The Israeli government’s acceptance of the roadmap, despite all of the accompanying reservations, can be considered a significant development in the recent state of affairs. First, it may mark a return in Palestinian-Israeli relations from violent confrontation to peaceful negotiations. Second, given the immense incompatibility between the framework of the roadmap (i.e. ending the occupation of 1967 and stopping settlement expansion) and the ideology and political mentality of the Israeli leadership, this roadmap acceptance indicates that no matter how obstinate the Israeli government is on a given issue, the United States government can always influence change in the Israeli position.
In that regard, there is no doubt that we are now witnessing a transformation in the American administration’s attitude towards the Middle East conflict, demonstrated through a heightened level of Israeli-Palestinian contacts, the intensive and direct involvement of the president and other senior officials, and a position more consistent with international law. These changes in American behavior are driven by three motives. The first is that Israel was given the opportunity by the US to end the conflict by force. The avoidance heretofore by the Americans of new political initiatives had the effect of allowing the Israelis to continue their military campaign unhindered. But Israel has now proven that attempting to crush Palestinian steadfastness and resistance cannot achieve its objectives of peace and security.
The second American motive is regional, whereby US Middle East policy in the post-Iraq war era must be balanced to offset US policy in Iraq, which has been met by a great deal of Arab resentment. The United States, which is perceived as an occupier in Iraq, wants to end another occupation that is key in the eyes of the Arab public. The third motivation is international, and simply reflects the growing American realization that Middle East instability is closely linked to hatred, violence and terrorism, all of which threaten United States security and the security of American friends and allies. Inasmuch as a resolution in Palestine is important to the stability of the Middle East, Washington wants to engender that resolution.
This window of opportunity is a real one that demands exploitation by the peace camps in Israel and Palestine. Recent developments have produced a more conducive atmosphere towards peace, demonstrating Palestinian readiness and American enthusiasm. It remains to be seen, however, to what extent and for how long the US administration will continue to invest the level of energy required to move the peace process forward. The coming US elections loom as an advancing distraction and this new window of opportunity may not prove long enough to reestablish trust. But one can only commiserate with the Americans thus far, as we have seen how stubborn even the first barriers have been: bringing Israel to make the first step, repudiate violence and recognize the roadmap’s fundamental principles.
Mr. Ghassan Khatib is a Palestinian political analyst and director of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.