It seems that Israeli PM Ariel Sharon fears jost at this stage to see President Mahmoud Abbas succeed in marketing his policies to the parties of the Quartet Committee and the other world countries, especially the United States of America, and in convincing them that the Cairo Agreement between the Palestinian factions and the Calm Declaration resulting from that agreement, and the Palestinian internal reforms, including the local and municipal councils and the preparations for a new legislative council, and the Palestinian measures at the security level, since all these constitute Palestinian implementation of the first phase of the roadmap and that he succeeds too in convincing them that the Palestinian state with temporary borders is pointless and that there is a need to move immediately to the permanent status negotiations following the disengagement or after holding the PLC elections and the formation of the new Palestinian government at the jost.
This is why Sharon deliberately wanted to answer two important questions in a series of press interviews he held on several occasions: what does the disengagement from Gaza mean? And what next?
When answering the first question, Sharon said: I will save as many settlements as possible in the West Bank and basically the settlement blocs that will remain part of the state of Israel forever.
On the second question, which constitutes the hot focal point, Sharon answered: After the disengagement plan, I will demand from the PA to implement the first phase of the roadmap, and eliminate all capabilities of terrorism, which means ending the armed factions and halt incitement and reform and rehabilitate the security apparatuses, and this will be a precondition to start negotiations over the second phase of the roadmap, which means a state with temporary and reduced borders.
Therefore, the basic confrontation arena at the political and negotiations level will be defined through the steps that will follow the disengagement plan from Gaza Strip and four small settlements in northern West Bank. And at that point, the question will be whether the implementation of the first phase of the roadmap will be according to the security conditions, as Sharon wants, or will there be implementation of third phase of the roadmap as the Palestinian side wants, meaning to start immediate negotiations over the final status issues without going through the so called "state with temporary borders"! Within such a scenario, the Palestinian position and the positions of the Arab and international parties, especially the US position, will play a crucial role in defining the nature and specifications of the next step.
Thus, Sharon believes that Palestinian President Abu Mazen "has committed a grave mistake when he achieved the Cairo Agreement" with the Palestinian factions on a one sided ceasefire, pointing out that such an agreement cannot lead to the implementation of the roadmap.
Therefore, Palestinians consider the Cairo Agreement as an important achievement while Sharon looks at the same agreement as a grave mistake that should be rectified!
No one is better than Sharon in making his point clear and this was reflected during his meeting with President Bush and through the long press interviews he made on several occasions.
During his visit to the US, Sharon tried to reach a package deal with President Bush over the settlement process with the Palestinians, including the demarcation of the final borders of Israel until the maximum point he can reach to the east and the annexation of the settlement blocs and make a final decision on Jerusalem and annexation of the regions that are vital to the security of the state of Israel, and in return, he would coordinate the disengagement with the PA which should also fight terrorism and a redeployment of the Israeli army in the West Bank until the borders of September 28, 2000, i.e., the borders of the PNA on the eve of the eruption of the Intifada. Bush tried to add to that deal some appetizers, such as freeze of settlements and dismantling of illegal settlement outposts, but Sharon refused that claiming that he faces internal oppositions and that this can spur a civil war in Israel. But the real facts show that both sides have agreed on a joint vision of the expanded borders of the state of Israel and kept the discussion open over the definition and size of the settlement blocs without insisting on freezing them! Since these are issues delayed to the final status negotiations while no one really knows when is the date of such negotiations and whether Sharon did include such negotiations in his calculations or not!
And in a way or another the results of the visit of president Mahmoud Abbas to Washington did not exceed the lines of the American — Israeli understandings.
In light of these findings, there is an increasing need for a wise realistic Palestinian policy that can erect a solid broad barrier between what Sharon plans and wants and what can be implemented on real grounds. The future events and developments will be full of surprises. It is not possible, for example, to predict the magnitude of the impact that the disengagement plan (and the evacuation of settlers from Gaza Settlements) will leave on the internal political map inside Israel and how this will affect the Israeli Knesset elections scheduled to take place next year. It is also difficult to predict the level of success of the international pressure to convince Israel to withdraw in full from Gaza Strip and allow Palestinian control over the border crossings, and the establishment of the safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in addition to giving the Palestinians the assets in the settlements and their surroundings. The same matter applies to the Palestinian situation and how this will affect the next Palestinian Legislative Council elections, which will allow the participation of new forces in the Palestinian political system and which will also witness major changes due to the current reform measures and the move from the "quota phase" to the electoral legitimacy phase ... and from the military confrontation phase to the political confrontation phase. In addition to the impact of several external factors, mainly the vital and extremely important role of Egypt which would support the Palestinian control over Salah Eddin axis on the borders between Gaza and Egypt.
On the other hand, Israel still opposes the Palestinian demands and insists on coordinating the disengagement only in the fields of security and settlements.
Therefore, all crossings from Gaza, by land, sea and air, to the outside world will remain under full Israeli control from both sides and Gaza will remain under siege. Then, the Palestinians will have to pass, after the disengagement plan, through a security test that Israel decides how to assess and deal with that test and whether it will implement its commitments according to the roadmap or not.
Therefore, the Palestinian leadership and all factions adherence to the Cairo Agreement and the calm declaration becomes the basic pillar to confront the Israeli schemes and to formulate and mobilize Arab and international public opinion at the official and popular levels in the form of pressure on Israel to convince it to reconsider its expansionist schemes.
The declaration of the Palestinian calm inaugurated a new phase and created the appropriate conditions for a phase that must be followed till the end. It is the phase of "political confrontation" based on international legitimacy resolutions, and in this field, the Palestinian position gains broader and more powerful legitimacy in terms of the Palestinian rights and demands that conform with this legitimacy and on the other side, we can see Israeli positions and measures that defy the international legitimacy. In brief, the Palestinian declaration of calm created a state inappropriate and abnormal for the state of Israel, and it provides an opportunity that could be invested for the sake a just and comprehensive solution of the Palestinian cause.
Thus, we must not fall into the "Israeli trap"; the calm is a collective agreement that serves the public national interest of the Palestinian people and no individual or faction must decide alone on halting the state of calm because individual violation will be considered a violation of the national consensus.
In the meantime, serious and tireless action to develop the calm declaration into a "mutual truce" under international supervision and demanding the implementation of the Sharm Sheikh Understandings and coordinating the disengagement plan from Gaza according to the Palestinian demands are all elements and basic pillars for the Palestinian political moves during the current phase; it is also an important and effective tool to confront Sharon's conditions and can assist in moving to the third phase of the roadmap, which means the final status negotiations.
The Russian-French call to hold an international conference over the Palestinian cause can constitute, if achieved, a real accomplishment at this level. Holding an international conference will be a major political achievement for the Palestinian people.
Hanna Amireh is member of the PLO Executive Committee and member of the Palestinian People's Party Politburo