arab world. So far they have been only partially successful in Lebanon, where Hizballah is the most powerful military element in the country. Yet they have not given up their aspirations to create a similar process in other states in the region, including Iraq.
The third element is the support that Iran gives to terrorist organizations in the Arab world, such as Hizballah and Islamic Jihad. Hamas is also helped by Iran, but is not fully controlled by Iran like Islamic Jihad, which is a Palestinian proxy of Iran.
When President Bush visited this region in the summer of 2003, there was a beginning of cooperation between Israel and Abbas, who at the time was the prime minister under Yasser Arafat. The Iranians were very concerned about this process and established a special bureau in Lebanon attached to Hizballah in order to recruit Arab Israelis and Palestinians to continue terrorist activities against Israel, even if this was contrary to the instructions of all the Palestinian groups. Since then, most of the suicide attacks inside Israel in the past two and a half years have been carried out by individuals who were paid and instructed by Hizballah. This is an example of the very long arm of Iran.
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Maj.-Gen. (Res.) Giora Eiland is the head of Israel's National Security Council. He has served as Head of the IDF's Operations Directorate and the Planning and Policy Directorate, where he was responsible for designing and implementing the IDF's operational and strategic policies. Gen. Eiland retired from active duty in January 2004. This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on his presentation at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on November 16, 2005.
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