by Ziad AbuZayyad
After four years of the Aqsa Intifada, which began in September 2000, one can say that things have never been worse than they are today. The infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority has been totally destroyed, the absence of the rule of law is prevalent throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the sufferings of the Palestinian civilians are beyond any imagination and the expansion of the Jewish colonies (settlements) in the OPT during this period has doubled - an intentional intensive effort to undermine any possibility of embarking on a negotiation track to seek a political settlement to the conflict based upon the Two-State Solution, as agreed in the Oslo Declaration of Principles.
The Israeli army has reoccupied the West Bank and parts of the Gaza Strip. Israeli military operations killing several Palestinians every day and destroying dozens of houses every month are becoming a daily routine. All of this is accompanied by a continuous Israeli construction of the so-called Separation Wall, unilaterally dictating the future borders of Israel regardless of any damage caused to Palestinians or Palestinian interests. Security is the justification for any atrocities Israel commits against the Palestinians.
On the other hand, during these years Israel has suffered a large number of attacks against its civilians, mainly by suicide attacks in restaurants, cafes, buses and public places, killing many Israelis. Both sides have become stuck in a vicious circle of violence and counter-violence. The attacks by each side are used by the other to justify its revenge response. The Israeli forces adopted an assassinations policy to fight against Palestinian militants, who responded with suicide attacks to avenge their killed comrades.
Facts on the ground have proven, without any doubt, that neither side will defeat the other. The only way out of the current tragic situation is a political path. Violence and military actions are not the answer.
The events of the last four years have destroyed confidence between the two parties and deepened hatred and suspicion between them. It is obvious that there is no chance to resume contacts between the two sides without a third party - in spite of the fact that all previous attempts have failed because of the lack of a persistent effort to make any real progress and the stubborn positions of both sides, which produced the vicious circle of violence and counter-violence - Israelís iron fist and assassination policy and Palestinian suicide attacks against Israelis.
The Separation Wall will not provide security for the Israelis. It may provide a temporary answer, but in the long run it will become an incentive for more violence. And the unilateral approach can only complicate the situation even further.
Ariel Sharonís unilateral initiative can be developed and used as a lever to move the political process forward. Unfortunately Sharon is still insisting that there is no Palestinian partner, and the U.S. administration is accepting his argument. Nevertheless, the U.S. is negotiating with Sharon on behalf of the Palestinians (!) on substantial issues such as the Separation Wall, the settlements and the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. The absence of the Palestinian component will force Sharon to keep Gaza under siege and to carry out military operations deep in the Gaza Strip from time to time, as a reprisal for attacks that will continue from Gaza against Israel. The only way to prevent this scenario is to start a bilateral process, using Sharonís initiative, but within the framework of the Road Map, creating a momentum to enhance efforts to revive the political negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The first phase of the Road Map provides for measures and steps that can be taken by both sides, to provide security for the Israelis and to normalize the life of the Palestinians, putting an end to their sufferings and giving them a political horizon and hope by freezing settlements activities and paving the road towards resuming the peace process. This requires the intervention of third party intermediaries. This should be the role of the international community.