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Abbas Has Accepted the Finality of 1948
Last uploaded : Thursday 2nd Jun 2005 at 15:45
Contributed by : Ziad Asali


Washington, DC -

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has undergone a metamorphosis since 1948, when it was accurately defined as being between Arabs and Jews. However, it has now become a struggle between those who accept the finality of the war in 1948 and its consequences, and those who have not.

1948 made Israel an irreversible reality in the Middle East, thereby undermining Palestinian aspirations to reclaim what was lost during that tumultuous year. However, 1948 also defined the limitations of Israeli ambitions, and defined the boundaries of the Israeli state if Israel were ever to win peace and acceptance from the Palestinian people and its Arab neighbours.

Since his election in January, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has made it abundantly clear where he stands. Despite being a president without a state, he has campaigned and won a mandate for compromise and peaceful negotiations. He has spent the first 100 days of his term taking control of a chaotic security apparatus and corrupt bureaucracy. He has started coordinating on the security situation with the Bush administration's envoy, General William Ward, and on the disengagement plan for Gaza and a small portion of the northern West Bank with the Israelis. He has made key appointments to assure financial transparency and referred high officials to the attorney general for corruption investigations. Above all, he has been able to secure an extended period of nonviolence against the Israelis by negotiating a "quiet" period with militant extremists whom he cannot control by force.

Abbas comes to Washington later this week having rapidly compiled an impressive record of reform and security achievements, which should establish his credibility and earn him political support. He has risked everything to pursue a negotiated end to the conflict.

The public posture of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon conveys neither much support for Abbas, nor does it give him much credit for his achievements. Sharon, despite real political problems, has to demonstrate how far he is willing to go to pursue peace beyond unilateral disengagement. From Israel's perspective there are two items on the agenda for 2005: the disengagement plan and Palestinian reform. Discussion of final-status issues, like borders, settlements, Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees, has been placed in the deep freeze.

For the Palestinians to believe that peace is possible, they need an immediate and palpable improvement in the quality of their lives through an easing of the harsh realities of occupation and economic improvement. The Bush administration is engaged in bringing about such relief, but time is of the essence.

While Abbas feels that he has done all he could on security and reforms, he knows that Washington expects more of him. He will have a chance to explain his policies and constraints to US President Georges W. Bush, hoping to convince him to act before the proverbial window of opportunity shuts.

Obviously, any viable Palestinian state has to be contiguous and free, must have Arab Jerusalem as its capital and must be based on an end to the 1967 occupation. However, final-status issues are being determined by unilateral Israeli steps such as expansion of the settlements, the building of a separation wall, and, especially, the gradual isolation of Jerusalem from the West Bank. All these steps threaten to render a Palestinian state nonviable and they require a negotiated resolution of final-status issues before it is too late.

Creative thinking is in order. With the 1967 border serving as the geographic boundary between Israel and Palestine, some settlements can either be swapped for land inside Israel, or leased to the Israelis for 25 years, opening the possibility of Israelis living under Palestinian law.

Arab Jerusalem has to serve as a capital of Palestine in order to forestall violence from those across the Muslim world who will invariably rally to the idea of freeing Jerusalem from "Jewish occupation" for decades to come. The city's holy places can be governed by the status quo without defining sovereignty.

Refugee camps cannot continue being reservoirs of human misery, where dreams of return to nonexistent homes and villages clash with practical and political realities. The elected leaderships must accept the responsibility of negotiating the fate of the refugees while defending their legitimate national, communal and individual rights, including the right to an apology for dispossession and exile. In the meantime, practical solutions must be found to ease the disproportionate burden borne by a third generation of poor and vulnerable refugees.

Finally, an international aid package must be prepared to secure peace. No president has ever been in a better position to move forward in the Middle East. Assured of Abbas' commitment to peace, Bush can reinvigorate the "road map" by being clear and proposing tangible policies. A reassured Israel is capable of doing more on issues like checkpoints, the release of prisoners, settlements and restrictions on permits of all sorts before ending the occupation.

Empowered by Bush's political support and cooperation from Sharon, Abbas will be able to act decisively on security and reform. He will oversee a peaceful disengagement coordinated with Israel and monitored by the "Quartet." He will have his unified security apparatus face down lawbreakers and will continue building the institutions of a modern democratic state.

Rising to the call of history, Bush can help the Palestinians create a peaceful state alongside Israel and gain a new ally in the circle of freedom and democracy.

* Ziad Asali is president of the American Task Force on Palestine and is a member of Search for Common Ground's Middle East Advisory Board. He wrote this commentary for The Daily Star.

Source: The Daily Star, May 24, 2005.

Visit the Daily Star Online: www.dailystar.com.lb

Distributed by the Common Ground News Service.

Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.


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