Too High Expectations


By Danny Rubinstein

April 21, 2003

American, European and Israeli spokesmen lately have been creating great expectations of the new government that Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen, is trying to put together for the Palestinian Authority. The prime minister-designate is supposed to rein in the terror, put some order in the PA governmental chaos, eradicate corruption, form a regime of law and order, and, of course, neutralize chairman Yasser Arafat, whom Israel regards as the father of all evil. After the PLC votes confidences in the Abu Mazen government, Washington will publish the road map, which is perceived as being sympathetic to the Palestinians, and which is regarded with suspicion by the Sharon government. Abu Mazen is promised visits to the White House and European capitals. The Israeli government has also promised to greet the new government with a series of steps meant to ease conditions in the territories.

The Palestinians are, of course, waiting for Abu Mazen, but their expectations are much lower, it seems. Judging, for example, by the poll published last week by the Jerusalem Media Institute, most Palestinians have very little hope from the new government, saying it won't significantly change the political reality and won't remove the daily suffering in the territories. Three years ago, the Palestinians also did not share America and Israel's high expectations from the Camp David summit. Many warned at the time that an outbreak of violence was coming. Israel interpreted that pessimism as an attempt to threaten violence to squeeze more concessions out of Ehud Barak's government. That Palestinian pessimism can now be read as a more accurate reading of reality.

There's no need to think about the Sharon government's difficulty over withdrawing from West Bank cities, dismantling outposts, or freezing settlement expansion. There's a much simpler example of the needed easing of conditions - the limits on transportation for the Arabs of Judea and Samaria. During the first year of the intifada, and even more so since last year's Operation Defensive Shield, practically all Palestinian traffic has been blocked in the West Bank. Shooting ambushes on Israeli cars was the reason for these limitations; most attacks on Israeli vehicles in the West Bank came from passing Palestinian cars. Gradually, the IDF began blocking Arab cars from roads. Checkpoints and blockades were put up on practically all routes leading to Arab townships, and today, most of the roads in the territories are for Israeli cars only.

Despite extensive media reports, most of the public apparently is unaware that some two million Arab residents of the West Bank practically are unable to leave their towns. The prohibitions on Palestinian traffic have paralyzed the economy and disrupted the school and health systems and other services. From Israel's perspective, the blockades have reduced significantly the shooting attacks on Israeli cars, but have not halted them entirely.

The first thing necessary to reduce the suffering in the West Bank is to remove the prohibitions on Palestinian transportation. Without that, there's not much to talk about when it comes to Israeli abatements, and it is certain the defense establishment is considering such easing of conditions. But presumably, after Palestinian transportation is allowed back on the roads, the shooting attacks on Israeli cars will resume, and then the settlers, who are the primary targets of such attacks, will raise their cry. When that happens, there's almost no doubt that the settlers will force the government and army to resume prohibitions on Palestinian transportation, and all the other abatements for the Palestinians will be back in place, as if they were never removed. That's just one example of why there's good reason to be skeptical of the chances of the road map's success.

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