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No Time To Blink

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has steadfastly refused to renege on his pledge that Israel will not negotiate in the face of continuing Palestinian violence and terror. We trust that he will refuse to yield on this critical stance despite the growing crescendo – even from Knesset members of his Labor coalition partner – that Israel immediately stop all settlement construction and accept the Egyptian-Jordanian Initiative and the recommendations of the Mitchell Report in return for a Palestinian promise to stop the violence. Nothing could be more of an impediment to peace than rewarding Arafat’s abandonment of the negotiating table for the battlefield with substantive concessions. If the Palestinians stop the violence, Israeli retaliation will automatically stop. Any other mix sends the wrong message for the future. Moreover, critical to any possible resolution is the message that continued violence may well result in the cost to the Palestinians of possible ‘new facts’ on the ground. Just as important as the reality of no appeasement is that Arafat and company be disabused of the notion that they can do anything they want and at some magical moment, everything goes back to square one with no consequence to them.

The effort to break Mr. Sharon’s will seems palpable. As we noted last week on this page, the Mitchell Report railed against Israel’s settlement policies despite the fact that the Oslo Accords are silent on the question of settlement expansions. According to the Report, Israel was violating ‘the spirit’ of the Oslo. We also noted that several weeks ago, Americans for Peace Now mounted a campaign on Capital Hill to persuade members of Congress that the settlements are a principal impediment to peace. Even more recently, APN issued a report that purported to show that Israel’s claim that current settlement construction was driven by the need to accommodate growing families on existing settlements didn’t hold water.

And the following is part of the text of an ad entitled ‘The Peace Coalition’ that appeared the other day bearing the signatures of the likes of Shulamit Aloni, MK Colette Avital, Yossi Beilin, Teddy Kollek, Ron Pundak and MK Yossi Sarid:

We, representatives of the Israeli peace camp, have decided to work together to present an ideological and active alternative to the Sharon government and its policies – policies that endanger the peace and security of Israel.

The following principles will serve as guidelines for our joint activities:

The framework for a final Palestinian-Israeli accord was delineated in the negotiations conducted between the Barak government and the Palestinian Authority. This framework was revealed in the Clinton proposal and was very close to agreement in the course of the Taba talks. The urgent need to end the Israeli occupation in the territories through a resumption of negotiations for a final peace accord is our starting point for an alternative to the policy of the government….

WE DEMAND:

· A freeze on all building in the settlements as a first step towards ending the violence.

· Resumption of negotiations on the basis of the Egyptian-Jordanian Initiative

· Acceptance and implementation of the Mitchell Committee Recommendations….

The Egyptian-Jordanian Initiative as a basis for renewed negotiations:

As we recently noted, Israel’s clearly stated position is that substantive negotiations cannot begin until there is a total and sustained cessation of Palestinian violence. In addition, Prime Minister Sharon is on record that the focus of discussions, when they are resumed, must be on interim achievable agreements rather than a final status pact which he thinks is unachievable at this time. He is also adamant that there be no restriction on the expansion of settlements. And as a procedural matter, he insists that the rule of reciprocity be strictly applied.

On the other hand, the Jordan-Egyptian Egypt proposals essentially incorporate the Palestinian position. They treat the issue of violence as part of a package together with substantive issues and even then speak of both sides taking steps to merely ‘reduce’ the fighting. Other issues on the list are that Israel is to immediately generally abandon its current military and economic policies adopted vis-a-vis the Palestinians since the start of the Intifada; the IDF is to withdraw to positions it held before the outbreak of the Intifada; Israel is to transfer revenues it has held up from the Palestinian Authority; there is to be a total and immediate freeze on settlement activities; the negotiations are to pick up where they left off at Camp David; there is to be a deadline set for the reaching of a final status agreement; and the European Union, UN Security Council, Jordan and Egypt are to supervise implementation of the entire process.

Plainly, the plan is just a rehash of the Palestinian agenda and not a serious basis for discussion.

Embrace the Mitchell Report; As we demonstrated last week, this report is largely a restatement of the Egyptian-Jordanian Initiative. Another non-starter.

The immediate goal of the reconfigured Osloniks is to accomplish a tangible break in Israel?s resolve. Thus, the focus on a unilateral freeze on settlement activity. Prime Minister Sharon was on target this week when he recommended substantially increased allocations to the settlements. Although earmarked to pay for enhanced security measures, his point is made nevertheless.

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