- The sudden shift of gears represented by President Bush's
April 4 Rose Garden speech provides a critical opening to end the Palestinian
dispute once and for all. His first requirement was that the fighting
must stop. While not so graphically put, he insisted that both the terror
of Israeli military raids and the terrorism of suicide bombings must end.
He was more even-handed than any American President in memory in lambasting
all parties to the conflict, including Arafat for not curbing terrorism,
Syria and Iran for sheltering groups or sponsoring attacks, but especially
in insisting that the Israelis must withdraw their troops and stop settlement
activities in occupied territory.
In broader remarks about the economic and political development of Palestine,
President Bush outlined possible steps that could lead to evolution of
a win-win strategy for all concerned, including the United States. In
painting the picture of a just settlement in which two states, Palestine
and Israel, lived side by side, he foresaw a transformation through trade,
development and democracy where the players become economic partners.
But to get there, much has to be done. To really achieve a win-win outcome,
the United States must even handedly hold Israeli and Palestinian feet
to the fire on living by the rules.
The first step, obviously, is to stop the current conflict. . With some
reluctance, perhaps, the President recognized the practical reality that
Palestinian terrorist attacks would not stop until the Israelis stopped
attacking the Palestinians and withdrew. Such, indeed, is the true situation
where military forces of a recognized state attack a stateless group that
has no constituted military, but insists on fighting back.
The next step is to stabilize boundaries. The President was clear in saying
that Israeli settlement activity in occupied territories must stop. He
did not clearly state, however, that the settlements must be dismantled
in the process of fixing the boundaries, and that is a matter that must
be settled soon or the friction will continue. Israeli hopes for the future
must be confined to peaceful use of existing lands, but not to any growth
at the expense of neighbors. The Palestinians and other states of the region
must also respect the boundaries that are finally fixed.
The United Nations must lead immediate efforts to provide relief and to
restore the infrastructure damaged or destroyed by Israeli attacks. In
the West Bank and the Gaza Strip today there are more than 3,000,000 Palestinians,
from many of whom Israel confiscated property. The United States and
other governments should help the UN enforce Resolution 194 that requires
Israel to compensate them. More immediately critical, the UN should intensify
and expand programs to provide job training and employment opportunities
for young Palestinians who are the majority of the population. These
young people are easy marks for recruitment by extremists, and special
efforts are needed to give them skills, opportunities and hope.
Free and assured access to the outside world is critical to the future
development of Palestine and to the psychological well being of its people.
In the past, through control of traffic routes between the West Bank,
Israel and the outside world, Israel has put the Palestinians in virtually
a vassal state. That cannot continue; the Israelis cannot be allowed
to bring the Palestinian economy to its knees every time Israelis feel
threatened. Palestine leadership, on the other hand, must establish and
maintain effective disciplines among its people for free passage to become
a sustained reality. The key to this is for both Israel and Palestine
to recognize and deal with each other as equals.
Both Israel and Palestine need to look at leadership for the future. In
no viable future can Israel afford leadership that is dedicated to war
and expansion. But the Palestinian problem is more serious. Leaders
of insurgencies seldom, if ever, make good statesmen and administrators,
and Palestine needs both. Those who worked with Barak on the peace process
may be candidates, but among three million Palestinians there may be pleasant
surprises. Arafat and Sharon both appear to represent the past in this
Prince Abdullah's Arab League plan contains key steps toward this future.
Fair treatment of Israel by other states of the region is a critical
part of any plan likely to succeed. In the same vein, refusal of other
regional states to harbor anti-Israeli activists is not only an important
element of any successful plan; it is a much more likely prospect if the
Palestine issues are settled. President Bush's April 4 speech and the
Saudi plan are thus a starting design for the United States to achieve
credibility on Palestine, especially in the Middle East. The overall design
is win-win for everybody, but everybody must leave some chips on the table.
- The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer
and former Deputy Director of the State Department Office of Counterterrorism