Ariel Sharon's cabinet saw two significant diplomatic achievements with regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The ”Road Map" conditioned the final-status agreement, among other things, on the reorganization of the Palestinian Authority in a way that would prevent terror as much as possible; then there was President Bush’s letter to Prime Minister Sharon that set out, among other things, the American administration's position regarding two of the three issues pertaining to a final-status agreement: There will be no withdrawal to the 1967 borders, and Jewish settlement centers (the large blocs) will remain in Israeli hands; there will be no return of refugees to Israel, but rather, to a Palestinian state established according to the principles of the "Road Map."
The principle of government contiguity maintains that basic principles set out by law by one administration must be upheld by later administrations as long as they have not been altered; and modification of basic principles by a former administration must be carried out carefully and with reason, since a country’s positive (or negative) diplomatic reputation is dependent on this.
From the media description of Israel's and the Palestinians' positions, it appears that these two basic principles have disappeared: Talks of a final-status agreement – on one level or another – are being conducted, despite the fact that the Palestinians themselves do not dare to make claims that the "land has quieted down." With regards to the question of borders, the position presented by the Palestinians is to continue the negotiations that were severed at Camp David. There it was proposed that Israel would hold on to five percent of the Palestinian Authority's territory – that is, only part of the large settlement blocs.
The Palestinians are demanding to set this as a "starting point" for discussion – enabling Israel to hold on to five percent or less – while the US president's letter expresses support for the Israeli position regarding continued control of all the large settlement blocs, which constitute some 10 percent of the authority's territory.
Israel keeps mum
The Road Map was approved with a binding decision on the part of the Israeli government. The president's letter to the prime minister is an integral part of the disengagement plan, which was approved by a government resolution. In the US the president's letter was approved (with minor modifications) in a joint decision and by a vast majority at the Senate and Congress. These are important diplomatic, and even binding, assets.
The Palestinian argument widely voiced ahead of the upcoming international conference completely ignores this. And Israel is keeping mum. Although the Road Map was adopted and approved by the Palestinian Legislative Council, it found it difficult to implement right from the start and was glad to discover that Israel is not seriously seeking its implementation.
And it should be noted: The Road Map – and the inherent principle of ending terror as a condition for engaging in diplomatic talks is a diplomatic document accepted by all nations, and was validated by a Security Council resolution. As to the matter of President Bush's letter: The Palestinians have never agreed to the US position, and here too they were glad to discover that Israel is not demanding its implementation – at least not publicly.
The US plays a pivotal role in all Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and due to its special status only the US can bring the issues up for discussion to an agreement. The incumbent government initiated the Road Map and consolidated the position outlined in the president's letter; there is no question here of "government contiguity," because it is the exact same administration, which is committed to its own position.
There is no way of knowing what has been said during secret negotiations tracks; however, in these parts, much weight (often decisive) is attributed to publicly declared positions. It is the media that is creating mutual expectations; it determines the sense of achievement or failure in the public eye, and limits the boundaries of the secret tracks.
Hence, Israel should clearly and openly relate to diplomatic assets, because if it doesn't they will disappear. And this must not be allowed to happen.