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"Window of Opportunity" In MIddle East Questioned


Without serious steps to end the occupation no "window of opportunity"

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Numerous commentators, in Israel and abroad, speak of "a window of opportunity" and a unique chance to restart the peace process. But for that to be true, quite a few steps are needed - in the first place, on the part of the occupier who has the overwhelming power on the ground:

* Complete cessation of the settlement construction and extension, going on throughout the West Bank, and dismantling of all the "unauthorized settlement outposts" which the government promised more than a year ago;

* Achieving an agreement on an immediate, bilateral ceasefire, including an end to all violent acts by the IDF on the one hand and all Palestinian organizations and armed groups on the other;

* Total cessation of the manhunt against the "wanted Palestinians", their assassinations and detentions and the nightly invasions of the Palestinian towns and villages;

* Removal of all the roadblocks which deny free movement to the Palestinians and strangle the Palestinian economy;

* Release of the Palestinian political leaders imprisoned in Israel, such as Marwan Barghouti and Husam Hader, members of the Palestinian Legislature;

* Widespread release of Palestinian prisoners, including those sentenced to long terms and those defined as "having blood on their hands" (most decision-makers on both sides, Israelis as well as Palestinians, are people bearing direct responsiblity to killings, including the killing of civilians).

* The return of Israeli forces to the positions held on September 2000, at the outbreak of the present Intifada, and restoration of the status of the "A" areas as sovereign Palestinian territory, to which Israeli armed forces have no access;

* A stop to the construction of "The Seperation Wall" and immediate dismantling of the wall sections which penetrate into the West Bank territory and deprive Palestinians of land and livelihood - in accordance with the verdict of the International Court at the Hague.

* Resuming the negotiations between the state of Israel and the Palestinian Authority/Palestininian Liberation Organization, on all issues including and especially the definite agreement between these two parties.

Negotiations should be conducted on the basis of the following principles:

- The withdrawal of the Israeli armed forces and settlers from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank must be conducted under a detailed agreement between the two sides, rather than as a unilateral Israeli act;

- Occupation in the Gaza Strip must be ended completely, with all parts of its territory evacuated including the area of the Egyptian border ("Philadelphi Route"), giving the inhabitants free access to the outside world by land, sea and air.

- Third parties, such as Egypt and/or an international force, can be involved in the Israeli evacuation of the Gaza Strip and stabilizing the situation during and after the evacuation, with the dispositions and authority of such forces defined in an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

- Houses and public utilities in the evacuated Israeli settlements would not be demolished but handed over intact to the Palestinian side, with their value enumerated by an agreed international agency, to be reckoned in future negotiations;

- It should be explicitly agreed that Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the norhern West Bank would not be a final step, but a prelude to a process aimed at a definite peace agreement between the State of Israel and the State of Palestine to be, resuming implementation of the "Road Map" defined by the international community;

- As stipulated in "The Road Map", the international facilitator and arbiter in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations should be the international "Quartet" in its entirty, rather than the United States alone - which is manifestly unable and unwilling to act impartially;

- The border between Israel and Palestine would be based on the borders of June 5, 1967, with the possiblity of mutual border rectifications being agreed upon;

- United Jerusalem shall be the capital of both states, West Jerusalem the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem the capital of Palestine;

- There shall be a fair and agreed solution to the problem of the Palestinian refugees.

Obviously Ariel Sharon, Prime Minster of Israel, is completely unwilling to accept even a small part of these principles, as it is not at all his aim to end Israeli occupation on most of the West Bank. In the short range, Sharon may pay lip service to "the new chance for peace" but in practice he does all in his power to cause the failure of the newly-elected Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen) - as he did in 2003, when Abbas was Prime Minister.

Knowing the above full well, Nobel Prize Laureate Shimon Peres led his Labor Party to enter the Sharon Cabinet, take up portfolios and assume full legal and moral responsibily for its acts. Yossi Beilin, architect of the Oslo and Geneva Accords, saved the Sharon Government from falling and made his Meretz/Yahad Party into one of the main pillars ensuring its continued existence. Also Knesset Members Dahamshe and A-Sana of the United Arab Party followed suit to a certain degree - by abstaining in the Knesset vote.

These parties and leaders, who got the confidence of hundreds of thousands of voters on the basis of opposing the occupation and declaring their adherence to peace, have assumed a grave responsibility. However sincere their motives might be, they risk going down in history as having helped to perpetuate the occupation and bloody conflict. The very least which can be expected of them, in this precarious situation, is not to confine themselves solely to ensuring implementation of the Gaza Disengagement but rather use in every possible way the leverage they now posses over Sharon, to push towards a total end of the occupation.

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