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Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Huh, What?! Sharon Peace Initiative backed by Bush?

Jordan granting passports to 150,00 Jordanian Palestinians
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report: The unpublicized decision by Jordan’s king Abdullah and his prime minister Faisal al-Fayez to grant passports to 150,000 Palestinians from Gaza living in the Hashemite Kingdom could reduce to irrelevance the celebrations surrounding a welter of private alternative “peace accords” and their rationale: Prime minister Ariel Sharon’s alleged failure to come up with any political solution for the conflict with the Palestinians.

Amman’s decision is reported exclusively by DEBKAfile’s Palestinian and Washington sources. It is said to be the opening move in a novel Sharon initiative backed by the Bush administration to cut through to an acceptable peace formula on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

For half a century these Palestinians were stateless, as they have been in most of the Arab countries to which they fled from 1948 on. Now, they will be provided with passports to gain them entry at the only frontier willing to accept them: the Israeli crossing point into Palestinian-controlled territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, whether as tourists or to join their families.

It is inconceivable that Washington and Jerusalem were unaware of the Jordanian intention to open a back door for 150,000 Palestinians residing in Jordan to consummate their return to Palestinian soil. Hitherto, every Israeli government has objected adamantly to any form of Palestinian refugee repatriation. Even at Oslo, the 1993 agreement between Israeli and Palestinians on Interim Self-Government deferred the refugee issue to final-status negotiations, a principle repeated in the 1995 Israel-Palestinian Interim Agreement.

None of the peace treaties between Israel and Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinians, have ever granted the refugees a right of return. It was recognized that the problem of refugees is an unavoidable consequence of war.

For Jordan, it would offer a welcome chance to be rid of disgruntled third-class citizens largely hostile to the throne, who have been denied the right to travel, open businesses or buy housing and property, except through rapacious Jordanian middlemen.

If Sharon proves willing to allow this number of Palestinian refugees into Palestinian-controlled territory ahead of a permanent solution, he would have chalked up an epic departure from Israel’s conventional negotiating posture.

If the process goes forward past the myriad obstacles expected to stand in its path it will offer the new Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia – Abu Ala – a strong incentive to cooperate with Sharon. Qureia has declared he will not disarm the terrorist organizations, Clause One of the Middle East road map. Israel has accordingly not felt obliged to halt settlement activity. Washington has tacitly accepted the impasse by docking close to $300m from the $9bn loan guarantees provided Israel – because of the settlements. The security fence has sailed past the Washington obstacle course.

The Palestinians, if they give way on this point, stand to gain an independent state with the blessing of the US and Israeli governments, and limited consent for the return of Palestinian refugees as full citizens of this state.

It is beginning to look as though the Sharon government hopes, by giving way partially on the Palestinian refugee question, to be rewarded with acceptance of the security fence as a barrier between Israel and the West Bank – and even at the end of the day as a permanent border between the Jewish and the Palestinian states. In any case some 60,000 Jordanian workers are in the country, most of them Palestinians, and another 100,000 Palestinians have entered under one scheme or another. This means that some 300,000 Palestinians, the bulk of whom are refugees, have been admitted already.

Sharon’s headline-grabbing hints about possible unilateral Israeli peace moves have been left deliberately opaque. Together with the Geneva peace cavalcade, they are diverting attention from the most dramatic development of them all – a broad, innovative people-for-land trade potentially in the making.

Even before the Jordanian king’s gesture moves down the line, it offers the Likud prime minister a chance to upstage his denigrators when they gather in Geneva next Monday for a grand peace fest.

Two former US presidents, Jimmy Carter – the world’s most famous peace groupie – and Bill Clinton may be there to beam approval on Israeli and Palestinian “visionaries” at a star-studded ceremony presented by the actor Richard Dreyfuss. Israel’s most famous draft dodger, the singer Aviv Gefen, and most celebrated welfare mom, Vicki Knafo, will be on hand for what has been billed as a signing ceremony of the so-called Geneva Accord.

But wait a minute. The organizers are talking about launching, unveiling, or celebrating their peace agreement – anything but signing it. In fact, as DEBKAfile’s sources have ascertained, no one is actually going to sign the peace agreement cobbled together under the gaze of fly-on-the-wall television cameras by Israeli left-wing luminaries such as Oslo veteran Yossi Beilin, former Labor leader Amram Mitzna and the Palestinian ex-minister of propaganda, Yasser Abed Rabbo. It seems that the peaceniks who signed a draft of the accord several weeks ago at the Dead Sea are backing off from actually signing it in public.

The explanation is simple: Yasser Arafat. The wily Palestinian leader has told his minions not to attach their signatures to the document with the world watching so as not to commit him to any of the ersatz agreement’s peace obligations.

Read on . . .