An Israeli newspaper quoted President Mahmoud ‘Abbas as saying that he heard United States President George W. Bush and his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressing the administration’s interest in reaching a final Palestinian-Israeli peace settlement “within one year or even less.”
Such American and Palestinian high-level statements are undoubtedly credible, should they be confirmed by their high sources.
The paradox is that there is a third side to the peace triangle other than the Palestinians and Americans. This is the Israeli government, which continues its occupational practices causing endless suffering for the Palestinian people.
While President ‘Abbas attempts to open a window of hope for his people based upon the American expectations, Israel persists in its positions.
One can always initiate false excuses for the Israeli failure in promoting the peace process, such as the political weakness of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, to the extent of his being unable to undertake decisive steps like withdrawing from the West Bank and evacuating Jewish settlements or addressing the sticky issues of Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees’ right of return.
Despite the current obstacles and any hurdles that might emerge, the American statements disclosed by Abu Mazen, which he later confirmed to reporters without directly referring to sources, provide at least a minimal degree of optimism that the Bush administration, which is now witnessing the crisis of its final 19 months in power and besieged by the Iraqi dilemma which shows no signs of a nearing breakthrough – this administration could exert more efforts to achieve success in promoting the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Such a success would leave Bush with a positive element within his political legacy burdened with wars and confrontations.
The present situation in the region, especially the ostensible readiness of the Palestinian side and statements from Israeli officials about their willingness to resume the peace negotiations up to the final solution – these circumstances could provide the grounds for the U.S. administration to launch the declared peace plan with the aim of achieving the final status agreement, a goal now shared by the Palestinian, American and Israeli sides.
The Bush administration would find the path to the final settlement already paved as a result of pioneer efforts undertaken by the late President Yasser Arafat, former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Those leaders made great progress on the way to a final solution during their 2000 summit of Camp David, which neared a full-fledged agreement. To this one can add both the Clinton peace perimeters and the Taba understandings reached later that year. With an additional degree of Israeli flexibility and more American concentrated efforts, the achievement, accumulation and emergence of a viable peace settlement would never be an unrealistic or impossible goal.
Mohammed Shaker Abdallah sits on the editorial board of the Palestinian daily Al-Quds.