Rice’s “Viable Palestinian State” Would Shrink Israel out of Jordan Valley and Most of West Bank (DEBKAfile) Special Analysis 02/02/05 5:23 PM (GMT+02:00)
New US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice’s upcoming visit to the
Middle East next week has galvanized the region’s leaders into a
frenzied round of travel and summit consultations. The centerpiece
summit will bring together Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon,
Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Palestinian leader Mahmoud
Abbas (Abu Mazen) at Sharm al Sheikh next Tuesday. Jordan’s King
Abdullah has also been invited.
Rice will take the place of President George W. Bush, who attended
the last such forum, the 2003 Aqaba summit.
There are other differences.
Abbas will be coming from fruitful talks with Russian president
Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin and Tayyep Erdogan in Ankara. He will
have an Iranian invitation to Tehran in his pocket as well as
Moscow’s offer of military aid at some future date, including
helicopters, to “counterbalance” US-British defense support for the
Wednesday, February 2, Egyptian intelligence minister Omar Suleiman
turned up in Jerusalem after talks about a ceasefire in Cairo with
two Palestinian rejectionist leaders, Jihad Islami’s Ramadan Shalah
and Hamas Khaled Mashal. Both are holding out for a power-sharing
deal with the PLO without renouncing terrorism.
Not to be outdone in the travel stakes, Syrian president Bashar
Assad suddenly flew to Amman Wednesday, February 2, to tap King
Abdullah II on the goings-on and see where he could fit in.
Amid this flurry of movement, nothing has happened to change the
fundamentals at stake between Israel and the Palestinians. Rice made
this clear on Monday, January 31, ahead of her visit to the region
and at the previous Senate hearings before her confirmation last
week: “Without a viable and contiguous Palestinian state that
represents the aspirations of the Palestinian people – meaning
enough land to function well - there will be no peace for either
Palestinian people or Israelis.”
This statement does not address the concerns troubling Jerusalem.
She will no doubt be asked by Israeli officials how does that vision
and the support lavished on Abu Mazen fit in with the refusal of
nine Palestinian organizations, including Abbas’ own Fatah, to halt
their terrorist offensive against Israel, their acceptance of a lull
at most – not a ceasefire - and his own refusal to dismantle them,
as required in the first stage of the Middle East road map.
Answering senators’ questions on January 18, she had this to say
about her perception of a viable Palestinian state - and by
definition Israel’s future borders (which will apparently be
determined by default):
“There are several ways to think about viability. One is that it
(the Palestinian state) has to have territory that makes it viable.
It cannot be territory that is so broken up that it can’t function
as a state… It has to have economic viability, and there it probably
needs to have economic viability in relationship to other states
around it – to Jordan, Israel and others… Viability, I think, also
has a political and democracy dimension…”
She went on to say, “…as the president said when he met with prime
minister Sharon back in I think this May, we have to recognize that
the parties are going to determine their borders; that it is not for
us to prejudge what those borders might be. There has been a lot of
negotiation, I think they will need to look at what has been looked
State department officials who briefed the American press afterward
interpreted Rice’s statement as meaning: the territorial contiguity
of a Palestinian state with a common border with Jordan.
Israeli leaders failed to react to the new US secretary’s words or
ask for much needed clarifications.
DEBKAfile’s sources in Washington, however - after some analysis -
find room for Israel to be concerned on the following scores:
1. The Americans have been shouting from the rooftops for some time
that any cluster of Israeli West Bank communities, including major
towns, that obstruct Palestinian territorial contiguity must be
removed. Back on December 24, we quoted Elliot Abrams, appointed by
President George W. Bush this week as deputy chairman of the
national security council, as saying in closed meetings – on
November 30 in Washington and in New York on December 20 – that “all
of the Israeli settlements east of the existing sections of the West
Bank security barrier will be dismantled and evacuated”.
Abrams’ comments were no slip of the tongue; he and Rice, along with
new national security chairman Stephen Hadley, are in synch in
everything they say.
2. Establishment of a common frontier between Jordan and a
Palestinian state to ensure the latter’s economic viability would
entail Palestinian control of the Jordan Valley and also of Israeli-
Jordanian border crossings. Since Israeli communities in the Jordan
Valley are located east of the security fence, they are destined by
the Bush administration for removal.
3. In the longer-term, Rice’s comments on contiguity are also
pertinent to other countries bordering on the projected Palestinian
state – Egypt to the south and Syria to the north. They means Israel
will be required to withdraw from the Philadelphi Corridor on the
Gaza-Egypt border, an issue now at the heart of its talks with
Washington and Cairo. With Israel out of the way and the buffer zone
gone frm the border, a Palestinian state will gain territorial
contiguity between the Gaza Strip and Egypt’s northern Sinai
Further down the road, after Israel returns the Golan Heights, a
Palestinian state will have a common border with Syria.
Rice’s core message to Jerusalem is clear: she looks to Israel to
grant the Palestinians territorial connectivity and all the land
they need, along with all the accoutrements of sovereignty such as
control of its borders and air and sea ports. To make it so, Israel
is expected to continue pulling out of large tracts of the West Bank
in addition to its volunteered evacuation of four settlements in the
northern part of the territory and pullback from 21 Gush Katif
locations in the Gaza Strip.
Vice Premier Shimon Peres was the only Israeli leader to graps what
Rice was driving at – and he tried to sugar the pill. The new
secretary of state, he explained, was referring only to Palestinian
territorial contiguity in the West Bank; she did not mean a West
Bank land link to the Gaza Strip.
DEBKAfile’s sources in Washington corrected this interpretration.
Rice, they said, was as clear as rain in physically connecting the
two territories. After all, if the Bush administration is advocating
a territorial link between a Palestinian state and Jordan and Egypt,
it is hardly likely to forego a land link for the West Bank and the
Moreover, our sources say, a West Bank-Gaza corridor – via an
elevated highway or a tunnel -- was on the agenda at the Camp David
negotations in 2000 and other Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in the
past, with the Palestinians demanding a fully sovereign land
corridor to cut through southern Israel.
As Rice said, “There has been a lot of negotiation, I think they
will need to look at what has been looked at before.“
All of these statements from the incoming US secretary of state are
in glaring contrast with Sharon’s constant claim of an understanding
with Bush at the same White House talks to which she refered that
Israel would not be asked to return to the pre-1967 Middle East war
borders under any permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Obviously, the prime minister’s office and the Bush adminsitration
have differing perceptions of this understanding. Perhaps the key to
the gap is to be found in the letter Bush sent Sharon after their
talks, in which he referred only to the 1949 armistice lines set
after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and avoided any reference to the
1967 frontier. (Copyright © 2005 DEBKAfile 02/02/05)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY