Exactly one year after the death of Yassir Arafat, Israel is resurrecting the ?bypass approach? to diplomacy it employed during his leadership of the Palestinian movement. Israeli-only bypass roads in the occupied West Bank enable Israeli settlers to travel freely from Israel to their subsidised colonies without encountering Palestinian population centres. Similarly, Israel?s strategic unilateralism is intended to bypass the need to negotiate with the Palestinian leadership before arriving at a ?resolution? of the conflict.
The bypass approach attempts to evade international law, sidestep justice and circumvent long-held Palestinian aspirations for freedom. Exploiting the power imbalance between the two parties, this approach rests on the delusion that Palestinians will eventually submit to sacrificing the basic principles of a two-state solution for an arrangement imposed by Israeli diktat. As a result, Palestinian peace advocates are now wondering if we have an Israeli partner.
Earlier this year, Mahmoud Abbas was overwhelmingly elected Palestinian president on a platform of peace and the reactivation of dialogue with Israel. Since then, the Palestinian Authority has worked diligently to consolidate its security forces and integrate opposition groups under the national umbrella. With multi-party elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council scheduled for January, we expect the campaign for ?one gun, one law, one Authority? to be successful.
President Abbas has already made substantial progress, including brokering a tahdia (calm) with Palestinian factions that delivered to Israelis a level of quiet their own government could not provide in the preceding four years. This agreement with the factions was predicated on the understanding that Israel would not violate the ceasefire it signed in February at Sharm el-Sheikh. However, in the first six weeks after its September withdrawal from Gaza alone, Israel was responsible for 30 deaths and assassinations, 693 arrests, 247 attacks and 1,041 raids.
Israel is also bypassing the advice of international envoy James Wolfensohn, that ?economic activity is the greatest contributor to security?, by entrenching its occupation through an elaborate system of control. Checkpoints, internal closures, a wall and ethnic-based restrictions on the movement of Palestinian people and goods ensure that the Palestinian economy remains depressed and dependent on Israel.
In Gaza, where Israel?s decolonisation had raised hopes for an economic boost, Israel has tightened restrictions. Before the withdrawal, an average of 35 export cargo trucks per day passed through the Karni crossing. After, that figure more than halved.
In tandem with its evacuation of 8,500 illegal settlers from the occupied Gaza Strip and four small West Bank colonies, Israel has made room for 30,000 other settlers in the West Bank this year alone, with 11,000 actually moving in. Construction of the wall ? ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice last year ? has now begun around the Jewish settlement of Ma?ale Adumim. If completed, this part of the wall will divide the northern West Bank from the southern part and permanently sever Palestinian East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.
These unilateral moves are an audacious attempt to take Jerusalem off the negotiating table, again bypassing Palestinians. Yet, as the Israeli government knows, without the economic engine of East Jerusalem as its capital, there can be no viable Palestinian state. And without a viable Palestinian state, there can be no viable peace.
Thus, when Ariel Sharon, Israel?s prime minister, informs the Israeli Knesset that bolstering Jewish settlements in and around occupied East Jerusalem is a government priority, he is actually announcing Israel?s intention to foreclose the possibility of peace. When Shaul Mofaz, Israeli defence minister, claims ?there is no one to talk to? and that Israel ?will have to wait for the next generation [of Palestinian leaders]? for a peace agreement, he is actually declaring Israel?s intention to perpetuate its occupation of Palestinian territory indefinitely.
By again propagating the myth that a democratically elected Palestinian president cannot serve as a peace partner, Israel hopes to buy time to implement its unilateral disengagement from the two-state solution. Now, more than ever, there is an urgent need for the international community to pressure Israel to return to final status negotiations. This remains the only route to securing peace, and we must not allow peace to be bypassed by Israel.
The writer is chief Palestinian