[Most people have not noticed that the three month “Hudna” was declared on June 29th, 2003, which is precisely three months before Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year which is celebrated this year on September 27th and 28th, 2003 – DB]
October 3, 2003 goes into the history books as “black Friday.” At 2:00 p.m., a group of soldiers that had just finished its shift at the General staff headquarters stood on the road passing through the Kirya in Tel Aviv, near “Victor Gate.” A suicide bomber, looking just like a reservist and carrying an army backpack, blew up among them. A few minutes later, while the sirens were still slicing the air, another suicide bomber blew up at the entrance to the Azrieli mall.
A few days earlier, at the beginning of that same week, three months to the declaration of the hudna, everything still looked different. The high holidays had gone by quietly, and the level of terror attacks up until the high holidays had been relatively low. On September 30 there had been another meeting between Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian Defense Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan. Just another meeting of the leaders of the supreme security committee, which had become routine in the course of the three-month old hudna. At that meeting Dahlan told Mofaz that while the hudna was formally over, he has “an understanding with the organization leaders that it is continuing, without being declared so publicly.” Later in the meeting the usual issues were raised: dismantling the outposts and disarming the Palestinian opposition organizations. “By January 2004,” Dahlan said, “We will complete our confiscation of the weapons.” “By January 204,” Mofaz told him sarcastically, “we too, most likely, will finish dealing with the outposts.” And as in every meeting, Dahlan again raised the matter of releasing Islamic Jihad and Hamas prisoners, and this was dropped by Mofaz. Everything projected business as usual.
The next day, October 1, while the Egyptian newspapers quoted “sources close to the defense minister” saying that in practice the hudna, is continuing, there are two terror attacks in the West Bank. The first is a shooting attack at the exit to Hebron. A family from Kiryat Arba, a father and his five-year-old son, are killed. The mother and two small children are wounded. Nobody claims responsibility. A few hours afterwards a grenade is thrown at the Gvaot Olam outpost followed by automatic fire. One person is killed and three are wounded. The terrorists flee uninjured. No organization claims responsibility.
The prime minister urgently convenes the cabinet that evening. The right wing ministers demand stopping all contact with the Palestinians and any observance of the road map. The GSS and IDF Intelligence leaders present a report indicating that the terror attacks were committed as a result of internal differences in Hamas and Islamic Jihad over a return to terror. Their report states that the most extreme wings, which contend that no settlements were dismantled and no prisoners released, was responsible for the terror attacks. The evening news speaks of an end to the hudna, but nobody imagines that things will get much worse. In a consultation with the prime minister, it is decided to make a “targeted killing” of those responsible for the terror attack in Hebron.
It is already reported on the evening news that Abu Mazen is asking for an urgent meeting with the prime minister. The meeting takes place late at night on the night between October 1 and 2. Sharon, who is generally meticulous about being polite, is very sharp and harsh and tells Abu Mazen that Israel is not willing to wait until January for Dahlan to begin disarming Hamas. He demands that he now enter areas controlled by Hamas, make arrests, seize weapons and dismantle bomb labs. “There is nothing to talk about if you do not come up with a concrete plan of action, even in stages,” he tells Abu Mazen. “We will respond in accordance with your progress. There will be no prisoner release, no Israeli gestures, if there is no concrete action of your against the carnage that took place today.”
“And what will I tell my people,” Abu Mazen asks. “After all, we’ve had three months of quiet, and what have I actually received in exchange?”
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom joins the conversation: “Hundreds were released from prison, traffic in Gaza moves freely, people go to the beach and play backgammon. And what do we tell our public? For us, what has changed for the better?”
The next day Egypt announces that it sending a delegation to try and conciliate between the Hamas factions and the Palestinian Authority and try to maintain the hudna. Egyptian attempts to lower the tension are met with frank disdain by the Palestinians. Egypt openly states that it is considering abandoning the Palestinians to their own devices. Mubarak says in a public interview: “I reminded Arafat of my phone number. He can look for me when he needs me.”
On Friday, two days after the Abu Mazen-Sharon meeting, the last shreds of hope for the continuation of the peace process go up in smoke at Victor Gate and at Azrieli.
Secret Message to the Quartet
The above scenario is the apex of a simulation game, “Middle East 2003,” held last week at Tel Aviv University. This is the largest simulation game ever held in an academic framework anywhere in Israel on a political issue. Dozens of experts from the academic world, research institutes and government institutions participated.
According to the game, three months after the declaration of the hudna, a crisis takes place that obligates the three major players – the Israeli government, the PA and the American administration – to shake off the sense of standing in place and to begin moving towards an international conference and implementing stage two of the road map. According to the opinion of those who took part in the simulation game, implementing stage two is in the basic interest of each of the major players and therefore it will take place, despite what appears today to be a weak hudna with one political or security crisis following another.
Other players, like orbiting satellites, revolve around the major players – the European community, the western world and the terror organizations – that either help or hinder reaching the goal: moving to stage two of implementing the road map.
The simulation game begins at the beginning of August 2003. On August 7 The Washington Post leaks a secret message sent a day earlier by Abu Mazen to the members of the Quartet in which he displays new Palestinian positions. The Palestinians, the message states, will be willing to relinquish the right of return and declare an end to the conflict in exchange for an Israeli commitment to return to the 1967 borders and for an arrangement in Jerusalem in the spirit of the Clinton plan. As a first step to implementing the new outline, Abu Mazen demands the dismantling of all the outposts established in the territories since September 2000 and dismantling one of the larger settlements in Gush Katif. Regarding terror, the message states: only after Israel begins making peace steps, can Abu Mazen act determinedly to disarm the terror organizations. In any case, dismantling the organizations will come after his victory in Palestinian Authority elections. Therefore, until the elections, no pressure must be placed on him in this regard.
The leak to The Washington Post causes regional shock. Syria requests a special meeting of the Arab League. Hizbullah attacks the Palestinian Authority and accuses it of abandoning the refugees. In discussions that the prime minister holds with his close advisers on the day of the leak, it is clear to him that if Israel responds affirmatively to the initiative, this will break up the government. On the other hand, rejecting it is liable to lead to a clash with the Americans. The prime minister orders the defense minister to try and bypass the initiative and to reach an agreement with the Palestinians on steps that are more gradual.
At this stage, neither side is ripe for accelerating the stages of the road map. Israel is preoccupied with internal economic difficulties. While there is a drop in the terror attacks, even “small” terror attacks means imposing closures and occasionally carrying out active military activity. In the meantime, nothing concrete happens. No outposts are really removed, and no terror organizations are really dismantled. Treading water. The opposition in Israel again states that Israel is losing the momentum.
On August 3 Secretary of State Colin Powell arrives in Israel. In a meeting with the prime minister, the secretary of state states that if Israel does not immediately begin implementing the road map, i.e. dismantling inhabited outposts, releasing 500 prisoners, stopping the policy of closures and sporadic IDF actions in the territories, then “the US will consider changing its attitude toward Israel.” In a cabinet meeting on August 10, the NRP ministers threaten to quit if Sharon does not reject the new Abu Mazen plan publicly and immediately. The Left puts pressure on Sharon to have it join a national unity government.
The next day the media leaks Sharon’s cry to the NRP ministers: “Brig. Gen. Eitam, you won’t teach the prime minister what patriotism is.” And What is Weissglass Up To?
The message left by Colin Powell is very upsetting. Due to concern of a change in the US’s attitude towards Israel, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom is sent to the US to see if Colin Powell was stating an independent position or that of the president. In the course of the meeting at the White House with Dr. Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense and the president enter. Shalom reports to them that the prime minister was surprised by the American remark. The mood is foul. Secretary of State Colin Powell says with unconcealed cynicism: “And how is Mr. Weissglass? Is he feeling well? How it is that we haven’t seen him in Washington recently?”
At the meeting, the Americans demand harshly that the closures and roadblocks be removed to strengthen Abu Mazen. They also hint that they are willing to accept a compromise raised by the Quartet. The president speaks harshly about the outposts. Nevertheless, he repeats the slogan of the US commitment to Israel and to the Jewish community.
The Palestinians publicly deny that there is any new initiative put forth by Abu Mazen. Israel breathes a sigh of relief. In the meantime, a new opposition element to the PA appears in Ramallah, calling itself the “Islamic National Forces.” This is a national organization and its representatives say that it includes “both civilians and soldiers,” and it demands of the PA to retract all decisions that affect the right of return. The uproar over Abu Mazen’s initiative dies down. The situation reverts to what it was.
In mid-September the prime minister attends the UN General Assembly in New York. The real reason for his trip is to meet the American president. This meeting does take place, and in the course of it Sharon manages to dispel some of the misunderstandings between the two sides. He makes it clear to the president that the delay in the road map is due to the Palestinians’ inability and lack of desire to address security issues. Israel, Sharon tells Bush, recommends that a plan be worked out with a precise timetable for battling terror that the Palestinian Authority will have to adhere to. The president promises to respond to this plan in the future. The prime minister explains that Israel continues to act, in self-defense, against “ticking bombs.”
In wake of the meeting, the Americans make it clear to Abu Mazen that they do not intend to pressure Israel to remove outposts unless he begins to dismantle the terror organizations.
Israel goes back to a feeling of business as usual. After a series of terror attacks in the West Bank and in Tel Aviv, a tight closure is clamped on the territories. Israel assassinates the members of the cell that carried out the terror attack in Hebron. The security establishment comes to a decision that from now they do not “target” only ticking bombs.
A sense prevails in the region that we’ve gone back to the days before the hudna. A spokesman of al-Qaida appears on Al Jazeera and announces that two of its people, George Smith and Steven Rose, two British citizens who converted to Islam, were responsible for the terror attack at Azrieli.
The American president invites the Palestinian foreign minister to the White House. The latter is given an ultimatum in the spirit of the agreement between Prime Minister Sharon and the president: if you do not dismantle terror, there will be no Palestinian state. President Chirac and Chancellor Schroeder meet in Berlin, examine ways to promote the peace process and come to a dramatic decision: the European Union will agree to take on the task of settling the Palestinian refugees where they live, promising to grant them rights of citizenship. The EU will also help the Arab states in upgrading and rehabilitating their economies as part of the solution to the refugee problem. The Russian president, Putin, joins the initiative.
The Palestinians arrest the Hamas leader in Nablus and dismantle an explosives lab. The American ultimatum is still reverberating in the air, when at the end of October, a bombshell is tossed: the Izzadin Kassam organization announces that it is holding three Israeli soldiers that it abducted in “southern occupied Palestine.” Hamas demands the release of the all the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails within 48 hours.
Israel and the PA are stunned. For the PA, this is a breaking point. From this point Abu Mazen could collapse, along with his government. In meetings in the Palestinian Authority there is a sense that if the PA tries to rescue the hostages itself and the hostages are killed, it will not be able to justify this move.
At this point there is exceptional cooperation, marking a turning point in cooperation between the two sides. Mohammed Dahlan cooperates with Israel to locate where the hostages are being held in the southern Gaza Strip, and promises to kill those behind the cell that abducted them. Israel gives the Palestinians an ultimatum of six hours to rescue the soldiers. Dahlan provides the information and Israel successfully rescues the hostages. Dahlan does his part and kills the members of the band behind the abduction. This is the first time that the PA actually uses force against a terror element.
Following this drama, Abu Mazen is invited to meet with the president and top-ranking administration officials. After the meeting he takes three major steps: he declares that anybody dealing in terror is outside the law. He passes a law that anyone bearing arms who is not a policeman is to be imprisoned. Dahlan’s men raid a weapons warehouse in the southern Gaza Strip. In the course of a battle against former Fatah men, who are also responsible for the smuggling from Egypt, 24 of them are killed.
In November, the PA comes out with a constitution. The constitution is more akin to Israel’s declaration of independence and is not given much attention, either hostile or favorable, by Israel or the US. Everyone is waiting for elections in the PA, scheduled to take place in January 2004. Until that time Israel completes transferring security responsibility over Areas A and B to the PA, so as to enable free elections. Armored forces are removed from these areas. The level of warnings drops thanks to the determination displayed by the PA security organizations. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other opposition elements take part in the elections. The orders relayed by their political echelons are to lower the level of violence against Israel to a minimum and to focus on getting support in the elections.
Arafat, who is running for president, can leave the mukataa and go out into the sunshine. Ever since security responsibility is transferred to the PA, he has been going about Ramallah and getting himself interviewed on any media getting anywhere near him.
57% of those eligible to vote take part in the elections to the PA, which are held in January. The results are astounding. Arafat, as expected, is elected president by a 78% majority. Fatah, headed by Abu Mazen, earns a decisive majority, 55%. Hamas receives 25%, Islamic Jihad receives 6%, and the independent candidates get the rest. Hamas is disappointed, but for the first time finds itself part of the Palestinian Authority establishment.
On election day there is a terror attack attempt against a convoy that Dahlan is riding in on the Karni-Netzarim road. A leaflet is circulated at a-Najah University showing Dahlan’s picture and saying, “every dog has his day.” In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees seize control of the German and French embassies in protest that the Palestinian exiles are left out of the elections. But the protest ends with this.
In his victory speech, Abu Mazen demands that the sides move on quickly to the second stage of the road map. Israel and the US make a secret decision: to continue to ignore Arafat even though he was elected in democratic elections and to hold talks only with Abu Mazen and Dahlan.
Ever since the publication of the constitution in November, and up until April 2004, both sides make efforts to fulfill their commitments as stated in the road map. Israel releases over 700 Palestinian prisoners. The government passes a decision and dismantles outposts, including inhabited ones, clashing violently with settlers. A resignation of the right wing ministers appears imminent. The Palestinians begin to register and confiscate weapons, clashing violently with radical groups. A joint Israeli-American-Palestinian agreement enables money to be sent to the PA so that it can purchase the weapons held by Palestinian civilians.
Although the first stage is not carried out completely, the reports sent by John Wolf convince the US that there is a basis to hold an international conference that will discuss the establishment of a Palestinian state in temporary borders.
Peace Affairs Minister
On March 10, 2004 a mass protest is held in Rabin Square calling on the Israeli government to get out of the impasse, to dismantle outposts and respond to the democratization process happening in the Palestinian Authority. Ministers Tommy Lapid and Avraham Poraz speak. Lapid says that he is very worried about the continuing impasse. Senior American representatives are sent to Israel to coordinate positions on the international conference. The Israeli government decides to accede to the invitation. The right wing ministers quit the government on the understanding that an international conference means the recognition of an independent Palestinian state, albeit in temporary borders. The Labor Party joins the government. Minister Shimon Peres is appointed minister for peace affairs.
The right wing holds rowdy demonstrations in Jerusalem even before quitting the government. This is in wake of a leak to the press that the Planning Branch in the General Staff has already prepared a position paper on a territories swap: Israel is prepared to swap territories for villages in Wadi Ara. The leak is an Israeli ploy meant to prevent the Palestinians from demanding areas beyond Areas A and B in stage two. As planned, the publication of a territories swap immediately generates tremendous turmoil among Israeli Arabs. This makes it clear to the Americans that any discussion on areas beyond A and B is liable to make the process drag on for years.
The international conference takes place in early May 2004 in New York, under the auspices of the Quartet. The chairman is the American president. Also attending, alongside the Quartet leaders, are the leaders of the Arab states. Israel comes to the international conference fairly well coordinated with the Americans regarding handing over Areas A and B to the Palestinians, plus a few percentages more, creating territorial contiguity, making it possible for the Palestinians, in temporary borders, to have around 50% of the territories. Israel will continue to control air space and the sea, and the Palestinian state is to be demilitarized. The Palestinians demand all of the Gaza Strip, 90% of the West Bank and responsibility for all the “non-Palestinians” in these territories. The establishment of a Palestinian state in principle is decided at the end of the conference, although there are differences over its borders. President Bush notes that there is a basis for beginning negotiations, which will take place in secret.
There is one minor crisis at the conference that threatens to make it fall apart. The Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat, demands to go to the conference as the senior Palestinian representative. Intervention by the Arab world and the Europeans leads to a compromise: Arafat announces that he is delaying his arrival for medical reasons.
The conclusion of the participants in the simulation game is: Despite the problematics of the first stage of the road map, all the sides are interested in reaching the second stage. For this reason they will overcome the obstacles. The big test of the road map will be in the course of the negotiations that will be held in the second stage. This is where the interests of both sides diverge. Israel will have an interest in dragging out the second stage for as long as possible, until a relationship of real trust is created between the two sides.
The simulation game was held under the sponsorship of Tel Aviv University’s School of Administration headed by Prof. Zeev Maoz, the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies and the Program for Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. Prof. Zeev Maoz, Prof. Aluf Yitzhak Ben Yisrael, Col. (res.) Dr. Ephraim Kam, Dr. Yehuda Ben Meir, Haim Assa and Boaz Munak built the game.