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To Be Trusted, Mofaz Should Begin Dismantling the Occupation

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Israeli politicians are very good at negotiating with themselves. Shaul Mofaz is not much different. The Mofaz plan that apparently helped propel him to the top of the Kadima party suggests that Israel would cede some 10 percent of the territories in the West Bank as a first step towards the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state.

Before doing that, however, Palestinians must fulfill conditions -- but Mofaz's conditions (recognizing Israel, abandoning terrorism and accepting past agreements) have already been met by the Palestine Liberation Organization in both word and deed so it is unclear whether these conditions are indeed being demanded of the PLO or Hamas. Mofaz suggests that the international community "guarantee" further Israeli withdrawals to the 1967 borders, including land swaps.

The basic concept of this proposal is faulty because it assumes that Palestinians would trust the state of Israel and trust that the state of Israel would respect international guarantees. Israel's record on both is very weak; as such, Mofaz was unable to find any serious Palestinian to accept his plan. The idea that temporary borders can remain just that is the biggest hurdle for Palestinians to swallow. Palestinian ears are still ringing with the prophetic statement made by Yitzhak Shamir around the time of the Madrid Peace conference in 1992 when he said that he would drag negotiations out for 10 years. In fact, his prediction has been doubled. It has been 20 years and the reality on the ground has not changed.

Moreover, the idea that, every time Israel has to carry out a withdrawal that is part of a signed agreement, it should request some kind of reciprocation from Palestinians is illogical. In the Oslo process, Palestinians were promised a five-year transitional period. While the accords were signed in a White House ceremony in 1993, it took another year to work out the details and by all accounts Israel was to cede the occupied territories in 1999. That never happened. Instead Palestinians were dragged against their will to Camp David to renegotiate an agreement that they thought was already signed, sealed, and delivered.

Israel's newest party leader has some interesting attributes. He comes from a military background, a prerequisite in Israeli eyes for making political concessions. He also belongs to the oriental Sephardic Jewish community rather than the European one that has largely ruled Israel since its foundation. Mofaz leads a party that has been on the record as supporting the peace process. Its founder, Ariel Sharon, coined the term "hafrada" ("separation") to justify Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, which was supposed to be the prelude to a similar disengagement of Israel's ugly occupation from the West Bank.

Ehud Olmert
, who followed Sharon, came closest to reaching a withdrawal agreement only to be removed from his position on the basis of a civilian court case against him.

If Mofaz wants to win the confidence of Palestinians, the path is very clear. As in cases of chronic alcoholism or other types of substance abuse, the way forward begins with an admission of the problem followed by active steps to remedy it. Israeli leaders from the left and right continue to stick their heads in the sand and deny that they as an occupying power are the guilty party and that they have caused the perpetuation of the conflict. This is not a case that calls for reciprocity. Rather, tough and courageous decisions need to be made.

The very first of these decisions must be the direction the Israeli army is taking in the occupied territories in dealing with Palestinians and in dealing with Israelis. Israel must demonstrate through action that it is beginning to dismantle its multifaceted machine for occupying another people. The beginning of the end of occupation also requires telling Israelis that the settlement enterprise runs contrary to peace. You can't begin to reverse expansionist settlement policies if settlers, their ideologies, their financial support and those promoting them are not told clearly and directly that they have no future on land that is destined to be the Palestinian state.

Shaul Mofaz's plan might have been good enough to get him more votes than Tzipi Livni and could appear to a naive follower of the Middle East as reasonable. But a quick check of its content and the question marks it leaves unanswered make it no better than most plans in which Israelis have negotiated amongst themselves, ending up nowhere.