[Mb-civic] The Mideast's Second Chance
michael at michaelbutler.com
Wed Dec 15 16:12:49 PST 2004
The Mideast's Second Chance
Action now, Sen. Biden says, can revive the peace effort.
By Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware is the senior Democrat on the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee. He recently returned from a trip to the Middle
December 15, 2004
Last year, when the Palestinian moderate Mahmoud Abbas briefly served as
prime minister, the United States, Israel and the international community
failed to give him the support he badly needed, making it all too easy for
Yasser Arafat to undercut him.
Now, we have a second chance. Arafat is gone and Abbas is favored to win
the Palestinian presidential election next month, having made "the total
cessation of violence" his highest priority.
He is currently seeking commitments from all the Palestinian factions for a
cease-fire and is determined to bring the various security services under
control. His recognition of Palestinian responsibility to act decisively
against incitement and terrorism will give Israel what it has been lacking:
a partner for peace.
But Abbas' reemergence also raises a fundamental question. Arafat had the
capacity to make peace, but lacked the will. Abbas has the will, but does he
have the capacity to overcome violence, corruption and the sense of
victimization that are a legacy of Arafat's leadership?
Israel, the United States and the international community have a shared
responsibility to help him build a capacity for peace.
Already, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is taking steps to facilitate
elections and to deal directly with the Palestinian leadership. "We're ready
to make painful compromises for a genuine and durable peace," he said. And I
believe Sharon is sincere.
But there is more Israel must do to support Abbas if he demonstrates his
commitment to end terrorism.
First, it should hold Palestinians to a tough but not impossible standard
when it comes to violence. Sharon and Abbas agree that Syria and Iran direct
many terrorist activities. The future of Israelis and Palestinians should
not be handed over to radical leaders in those countries. The test for the
Palestinians should be whether they make a concerted, sustained effort
against terrorism. The sooner they meet the basic responsibilities of
statehood, the sooner they will have a state.
Second, Israel should transfer responsibility for security to the
Palestinians wherever they show they are ready to assume it, and take down
checkpoints not vital to Israel's security.
Third, Israel should coordinate its disengagement from Gaza with the
Palestinians. Egypt has a role to play in training Palestinian security
forces and fighting arms smuggling.
Fourth, Israel must convince the Palestinians that its disengagement plan
is truly "Gaza first," not "Gaza last." Sharon should reiterate his
commitment to the "road map" (the initiative sponsored by the U.S., Russia,
the European Union and the United Nations) directly to the Palestinian
people. Sharon has taken an important symbolic step by calling for the
removal of all settlements in Gaza and four more in the northern West Bank.
This is an underappreciated breakthrough revealing his understanding of the
demographic pressures Israel faces. If the peace process gets back on track,
he should act quickly to remove unauthorized outposts and end settlement
As always, the U.S. has a critical role to play in this process. We should
bolster Abbas' ability to deliver tangible benefits to the Palestinian
people. Hamas has supplanted the Palestinian Authority as an economic and
social benefactor. It pays significant sums for school and college tuition
for young Palestinians. It delivers social services to the destitute.
But Abbas must gain the means to reassert the primacy of the Palestinian
Authority. We can help by funding highly visible projects such as building
hospitals and schools that will help Abbas put thousands of people to
work. But we can't repeat past mistakes; we must act with urgency. An
international pledging conference under consideration for late spring 2005
may prove worthwhile, but Abbas can't wait that long.
President Bush deserves support for his proposal to provide a quick
infusion of $20 million to the Palestinians. But he must finally make good
on his June 2003 pledge to "ride herd" on the road map by appointing a
senior envoy to hold each side to its commitments.
Finally, the U.S. must demand that neighboring Arab countries take visible
steps toward normalization with Israel. Jordan and Egypt should return their
ambassadors to Israel. Others in the region should begin once again to meet
openly with Israelis to discuss economic matters, business opportunities,
water supplies, regional security, the environment and other issues of
common concern. Two-thirds of Palestinians and Israelis support a two-state
solution. Yet nearly the same proportion in both communities believes the
other side really wants a one-state solution. Now, pragmatic leadership from
the Palestinians, Israel and the U.S. can break that dynamic and restart the
peace process. If second chances are rare, third chances are virtually
unheard of. The time to act is now.
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Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times
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