Urgent Steps Needed To Sustain The Fragile Window Of Opportunity

by Dr. Ziad Asali
Washington, DC - A new 'window of opportunity' for Israeli-Palestinian peace has been created by three simultaneous developments: free and fair Palestinian elections won by a candidate in favour of peaceful negotiations, the Israeli plan to withdraw from Gaza and the northern West Bank, and the designation of Israeli-Palestinian peace and a Palestinian state as a priority for the Bush administration's second-term.

Many commentators have welcomed this rare moment of hope, but few have acknowledged just how fragile it is or what urgent steps are required to sustain it.

Actions by Palestinians, Israelis, and the U.S. have contributed to keeping this window open thus far. Israel has given the final go-ahead to the Gaza and Northern West Bank withdrawal plan and signalled its intent to coordinate this withdrawal with the Palestinians, released a small number of Palestinian prisoners, and halted its policy of demolishing the homes of suicide bombers. The Palestinians have deployed police in the Gaza Strip, secured a total ceasefire from all militant groups, and begun the process of reform addressing corruption and consolidation of the security services. President Bush has sent Secretary Rice to visit the region in her first trip abroad, designated Lt. Gen. William Ward "security coordinator," and asked Congress for $350 million in total aid for the Palestinians.

In addition, behind-the-scenes pressure contributed to Israel's reversal on applying its Absentee Property Law in East Jerusalem, which would have expropriated almost half of the land of East Jerusalem's Palestinians.

The question is how to sustain this momentum.

Mr. Abbas remains a president without a state. He has courageously staked his political future, and perhaps even personal safety, on achieving freedom for his people through peaceful negotiations. He understands that without security and the rule of law, there is no hope for peace. To succeed, he needs the support of all responsible parties.

The Israeli government can either help or hinder President Abbas' credibility. Unfortunately, the positive steps Israel has taken were accompanied by new "realities on the ground" inconsistent with a future of two states, especially settlement construction in and around Jerusalem. The final route of the West Bank barrier has been approved, encompassing at least 6-8 percent of Palestinian West Bank land. This does not include the land that would be lost if current Israeli plans to completely isolate Jerusalem from the West Bank are completed. In addition, a substantial reduction in checkpoints and military withdrawal has yet to happen.

Both parties have responsibilities and the onus cannot be on the Palestinians alone. Helping President Abbas to deliver results for his people must be as much a litmus test of Mr. Sharon's credibility as Mr. Abbas's moves on security are properly a test of his. The role of the U.S. is, of course, indispensable. Three tasks that need to be accomplished this year will require active U.S. encouragement:

Establishing close Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation and activation of the committees established in Sharm El-Sheikh with scrupulous implementation of agreements by both parties; Both parties implementing their commitments under the Roadmap, as they coordinate the Disengagement Plan; Reforming and restructuring the Palestinian Authority.

With engaged U.S. participation, these tasks can be accomplished. Palestinians need to create order and security, and Israel must refrain from all measures that prejudice final status issues. Both parties must abide by commitments they make, and by the conditions of the Roadmap.
We have the opportunity to foster a strategic realignment where Palestine will be an ally of the United States and a partner to Israel in peace. Ultimately, security and peace will be achieved by establishing a viable, contiguous, independent and democratic Palestine, with a shared Jerusalem as a capital for two states, and a fair solution to the refugee problem according to international law. The concession Israel must make is to return the occupied Palestinian territories to their rightful owners.

There are those in Palestine, Israel, the Arab world, and here in the United States who are opposed to the peaceful vision of two states. Peace in Palestine will deny demagogues and terrorists the most potent weapon in their arsenal. Our challenge is to build tangible benefits that promote a culture of reconciliation and peace, and defeat the forces of hate and violence. It is imperative that the Palestinian government has the resources needed to deliver services to its people, or others will step into the void.

The urgency of timely intervention cannot be overstated. What all parties do, and do not do, in the coming months will determine whether this glimmer of hope becomes the dawn of a new era of peace, or proves merely the twilight before another long night of conflict and chaos. We must act decisively in the interests of the Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab peoples, and, above all, in our own American national interest.

* Dr. Asali is President of the Washington-based American Task Force on Palestine.

Source: Common Ground News Service, March 6, 2005

Visit The Common Ground News Service website at: www.commongroundnews.org

Distributed by the Common Ground News Service.

Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.
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- Ziad Asali, president of the American Task Force on Palestine

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Actions Are Needed To Make Peace A Reality
A Simple Plan
Promote Negotiations or Abandon the Two-State Solution
The Palestinian Ceasefire: A Window of Opportunity Looming on the Horizon
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Only Public Support Can Sustain a Window of Opportunity
Palestinians and Israelis Should Talk Amongst Themselves
What to Do with the Gaza Settlements
Learning from Previous Mideast Mistakes
Religion and the Issue of Jerusalem
Religion Must be Part of the Solution
The Direction of Peace and its Challenges
Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon: Worthwhile Steps before Final Settlement
Achieving Long-Term Political Change in the Middle East
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Other articles in this series

Actions Are Needed To Make Peace A Reality by Nizar Abdel-Kader
A Simple Plan by Hady Amr
Promote Negotiations or Abandon the Two-State Solution by Naomi Chazan
The Palestinian Ceasefire: A Window of Opportunity Looming on the Horizon by Mohammad Daraghmeh
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly by Khaled Duzdar
Only Public Support Can Sustain a Window of Opportunity by Jason Erb
Palestinians and Israelis Should Talk Amongst Themselves by Shira Herzog
What to Do with the Gaza Settlements by Saad Eddin Ibrahim
Learning from Previous Mideast Mistakes by Daoud Kuttab
Religion and the Issue of Jerusalem by Jonathan Kuttab
Religion Must be Part of the Solution by Rabbi David Rosen
The Direction of Peace and its Challenges by Hazem Saghiyeh
Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon: Worthwhile Steps before Final Settlement by Michael Young
Achieving Long-Term Political Change in the Middle East by Dov S. Zakheim