JERUSALEM – What happened at Tuesday’s high-profile summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, was not the start of a peace process, despite pronouncements by Palestinian and Israeli leaders that they are committed to ending the violence and military operations.
“It was a regional ceremonial stamp of approval for a stabilization process,” said Israeli political analyst Yossi Alpher.
“It would be a real mistake to see in this a kind of re-entry into a peace process. If you take the road map as the way to get into a peace process and look at where we are, we are in phase one with neither party capable of carrying out all its obligations.”
Indeed, while the road map to peace calls for the dismantling of the terrorist infrastructure, Mahmoud Abbas is trying instead to co-opt it by negotiating with the militants and seeking their participation in governing the territories.
The road map also calls for Israel to dismantle the settlement outposts. Sharon has taken some steps but has not accomplished that goal. Instead he has detoured off the road map by calling unilaterally for a pullout from Gaza.
The dust covered U.S.-backed road map for peace is a three-phased plan under which Palestinians begin by halting political violence and Israelis begin by halting settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The road map is performance based; the parties can’t move forward until successfully completing the previous phase.
Only in the third phase will they get to the hard, “final status” issues, including the borders of an eventual Palestinian state, how to share Jerusalem and what to do about Palestinian refugees.
While Sharon and Abbas are winning praise for resuming dialogue after years of deadly fighting, it is not clear how much further these particular leaders will be able to go.
“I don’t think Sharon or Abbas is a candidate for getting into phase three,” said Alpher. “Abbas continues to hold onto the right of return (for refugees). Sharon has always been skeptical of any peace agreement that Israel has made. He has not voted for any of them.”
Those limitations notwithstanding, there is growing momentum, and a sense that progress will come through an accumulation of modest gains rather than one dramatic jump.