The first US visit by Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian president has raised hopes among Palestinians and others of a possible renewal of American efforts to push Palestinian-Israeli peace and of a greater level of American political involvement in the conflict.
The results of the visit, furthermore, exceeded Palestinian expectations, not only because of stated American positions and the warm reception, but because of the positive image afforded Palestinians and their president in the American media and among the American political elite during and after the visit.
Palestinians and analysts in general heard a new language from American President George W. Bush. It was the first mention by this administration of the green line, and it was the first time it framed its position consistent with international legality saying that any changes to the borders of 1967 must be agreed upon by the two parties.
In addition, Bush for the first time suggested that the wall should run along the 1967 borders, and specifically mentioned the need to remove checkpoints, one of the most harmful aspects of the Israeli collective punishment measures.
Washington’s stance is the most decisive external factor in this conflict bar none. In Bush’s first term, this stance could be characterized as falling between hostile and negligent of Palestinian needs and interests. This is why this recent American position marks a dramatic and positive change.
That, of course, will be worthless if it is not complimented by a change in American practices. In particular the American government must do what it takes in order to pressure Israel to end settlement expansion, a fundamental precondition for any possible future peaceful settlement.
An even more immediate requirement, however, is to convince Israel to stop any activities and positions that have the effect of weakening the Palestinian Authority led by Abu Mazen. Three developments are required in this regard: first an end to Israeli economic punishments, especially restrictions on the movement of persons and goods, to enable an improvement of the economy; second, a resumption of peace negotiations on the basis of international legality to bring back hope for the Palestinian people of a possible peaceful end to occupation; and, finally, the above-mentioned cessation of settlement expansion.
The other immediate need for serious American intervention is related to Sharon’s unilateral Gaza withdrawal plan. The US must ensure that this step is done in a way that contributes to a resumption of the peace process, improves the economic situation and is followed by other withdrawals in accordance with the roadmap. If it is left to the Israeli government this withdrawal will simply become what it was designed as: a punishment to inflict further economic and social hardships.
Only the US can ensure that all these needs and requirements, short- and long-term, are carried out. Only American encouragement and support enabled Israel to maintain practices that were responsible for this deterioration, and, by the same token, only a clear American position to encourage Israel in a positive direction, based on adherence to the roadmap, can improve chances of peace. The roadmap is the only accepted plan by the parties as well as the international community that includes the elements that will allow both parties to achieve their respective needs and requirements–whether immediate ones like ending violence and stopping settlement expansions, or long-term ones, such as ending the occupation and laying the ground for lasting peace, security and stability.