Mideast peace is within reach

Annapolis is a start

November 25, 2007|By Gershon Baskin

JERUSALEM -- I seem to be one of the few people left in Israel with any real hopes for Annapolis. I admit that my optimism has been somewhat lessened by the barrage of negative media reports about the negotiations. It does seem apparent that the joint declaration will inevitably be less than what I had hoped for when the negotiations first began.

Under the auspices of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, in partnership with our own Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, I spent a week this month in Washington with a joint team of Israeli and Palestinian political leaders.

We went to Washington to see what the administration was planning and to provide support and encouragement for the Annapolis process. We brought a group of responsible leaders who together voiced support for Annapolis and for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. This is what we concluded:

There is a shared, deep sense of concern - on both sides of the ocean - that Annapolis must succeed; the consequences of failure are too severe.

Annapolis is the launching of the process, and not a photo-op. The day after must be well planned and thought out before the meeting takes place. There must be specific benchmarks included as part of the process which must include three parallel tracks: Phase I of the "Road map," economic development and improvements, and negotiations on the core issues.

The U.S. must have full-time staff at the highest levels engaged and leading the process. Even a secretary of state who is investing so much of her time in the process cannot work on this one issue full-time. This administration has until now avoided appointing a full-time peace process leader and staff.

In Washington, we were told by everyone that we met that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has the full backing of the president and has the authority to use the weight of the office of the president.

Road map obligations must be specified and standardized. The extent to which the parties can argue over the interpretation of their obligations is much too wide. The U.S. should spell out the exact expectations regarding all the obligations of both sides.

The U.S. and the Quartet (U.S., Russia, European Union and United Nations) must serve as monitor and verifier. A committee representing the U.S. secretary of state, the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian president must work together in the monitoring and verification process.

There must be a shift in dealing with crisis management. A terrorist attack has the potential to derail the entire process. The extremists are able to veto our ability to make peace.

Crisis events must be dealt with in full partnership and consultation in developing the responses. If the Palestinians truly stand behind their commitment to fighting terror, they must be a full partner with Israel in responding to terror events.

Economic development must be immediate and must be felt at the street level. Manageable and doable projects must be quickly implemented, including infrastructure, housing, hospitals, schools, and job-creating projects.

Israel should remove as many barriers and obstacles as possible within real security needs to allow for the Palestinians to advance these projects. Most of them will have to be in areas where Israel is still in full control.

Immediately after Annapolis, joint working groups should be created to tackle the core issues. In December, the international community will meet in Paris to make financial pledges in support of building the Palestinian state. The U.S. should be willing to match, dollar for dollar, all the money raised in Paris. The Arab world (especially Saudi Arabia) must be encouraged to do the same.

The Quartet should also work on relaunching the multilateral working groups on regional arms control, economic development, water and the environment, as a way of successfully engaging and enlisting the international community in support of the process.

This is a complex, high-risk endeavor. It is too easy to predict another failure. It will take a lot of courage, determination and hard work to make it succeed. The U.S. must serve as an effective broker.

The president and the secretary know all the issues in depth. President Bush should be prepared to present his ideas - a set of "Bush parameters" for the core issues - to the Israelis and Palestinians soon after Annapolis and not wait until the negotiations get snagged.

The Israeli-Palestinian political cooperation we demonstrated this week is not something Washington is used to. The group we brought there signaled that the Middle East could still provide some good news. It won't happen by itself. The U.S. has an opportunity to demonstrate its global leadership. As these courageous Israelis and Palestinians have shown, peace is within reach.

Gershon Baskin is the co-CEO of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.

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