President Bush should be applauded for demonstrating his personal commitment to the Middle East peace process by visiting the region and meeting Israeli, Palestinian and Arab leaders. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s quick return mission also reflects a shift in the administration’s priorities, following two and a half years of disengagement.
These bold steps are not without risks, and the Bush administration needs to be praised for taking such dramatic action. While the new U.S. push for peace has failed to produce a cease-fire, which remains the central imperative, the White House does deserve credit for bringing the parties together and injecting new life into a frozen process.
However, to convert this moment of promise into meaningful progress, U.S. policy will need to adhere to the following essential principles, otherwise, the "road map" process may never lead to a negotiated settlement that assures Israel’s security and identity and also guarantees a viable Palestinian state.
First, a permanent, negotiated settlement can only be based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed exchanges of territory. This is the same formula that established peace between Israel, Egypt and Jordan.
Furthermore, there can be no sustainable solution without meaningful Palestinian territorial contiguity. The president articulated — however inelegantly — the latter point during the summit meetings, but the larger principle still lacks a clear American endorsement.
In order to realize the president’s vision of "two states living side by side in peace and security," any solution of the Palestinian refugee problem must be acceptable to Israel. On this score, most Americans understand why Israel is demanding that Palestinians relinquish their claim to return to pre-1967 Israel.
This core trade-off — between territory and refugees — is inescapable, if the objective remains protecting Israel’s security and its identity, while at the same time ensuring the viability of a future Palestinian state. Explicitly stating this formula and incorporating it in the president’s vision would build greater confidence in the process.
Second, the United States must find better ways to insulate the process from violence. Terrorists have already turned to suicide killings to hijack the road map, and therefore, the United States must find practical ways to help each side remain steadfast. Moreover, the administration must do more to encourage influential neighboring states, like Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia, to do everything in their power to help Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas solidify his authority and stop the terrorism against Israel.
Abbas believes there is still a chance for reaching an intra-Palestinian cease-fire. However, a cease-fire would need to be followed in short order by full disarmament of Palestinian terrorists and the rejectionist factions.
Putting off disarmament today may be the price for building quick momentum for the road map, but down the line, the process will fail if armed groups are left intact and are allowed to challenge Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. A Palestinian state will never be viable if its governing authority cannot maintain a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, which remains a defining feature of all states.
Third, the road map’s stated goal of "an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel" is inconsistent with continued expansion of Israeli settlements. An immediate end to Israeli settlement activity is a sine qua non. Without such action, the road map will fail.
At the Aqaba summit, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon committed to "immediately begin" dismantling illegal outposts (i.e., settlements built since 2001 without Israeli government approval), and about 10 outposts have been taken down so far. But if the past is prologue, Sharon is likely to drag his feet, which is why the administration has to continue to press Israel and ensure that all 60-100 outposts are removed. For Israelis, the issue is increasingly less about security or ideology and more about the rule of law.
Fourth, the United States must make clear that the objective of the road map, in fact the objective of any process, is finality and achieving a solution that is both sustainable and enduring. Continued Israeli settlement activity or long-term Israeli control over large parts of Palestinian territory will only breed continued conflict.
Just the same, continued Palestinian terrorism and demands for a "right of return" to Israel will never lead to an enduring settlement. It is essential for the United States to keep the parties focused on a sustainable settlement and to identify roadblocks put up by either side.
Without addressing all of these points, there can be no realistic, attainable end game that embodies the kind of historic compromise essential for ending the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Bush administration needs to articulate these essential principles and signal at the outset of the road map process that there are no other options.
How can these essential principles be translated into policy?
As the president continues his push for a renewed peace process, he should steal a page from the playbook of earlier presidents, like Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, who understood that inducement-based diplomatic strategies are the most effective. For more than three decades, the United States has relied on positive inducements to advance Arab-Israeli peace negotiations — at times attaching clear conditionality to political, security and economic incentives. The president should continue this approach and use the provision of security guarantees, political assurances and financial assistance to prod both sides to move forward in the road map process.
This also means the United States must be more effective in persuading Europe and the Arab League to attach stricter conditionality to their aid to the Palestinians — much of which has been misdirected over the years. It also means that Washington may need to use more explicit conditionality with new aid to Israel.
The stakes are certainly high. Abbas’ prospects for remaining in power and cementing the leadership transformation that Bush called for last summer are contingent on progress with the road map.
With the rise of Abbas as the first Palestinian prime minister, the release of the road map and its endorsement by the parties and the renewal of contacts between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, a revived Arab-Israeli peace process appears more likely than at any time since Clinton left office.
The United States can no longer afford to be disengaged. President Bush understands that a revived peace process is indispensable as America embarks on the monumental, long-term challenge of reconstruction and stability in Iraq. United States security is at stake in the Middle East as never before, and America cannot afford to allow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to intensify.
It is the president’s leadership that has given the road map the initial traction previous initiatives were unable to achieve. If this approach succeeds in ending violence and setting the parties on a course that will lead to negotiated agreement, it will be a historic achievement, one that will have major bearing on America’s efforts to make the region and the world a safer place.
However, if the president takes too much satisfaction from the summit meetings, or becomes intimidated or immobilized by renewed violence, then Americans should brace themselves for further instability, the likes of which will require a much more costly and intrusive international intervention in the not too distant future.
Dr. Scott B. Lasensky is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.