On June 19, 2006, thePalestine-Israel
Journal(PIJ) held a round-table discussion at the
American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem on the topic of
unilateralism or bilateralism. The participants were Mazen
Sinnokrot, former Minister of Economics and Commerce, an industrial
engineer and one of the owners/directors of the Sinnokrot food
industries; Professor Nazmi Ju'beh, university professor, and
co-director Riwaq (Center for Architectural Conservation) and
former negotiator; Dr. Ron Pundak, director general of the Peres
Center for Peace and one of the architects of the Oslo and Geneva
accords; and Danny Rubinstein, Haaretz commentator on Palestinian
affairs and a lecturer at Ben-Gurion University. The moderator was
Omar Karmi, the Jerusalem correspondent of the Jordan
Omar Karmi: We are here to discuss unilateralism, the pros
and cons. Let us start with what is the most current which is, of
course, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's convergence plan. Olmert is
essentially threatening or promising, depending on whom he's
talking to, to draw Israel's borders unilaterally. Could you all
please briefly describe the possible consequences of this plan,
should it be implemented?
Mazen Sinnokrot: Olmert came in with a program that enhanced
his political campaign, and now his party is in power. He is
committed to make good on his promises to his electorate. This was
former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's approach, and now Olmert is
considering how to implement this same program.
Sharon's disengagement from Gaza was carried out relatively
quietly, but there is a great difference between that and the West
Bank. In Gaza, we are talking about a specific geographical area
with a few gateways, more or less on the international border
lines. In the West Bank, the separation wall is being built - a
good part of on the Palestinian side. There is the issue of the
isolation of Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, and the continued
building and expansion of settlements. The political regime in
Palestine is also different from what was in place at the time of
the Gaza disengagement.
It is going to be difficult for Olmert to repeat what was done in
Gaza, and I'm not sure the different Palestinian political parties
would stay quiet if he were to do so.
Danny Rubinstein: In principle, I don't like any unilateral
steps. But Olmert's convergence plan is like an ultimatum. What I
understand Olmert to be saying is, If we don't do this, we'll have
the status quo. We'll be at a standstill and nobody will do
anything. I don't agree, but according to the government it
Right now, they are paying lip service to talking with Abu Mazen,
but everybody knows there's no room, from this government's
political perspective, for any negotiations with the Palestinians.
It would be like dictating to the Palestinians - negotiating about
some settlement blocs, without Jerusalem.
This is not a starting point for any Palestinian. I don't think
you'll find anyone in the world, besides Israel, that would accept
this as a starting point for negotiations. Yet Olmert is telling us
that it is the only option. We shall dismantle some settlements in
the West Bank, here and there.
I have to admit, under such circumstances, I also don't have any
other option. I have to accept it because it's the only way Israel
will pull back from the West Bank- we don't know the exact size of
the area from which we'll withdraw. According to the government's
spokesman, it might even be 90 percent of the West Bank. I don't
know how they measure the percentage because, without Jerusalem,
without the Dead Sea, and so on, maybe it's only 60 or 70 percent.
But according to Olmert's people, it's 90 percent of the West
Ron Pundak: It's important to understand that the prophets
of the current disengagement, or convergence - namely, Olmert and
Minister of Justice Haim Ramon - come from a different school of
thought than the former policythinkers behind the Gaza
disengagement. The Gaza disengagement should not at all be
compared, substantially or politically, to the current idea of
convergence in the West Bank.
Take Ramon as an example. He's one of the promoters of the idea. If
you were to ask him whether he prefers convergence to signing and
implementing the Geneva agreement, he would prefer the Geneva
agreement. I won't say that Olmert is as close to this idea,
although I think he is much closer to the Clinton Parameters and
Geneva than Sharon or others. Olmert would also have preferred a
negotiated final-status agreement. However, those two prophets of
convergence came to the conclusion that it's currently impossible
to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. This was before Hamas,
and was only intensified after Hamas was elected.
From a pragmatic point of view, as they read the situation in
realpolitik terms, if there is stagnation on the one hand, and
continued Israeli engagement within the West Bank - the occupation,
checkpoints and seizures, etc. - or the alternative of a unilateral
approach to move out of 85 or 90 percent of the territories, they
conclude that the latter is better for the interests of Israel and
of the Palestinians. And I must say it's very difficult to
I personally think it's a wrong attitude because it doesn't take
two clusters of issues into consideration. First, I believe it is
possible to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. It may not be
a fullfledged final-status agreement, but it is possible to
negotiate a process with an endgame, a continuous process with
implementation on the ground of a coordinated disengagement or
convergence. If it is not negotiated, it will be perceived as
another Hamas power game victory.
Secondly, this doesn't take into consideration the repercussions
from the point of view of the Israeli constituency. Anybody who
looks at the Gaza disengagement and tries to extrapolate with
regard to the West Bank doesn't understand or know what's happening
on the ground.
The Israeli population in Gaza was quite homogeneous, around 5,000
very similar types of people, in a limited area that was possible
to evacuate in three or four days. In the West Bank, there is a
different depth of territory and a much larger population. In
addition, we have four different groups of people. One group is
quite similar to those in Gaza, but the other three are much more
extreme, much more violent, and much likelier to create problems
which could deteriorate into violence.
The first group is the most moderate of them in the Jordan Valley
and south of Hebron, as well as in places like Mevo Dotan near
Jenin. The second is Gush Emumim, with settlers from places like
Beit El, Ofra, Eli and Shiloh - the hardcore, very ideological.
Then there are the fanatics from Tapuah, Izhar and Itamar - people
who will fight. The last group is even more extreme, from Hebron
and Kiryat Arba, as well as others which are scattered all
If one claims there is no Palestinian partner, to whom are you
delivering the area? And if you are only withdrawing the settlers
and not the army, what have you accomplished? There will be the
same friction on the ground. So I think the idea is not right, and
will be very difficult, if at all possible, to implement as
Maybe the fallback will be withdrawing from some areas and
presenting that as a kind of unilateral third redeployment
according to Oslo - although that won't be mentioned because Oslo
is not the game they're playing. Maybe it can be presented as part
of a phase of the Road Map. In sum, I am not very optimistic about
the possibility of this fullfledged 90-percent withdrawal from the
Nazmi Ju'beh: I would like to reflect on the ideology and
the history of the idea before analyzing the idea itself. I see
unilateralism as a form of military dictate to the Palestinians
resulting from the collapse of the Camp David and Taba
negotiations. A widespread conviction grew among Israelis that Ehud
Barak had offered the Palestinians big concessions but they
rejected them. Therefore, there is no Palestinian partner and the
idea evolved of dictating a solution to the Palestinians.
This ideology actually dates further back. The first recognition of
a Palestinian partner came in 1991 in the Madrid Conference, and
led to the "Israeli mistake" of signing an agreement with the
Palestinian people in 1993, the Oslo Accords. Since then, Israel's
official tendencies were to minimize the role of the partner and to
impose an Israeli strategy on the Palestinians.
In international relations, there is nothing called unilateralism.
Either an occupier withdraws totally from occupied territories and
leaves the inhabitants to their own devices, or claims are brought
forward in negotiations. But to impose results unilaterally is not
known in any form of agreement, and will not receive any legitimacy
from the Palestinians or from the international community. Who can
dare to accept the wall as a final-status or international
What is behind this unilateralism? After constructing the wall, the
Israeli government will face a lot of problems administering Jews
living in the settlements to the east of the wall away from the
main settlement blocs. This will give rise to many logistical
problems and security arrangements. The more sinister features of
the wall will become much more obvious and tangible. Certain
streets will be preserved for Palestinians and others for Jews. It
will not be very pleasing for Israeli society to see their
occupation converted from a military occupation to a form of
Unilateralism is a way of saying to the Palestinians: We will leave
you behind the walls. We are not interested in what will happen to
you, or how many of you will starve. We'll continue to control the
settlement blocs and maybe other settlements. We'll continue to
have military camps spread all over the territories. We'll continue
to control your skies and your borders.
Danny Rubinstein: Do you prefer that the situation remain as
Nazmi Ju'beh: No. The Israelis will say, We'll let you stay
as you are until you're ready to sign the agreement we want you to
sign. There may be some among the Palestinians who would be willing
to say, We'll accept 85 percent of the West Bank; just let us
improve our lives. I see this as a form of absolute political
pressure on the Palestinians to drive them to accept Israel's
What I prefer is clear. I think a partnership is possible. I think
that peace and an agreement are also possible. But I will not
legitimize any unilateralism which will lead to further
deterioration of the already fragmented West Bank. I do not accept
unilateralism even if it leads to more evacuation in the occupied
territories. We do not have to be happy about the evacuation of
half of the West Bank if this leads to the suffocation of the rest
of the population there.
Clearly, the Israeli government is trying to free itself from its
responsibilities as an occupying power in Gaza. They would like to
do the same thing the West Bank, and we have to fight very hard to
stop that kind of ideology, or not to legitimize it.
Omar Karmi: Do you agree that unilateralism will never gain
Danny Rubinstein: I quite understand the point of not
wanting to give legitimacy to Israel's unilateralism. But if
somebody comes to you and says, the alternative is that all the
settlements will stay the way they are today, is that bad or good?
Will this step encourage the peace camp in Israel? Will it weaken
the settler movement? I think any kind of Israeli withdrawal from
the territories is good.
Nazmi Ju'beh: Don't misunderstand me. I will not stop any
evacuation of any settlement. I will not stand against any
withdrawal. But we have to differentiate between an option and an
imposition from the other side. You have to think not only about
Israeli society and strengthening the Israeli peace camp, but how
these steps will be received by Palestinian society and which
Palestinian camp will be strengthened.
Danny Rubinstein: From the Israeli point of view, the
unilateral withdrawal from Gaza didn't help security at all. To the
contrary: security in the area around Gaza is much worse now than
it was before. Still, 50 percent - maybe more - of Israelis support
the convergence, support the same step in the West Bank. Why?
Because it's the first time in Israel that this kind of
unilateralism attracted both the right and the left wing.
From the point of view of the right, unilateralism means that we
don't care about the Palestinians. We can ignore them now. They
don't exist. On the left - when we discussed it at my paper,
Haaretz, and I was against it, my editor said: "After 40 years,
this is the only track that has led to the dismantlement of even
one settlement. Show me how to dismantle one settlement
Omar Karmi: This particular plan is not just withdrawing
from settlements. It's a political plan.
Ron Pundak: It is a political plan that is an outlet not a
strategy. It's a tactical plan, a fallback rather than what this
government really wants. I would say that this government has the
potential of being even more moderate than Yitzhak Rabin's in 1993.
People like Shimon Peres and Amir Peretz, who are definitely not
champions of unilateralism, are accepting it. It's quite similar to
the approach of the same people to the wall, meaning it is not part
of Israel's original strategy. It developed as a reaction to a
situation, rightly or wrongly, and attracted a group of people.
Eventually, those who were traditionally against it gradually
became not only supporters, even implementers, such as the current
minister of defense.
Similarly, they look at the idea of convergence and the dismantling
of settlements in the West Bank, as a kind of option B. If Israel
cannot reach an agreement, then Israel must do something for
itself, even if that something does not correspond with Palestinian
policies, demands and aspirations. For the first or second time, we
are deciding to take our fate and our future into our own hands
rather than reacting to a situation.
With regard to international legitimacy, it doesn't look as though
there will be any legitimacy - but it was the same case before the
first disengagement. Now we are seeing international legitimacy,
although maybe not for Sharon's policy of giving Gaza back to the
Palestinians and no longer having any responsibility. Luckily, that
was not accepted by the international community, but they accepted
and also, eventually, assisted Israel to withdraw from Gaza and to
unilaterally decide its positions.
I was not in favor of the disengagement in Gaza, saying it wasn't
for security and would not move us one inch forward in the peace
process. But it did two things for the Israelis. It showed them
that the uprooting of settlements is possible - contrary to many
people's claims. Also, it showed Israelis - and maybe the
Palestinians and the rest of the world as well - that Israel can
implement a full withdrawal from a territory to the 1967 border,
similar to what we did in Lebanon and Egypt and suggested to the
Syrians, and similar to what I hope we'll do with the Palestinians
in a final-status agreement; i.e. a withdrawal to the Green Line
which will include an exchange of territories based on 1:1
proportions. This withdrawal to the 1967 border line is
historically very important. It also gives the current government
the ability to talk about uprooting settlements in the West Bank
which, all in all, is a good thing.
Omar Karmi: Dr. Pundak is suggesting that unilateralism
in this context is very much an Israeli issue that might make it
possible in the future to lead to an end of occupation. From the
Palestinian perspective, is it an opportunity?
Mazen Sinnokrot: It depends. To a certain extent, this
Israeli government and coalition might present an opportunity. At
the same time, we should look at the new political regime in
Palestine. If we take this opportunity, we can change the agenda
and the mindset and proceed to look at the possibilities rather
than at the threats in the region. Unfortunately, today, Israel has
convinced the United States and others around the world that this
is a time of threat, not opportunity. They want to capitalize on
the fact that a good number of countries applauded Sharon when he
addressed the UN after the disengagement. Sharon became a hero of
peace, and they are trying to wipe out the occupation and all the
negative things he did during his political tenure.
There is an opportunity for all parties concerned, but I don't see
that the Palestinians are being given a chance. The Palestinians
have lost hope. They trust neither the Israeli nor the American
When Abu Mazen succeeded Yasser Arafat, he came in with a clear
mandate. The people voted for him and for his program, but saw no
tangible results - even though he was welcomed by the American
administration and is, in a way, trusted by many Israelis, as a
person of transparency, accountability and honesty. Abu Mazen
always made it clear that he wants to create a culture of peace not
violence, but for over a year now he has not been given a
There is a new mandate of the Kadima party and the coalition
government. Will they really try to achieve progress? This depends
partly on the Palestinians; it also depends on the international
community's readiness to give this Israeli government the green
light. Olmert has been trying to sell his program. He went to the
United States, to the Europeans; he's been to some Arab countries
in the region - Egypt and Jordan - trying to convince everybody of
the virtues of his program. It is a transitional period and
everybody has a role to play. The Palestinians definitely have to
clean their house and become more unified on a strategic political
program to be presented to the international community. That
entails a change of tactics, of political discourse, especially by
the Hamas newcomers and the Legislative Council (PLC).
Omar Karmi: On a strategic level, wouldn't there be some
sense for the Palestinians to say: "Withdraw. We're not paying any
political price. Nobody is asking us about it. We don't have to
commit to anything."
In a way, what Hamas seems to want is to let the Israelis withdraw
from settlements without negotiations, then the Palestinians are
not bound by any commitments
Nazmi Ju'beh: Nobody is saying we'll stop withdrawal or the
dismantling of settlements. That is not the issue at all.
Unilateralism also involves the construction of the wall. It is now
clear that it is not being built in the interest of security. Even
the Israeli Supreme Court declared that it's more of a political
border than a security fence. If we look at the two elements
together - unilateralism and the wall - then we have a clear
picture of what is behind this ideology.
The third element is the statement, since Camp David, that "there
is no Palestinian partner." In an interview after the election of
Hamas, I said: "We cannot elect a better partner for the Israelis
in a peace process than Abu Mazen." And yet, he was rejected. He
came to power with a very pragmatic political program. He even
tackled one of the most sensitive issues - the refugees - in his
political platform and received the assent of the Palestinians and
got elected by a large majority. So he was more than qualified as a
partner, but he was dismissed. Not verbally, but in practice he was
dismissed by the Israeli side
I do not think they are looking for a partner at all. A partner is
a problem with whom you have to deal on an equal level. I think the
Israeli leadership still looks at the Palestinian people as a
problem, not as a people with a right to exist independently in
their homeland. And if you have a problem, you try your best to
solve it. Unilateralism is an Israeli solution to the problem. It's
not a strategy to develop a partner.
Danny Rubinstein: Even had there been negotiations about
Gaza and we had withdrawn after an agreement with Abu Mazen, I
don't think it would have strengthened Abu Mazen. The Palestinian
situation is much more complicated.
Recently, when Olmert was in London, he said with great pride, "We
have given Abu Mazen weapons and arms in order to encourage and
strengthen him." Of course, the result is just the opposite. It
makes him like the Village Leagues in the 1980s, like the
collaborators. It's the worst thing Olmert could do. Afterwards,
Abu Mazen denied accepting any arms from Israel. It's very typical
of Israeli politicians not to understand.
I think, from the point of view of most Israelis, there is no
difference between Abu Mazen and Hamas on the political level. Both
of them want Israel to pull back to the 1967 borders. With
recognition, without recognition, who cares? There are 150 to 200
states in the world who recognize Israel, so who needs Hamas'
recognition? We are here. Israel benefits from Hamas because they
provide a good excuse for the government to say: "We're not dealing
with them. They're crazy. They're al-Qaeda."
I agree that unilateralism and separation go together with the
wall. And what I want to say emphatically about the wall is that
it's crazy. Sometimes I go around Jerusalem to look at it. Some
neighborhoods are surrounded on all sides. It cannot work,
especially here in Jerusalem. It is separating Palestinians from
Palestinians for no reason. There is no security justification.
Nothing at all.
I believe - I hope - that this whole attitude of the wall will
collapse. But right now - and I'm sorry to say it - the only option
we have for pulling back from some territories is Olmert's
The wall does not provide security to anyone, but it creates an
illusion of security within Israel. It justifies and legitimizes
the withdrawal. We withdraw, but not for the Palestinians. We do it
for ourselves. Right now, that's the only route to the dismantling
and uprooting of settlements, and the settlements are the biggest
obstacle to peace.
Omar Karmi: We have spoken a little about internal
Palestinian affairs. You seem to be suggesting that the combination
of the wall and unilateralism is the only way that settlements can
be removed. Is there no chance for a bilateral process?
Ron Pundak: In order to implement Olmert's fullfledged
convergence plan, there must be a bilateral agreement based on a
clear endgame of the final agreement. In order for a society to
tolerate the tension, and maybe even the killings, which this kind
of a full withdrawal might entail, the price has to be worth it for
I believe it can be done once. You can't do it many times. In other
words, you can uproot 60,000 or 80,000 or even 100,000 Israelis
from the West Bank, only if the society feels it will benefit in
the short and long term- not like what happened with the Gaza
Strip, but real benefits to the society.
For that reason, I believe this should be kept for the big
agreement which will include all the pending issues such as
Jerusalem and refugees. The idea of postponing other issues - like
another 10 percent of the territory, Jerusalem, refugees, water and
air rights and so on - is contrary to Israeli selfinterests, nor is
it good for Palestinian interests.
It seems now they are only speaking about a first stage, to include
withdrawal from the south of Hebron and some areas in the Jordan
Valley and the northern West Bank. It's true that this might become
a means for convincing Israelis, because these kinds of settlements
are easier to uproot. But all the other withdrawals from the
hardcore settlements, will be postponed again.
Omar Karmi: In other words, you believe bilateral is
On the Palestinian side, a similar question. The referendum
document implicitly recognizes a twostate solution and pre1967
borders. Is this unilateralism or bilateralism? Are people happy to
Mazen Sinnokrot: I'm not sure there will be a referendum.
Abu Mazen has stated that, if the parties agree, there won't be a
referendum. I don't think it would be good for the Palestinians. A
referendum without any tangible benefits from the Israelis is a
dead end. According to Olmert, a referendum is useless if it's not
perceived that the Palestinians are changing tactics and are making
progress in terms of goodwill.
I think that has not been appreciated by either Israelis or
Americans so, in my opinion, it will not have any benefits for the
Palestinian political cause. More important is what has been
negotiated among the different political parties. If Hamas and the
other political parties accept, for example, the Arab initiative,
this would constitute, directly or indirectly, recognition of
Israel. This will come when there is an incentive from the
Israelis. What Danny said was clear: If Israel is recognized by
over 100 countries, what is the added value of recognition by
The Palestinians and their political parties must be encouraged to
come out with a new and unified political discourse. If the
opposite happens, it will serve neither the Palestinian nor the
Israeli national security. Palestinians will say they don't have
anything more to lose; they have tried everything and nothing has
worked. So we go back to square one. This will not help Olmert, or
the Palestinians or the Americans. In my opinion, the Americans are
making the same mistake here as in Iraq.
Nazmi Ju'beh: The polls still say that the majority of
Palestinians are in favor of a negotiated agreement. An absolute
majority still support Abu Mazen's approach.
It's sad that the Israelis do not invest in this. On the contrary,
they are highlighting the positions of the current Hamas government
which does not represent the majority of Palestinians.
The fact remains that the majority of Palestinians are willing to
negotiate an agreement; they know exactly what that agreement will
look like, what price they will have to pay, and what benefits they
Unfortunately, the Israelis are still investing in the minority of
the Palestinian people. For instance, the issue that Hamas has to
recognize Israel. This is nonsense. I am in favor of Hamas doing
that. I need it for internal Palestinian reasons, not because the
Israelis need it. We are fed up with Israel's needs. Their list is
very long and never ends. Every few days, Arafat had to reiterate
recognition of the state and to denounce violence, but could never
satisfy them. I would be very happy if we agreed upon the Arab
initiative recognized by the PLO and the Palestinian
I think the current government has to accept all the agreements and
recognitions made by the previous government. We cannot always
begin from zero, and we're not going to invest another 30 years of
our peoples' lives to reach the same conclusions that the PLO has
reached. On the other hand, we need a lot of recognitions from the
Israeli side. Unfortunately, we did not always demand that. I do
not know what Olmert's clearcut position on a Palestinian state is:
where will it be, how will he deal with it, what will be the
relationship with the Green Line?
Israeli civil society also has to push a little bit more for the
recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people. There could be
an exchange of recognition, and that would empower us to push our
government to clearly recognize previous agreements.
I still believe we can evade the wall and unilateralism. We will
reach the negotiating table. There is no other option. With two
states, there is a form of status. Either you are at war with your
neighbor or you have peace with your neighbor. You cannot live
forever with a hudna (cease-fire).
Danny Rubinstein: I think all of us would agree that this
kind of convergence will not bring security or peace to Israel. So
what's the benefit? It will weaken the right wing and the
hardliners in Israel. That's the only benefit that I see from this
convergence plan. We have to understand, all of us, that
separation, as a principle, is not bad. The ultimate solution to
both Israel's problem and the Palestinians' problem is either two
states for the two peoples or one state for the two peoples. I
think we all support the first option, two states.
Nazmi Ju'beh: Still.
Danny Rubinstein: Because the other option is constant
Nazmi Ju'beh: Transfer.
Danny Rubinstein: Transfer is not an option. This benefit of
weakening the hardliners in Israel is good for all of us. And that
may be the only reason to agree - not to be happy about it - but to
agree to the convergence plan.
Omar Karmi: You're saying there's some sort of strategic
benefit to unilateralism. Another aspect is the practical aspect of
it on the economic level. The Palestinians are imprisoned at the
moment. In order to create an environment conducive to
negotiations, you need some kind of progress on the ground, and the
economy is very important in that regard.
Mazen Sinnokrot: Yes. You can't separate economics from
politics, especially in this region. Israel started a program of
economic disengagement when they clearly said, more than a year ago
that they would not allow Palestinians to work in Israel. The
Israelis started bargaining about the Paris Protocol. The
disengagement from Gaza, the closing of Karni crossing are signs of
economic disengagement. They are trying to convince the Israeli
private sector to accept the new developments on the ground.
Israel cannot say that they want to economically disengage from the
Palestinians, and then not allow them other avenues to find
partners. This is unfair and unacceptable. In Rafah, to date, the
only border agreement is the one which was signed on the 15th of
November 2005, in the presence of Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice. Very little of that memorandum of understanding has been
implemented. The corridors for the passage of people and goods
between the West Bank and Gaza have not been implemented. The Karni
border crossing has been closed over 52 percent of the time. Its
operation is down from 15 to six or seven hours a day. Israelis can
always say it's because of security, but they are smothering our
I, personally, have tried to convince them to allow the export of
Gazan goods through Egypt, without success so far. Nothing tangible
is happening on the ground that brings benefit to the Gazan economy
or an alternative to the closures.
The same thing applies to the West Bank with the separation wall
and the annexation of a large area of the Jordan Valley. We are
sandwiched between the Jordan Valley in the east and this
eight-meter-high wall in the west. We cannot move anywhere. I don't
think this is good neither for the Israeli economy nor for
For the last four decades, Israel has been - and still is - the
Palestinians' major trading partner. Imports from Israel or via
Israel exceed U.S. $3 billion and exports to Israel amount to less
than U.S. $400 million. The Israelis feel that that doesn't amount
to much. They have found substitutes in Africa and China and the
former Soviet Union countries, and definitely Europe and the United
States. This is really not very encouraging for our economy. And
I'm talking about the Israeli government's policy.
There have to be alternatives for the Palestinians. The Karni
border crossing has to be opened and to become an international
border crossing so our economy can start diversifying and looking
for other partners for importing and exporting. The passageway with
Jordan has to be opened to allow for a free flow of goods.
The Israeli private sector was forced to leave Erez two years ago
by military orders, and they were highly compensated by their
government. We have to encourage them and Palestinians to come back
to this industrial park in order to create successful regional
integration between private sectors. This did not work because of
the absence of a clear governmental policy and lack of goodwill by
the private sector. So now the Palestinian economy is going to
suffer, even more so as a result of the unilateral disengagement,
and poverty and unemployment will increase.
Ron Pundak: This economic dimension exists regardless of
whether there is unilateral withdrawal or a wall. We still see a
much more flexible economic regime between Israel and the West
Bank, due to the relations between the two sides, but mainly
because of the physical situation. As long as there is not one long
physical border between the two sides, Israel cannot implement,
even if it wants to, the same regime as it implemented in Gaza in
terms of entry and exit. Once the wall is finished and the 11 gates
are prepared to "regulate" the points of entry and exit for goods
and people between Israel and the West Bank, then Israel might
implement the same policy it did in Gaza. Then we will have a
situation of Karni and Erez in the West Bank which will create real
devastation for the Palestinian economy, and also, for the Israeli
economy. The 13 billion shekels being sold to the Palestinians may
only be two percent of Israeli exports, but it's still a lot of
money. Exporters from Israel to the West Bank and Gaza include some
of the biggest companies. One must take that into consideration in
order to preempt total disarray resulting from a hastily
On the other hand, we are drawing conclusions about the situation
in the West Bank and Gaza based on what we learned in previous
times. But then we had a different minister of finance, prime
minister, minister of defense, and government. It's possible that
this government will look at the economy as a tool for creating a
more positive environment. We might see this government operating
according to a totally different strategy.
Olmert and Peretz and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni who are today
steering the process, are looking differently at the economy and
the relations between Israel and the Palestinian economic private
sector. For that reason, I am a bit more hopeful about change both
in Gaza and in the West Bank. This is the time that Israelis and
Palestinians should be thinking jointly about policy
recommendations to this current government. Today there is a
disengagement law which says that, by 2007-2008, there will be no
Palestinian workers coming in from Gaza or the West Bank. Olmert is
ready to rethink this. There is no doubt that Peretz is ready to
rethink it and other things as well. Things are grim, however we
now have similar circumstances but a different government; and
circumstances can be changed according to government policy.
We can converge the issues of the economy and security, and also
what I call the creation of hope, hope for both sides. Fear is
governing the situation. I would like to reiterate that the
majority of the Israeli public is ready, today, to sign an
agreement based on the Clinton or the Geneva parameters. But the
same Israeli public is afraid of the Palestinians, whether it is
real fear or something connected to our psychopolitics. We need to
deal with this fear. Dealing with this fear through the Hamas
government and politics and no recognition is wrong. Maybe we need
to deal with this fear with new messages.
I again ask the Palestinians to do something which we are
constantly asking for - and you're fed up with our requests - but
it's for the benefit of both sides. For example, the right of
return. I believe this is not a real threat. But from the point of
view of Israelis, it is a threat. Different language in things like
that can ease the situation, so will a hudna, a longterm ceasefire;
doing those things can change the circumstances of the situation on
the ground. If there were no security threat, together with joint
language of coexistence regarding the future, I can envision a much
Mazen Sinnokrot: I don't know the priorities of this Israeli
government when it comes to the economic agenda. Since they have
been in power, they haven't shown any good intentions. They are
talking about gateways through the separation wall, new borders, a
new economic regime between the West Bank and Gaza and Israel. They
are trying to separate the two, Gaza and Israel and the West Bank
and Israel, which is a very dangerous political approach.
When it comes to the border crossings, everybody knows that there
is a certain mandate. We don't see any policy changes. The same
Israeli methodology is being pursued, the same exercises. The
management of the border crossings, even those close to the 1967
borders - Tarkumia or Tulkarem - is still in Israeli hands.
Scanners acquired with American money for the sake of the
Palestinian people are on the Israeli side of the line, and they
are managed from a security point of view and a technical point of
view by the Israelis.
Secondly, Israel is aware, more than anybody else - even more than
many of the Arab countries - of the needs of the Palestinians. They
have been occupying this area for the last 40 years, and they have
been witnessing what can be detrimental and what can create more
prosperity. Israel mostly understands collective economic
punishment against the Palestinians, and that should not be
acceptable to anybody.
I believe that the good brains in Israel can come up with
alternatives. They understand the history and the depth of their
neighbors. I have heard many Israeli leaders say they lost an
opportunity with Abu Mazen, that they should have given him a
chance. And now they're repeating the same mistakes. During the
last couple of months, I have not seen any well-intentioned
program. Israel knows that we are in dire need of job opportunities
for 50,000, even 100,000 people. We cannot send them to Jordan or
Geneva or Mexico. Israel has been bringing in people from Rumania,
Thailand, China, and not employing Palestinians. They can always
say it's because of security. I'm not denying that one crazy person
can cause harm to Israelis, but that does not mean that the other
thousands have to be punished. It's very important today for the
Israeli government to set priorities for an economic program.
Israel knows that our economy can't breathe, and everything is in
Nazmi Ju'beh: I am not an economist, but the Palestinian
economy, since the Oslo agreement, has been held hostage to Israeli
considerations. We have different holidays, different agendas and
economic development. The Palestinian market does not have free
access to the international market from Palestine, or free borders
for the exchange of goods.
I can understand all the security arrangements and considerations,
but I cannot understand why the goods of a Palestinian company
exporting through Haifa are stuck there for two or three weeks or
more for security considerations or for holiday discrepancies, etc.
This does not give our economy a chance. We cannot even convince
Palestinian investors to invest under these conditions. We have to
invest a lot in the economic sector. Otherwise, we have no chance
whatsoever for any peaceful coexistence.
Recently, we have begun to face deep class conflicts within our
society. We have to understand the social context, but also that
there is no free-market economy without free exchange at the
borders. We are part of a free-market economy but we do not have
free-market conditions. Nobody can develop an economy under these
Ron Pundak: There is also an issue about the ability of the
Israeli economy to sustain a withdrawal from the point of view of
how much it will cost to uproot and compensate 80,000 Israelis.
According to all the figures by the economists, if we do in the
West Bank what we did Gaza, it is going to be too costly for
Israel, unless it receives international assistance. However, a
caveat: this was also said about the wall, that Israel would not be
able to sustain the expense. And yet it's still building both
settlements and the wall. So for people who are saying the cost
will be too great for Israel, I say maybe yes, maybe not.