There is no shortage of expectations for the emerging foreign policy of the new Bush Administration, and nowhere are these expectations more pressing than in the Middle East, a land rocked between the brink of war and peace. With the eruption of the Palestinian Intifada and the coming to power of a right wing Israeli government, many see the prospects for reaching a comprehensive peace agreement ebbing. But if there is one message that must be communicated to the Bush Administration, it is this: never underestimate the currents of change in the Middle East.
The last eight years of the peace process have resulted in no real benefits to the average Palestinian, and as a result, trust in the peace process has eroded. While we did gain the first representational Palestinian government, the average Palestinian has seen his income cut nearly in half. The continued Israeli military closure has decimated the Palestinian economy and given Israel immeasurable power over the fledgling Palestinian government. Since the start of the Intifada in September, Israel has used the power of closure to stop the flow of labor and trade. This has resulted in a 50% decline in GNP and a dramatic rise in unemployment to nearly 40%. More disturbing still is that Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories, like the Har Homa settlement near Bethlehem, continue to expand and consume more Palestinian land. Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Haram al Sherif was the spark for the current Intifada, but the fuel for the fire was already there, thanks to eight years of stagnation and growing pessimism.
Still, as we began ten years ago with the administration of the senior President Bush, we have chosen the peace path as the way forward based on the principles agreed to during the Madrid Talks in 1991. Despite the hardships and violence directed against us over the past five months, we the Palestinians remain committed to the principles of reaching a negotiated settlement with Israel based on UN Resolutions 242 and 338, and the right of return as defined by UN Resolution 194. I believe a solution is still at hand.
The last-gasp negotiations at Taba built important bridges necessary for finding a final status solution. For the first time, concepts such as an “open city” for Jerusalem – in which freedom of access and adequate security is assured for all – and the principle of reciprocal and equitable land swaps based on the 1967 borders were discussed seriously. The progress made at Taba was truly astounding, and could form the basis for a permanent peace in which the vital interests of both Palestinians and Israelis are preserved.
Although the incoming Israeli government may consider the progress achieved at Camp David and Taba to be off the table, in reality there are few options possible but to return to that table. And we cannot wait until the streets are calm. For the only way to truly bring about an end to violence is to address the roots of the conflict. Israel’s harsh acts of repression and collective punishment — such as house demolitions, closures, curfews and political assassinations – ostensibly conducted in order to bring about “security,” in fact serve only to provoke more protest from Palestinians.
Moreover, the Palestinian Authority is now in financial and institutional crisis, in large part due to the Israeli policies of collective punishment and economic strangulation. To a large degree, Israeli security measures in the Palestinian territories are a primary cause driving the current unrest.
Once again, there is again an urgent need to restore confidence between the two sides and to begin a process towards achieving a final status settlement. The American role in this process is crucial; but it is vital that the United States take a balanced position. It is imperative, for example, that the U.S. Government not move its embassy to Jerusalem until there is a final settlement (at which point the United States should open two embassies in Jerusalem). To move the embassy before a final agreement would torpedo the peace process and have dangerous repercussions for the United States throughout the region.
The Bush Administration would also be well-advised to recognize the flaws in the Clinton Administration’s proposed solutions. The future state of Palestine must be a viable state and must have development options to expand its urban centers and to assure its private sector that trade of goods will not be impeded by Israeli checkpoints and border crossings. As with other states in the world, Palestine must be a fully sovereign state with unimpeded access to its neighboring countries and have full control over its central transportation arteries. And Jerusalem must be recognized for what it is: the political, economic and cultural heart of the Palestinian state, and the only acceptable site of the Palestinian capital.
Peace is still achievable if it its pursuit is based on the reason of logic rather than on the logic of power. As former President Bush and I began ten years ago, peace must be forged on the principles of international law and must stand the twin tests of “fairness and security.” We no longer can afford the status quo and we can no longer continue to debate the principles. Both sides have formulated the outlines of a lasting peace agreement. Such an agreement must be implemented soon if stability is to return to the region.
The last article written, March 24, 2001, by late Faisal Husseini, PLO Executive Committee Member in Charge of Jerusalem Affairs.