Published on Thursday, November 14, 2002 by OneWorld.net
U.S. Insistence on Palestinian Reform "Counter-Productive"
by Jim Lobe
The United States emphasis on reform of the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a precondition for peace talks is making prospects for a final peace accord more remote, says a report by a major international conflict-resolution group.
The report titled 'The Meanings of Palestinian Reform' by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) concludes that the policy announced by President George W. Bush last June has proved counter-productive. To begin with, it fundamentally misunderstands the political scenario in the West Bank and Gaza where most Palestinians too favor reform, but not in the manner the U.S. administration intends.
While Washington appears to believe that reform of the PA will create a new Palestinian leadership more willing to make peace with Israel, the report outlines that "many in the [Palestinian] reform movement fault the Palestinian leadership for having been too responsive to U.S. and Israeli demands, and, more importantly, for lacking a clear and effective strategy for resisting Israel's occupation."
According to Mouin Rabbani, ICG'S senior Middle East analyst, "Israeli and U.S. involvement in the process during recent months has been, at best, counterproductive, and the continued political stalemate has led to a virtual suspension of reform." He stresses that the only effective mechanism currently is "to foster genuine progress on the political front."
Peace talks between Israel and the PA have been effectively frozen since the early 2001 election of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Ever since, the two sides have engaged in a bloody cycle of attack and retaliation in which almost 2,000 people--about 75 percent of them Palestinians--have been killed.
Over the same period, the Bush administration made sporadic though unsuccessful attempts to gain a ceasefire to help relaunch peace talks between Israel and the PA. However, on June 24, they declared that any peace process towards the establishment of a Palestinian state required "a new and different Palestinian leadership" and "entirely new political and economic institutions."
In early July, the administration convened the "Quartet" of Mideast mediators--the European Union, Russia, the United Nations, and the U.S.--to develop a reform program. Washington has drafted a three-phase "roadmap" for reform and the eventual resumption of peace talks which it distributed to Israel and the PA late last month.
However ground realities have frustrated all hopes of the reform of the PA. Renewed Israeli attacks in Gaza and the West Bank and last month's destruction of much of Arafat's Ramallah headquarters have again fueled popular support for it.
Moreover, Sharon's decision to hold fresh elections in late January has also crippled prospects for Palestinian reform. Sharon's chief rival in the Likud Party, Benjamin Netanyahu, has already rejected Washington's roadmap, including the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
Nonetheless, the Bush administration cited the internal pressure for reform to vindicate its insistence on Palestinian reform preceding the resumption of peace negotiations.
But the assumptions on which that claim is based "cannot withstand closer scrutiny and...reflect a misunderstanding of domestic Palestinian dynamics," said ICG's Middle East program director Robert Malley.
According to the report, most Palestinians dismiss the whole notion of reform as meaningless as long as Israeli military occupation continues.
Finally, the report concludes that the insistence on reform "as a precondition for a peace settlement is both harming [Washington's] version of reform and delaying everyone's notion of peace."