With President's Obama seminal speech in Cairo last Thursday, there has been renewed talk about Middle East peace and what we need to reach a future where, as the president said, "the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear."
As a strong opponent of the settlements going back decades, I agree with President Obama's argument to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel needs to stop construction. The Israeli prime minister has agreed to dismantle all of the "illegal outposts" on the West Bank, and he should follow through on this pledge.
However, for a lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there needs to be a strong and credible Palestinian partner on the other side. At present this simply doesn't appear to be the case, irrespective of what Israel does on the settlement issue.
It is vital that any future Palestinian state on the West Bank be made economically viable. Billions of dollars in investments need to be made, for such things as electricity plants, sewage disposal units, other similar infrastructure developments, and jobs. In this area, the Arab world and the international community should be encouraged to take the lead. As President Obama rightly said in his Cairo speech, "progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace."
Such economic progress is clearly necessary for progress on all the other important fronts.
Employment opportunities will provide political capital to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party in their ongoing battle with Hamas for Palestinian hearts and minds. Proper capacity building and governance, based on a solid economic foundation, will make the work of training the Palestinian Authority's security forces that much easier. And new schools and a vision for a better future are vital if Palestinian children are to embrace real co-existence with their Israeli peers.
For decades the plight of the Palestinian people has been exacerbated by internal corruption, a lack of effective investment, and the political cynicism of the Arab states, who often did not have the best interests of the Palestinians at heart. In this new era of candor, according to President Obama, "it is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true."
The present emphasis on Israeli settlements, while understandable, should not overlook Israel's track record on the issue. In the past, Israel has repeatedly taken down massive settlement projects in the cause for peace. Menachem Begin withdrew from the entire Sinai Peninsula in order to close an agreement with Egypt, and it was Ariel Sharon who was tasked with dismantling the Sinai settlements.
And as prime minister it was Sharon who, just four years ago, bravely and unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip. In return, Fatah subsequently lost political control of the Palestinian Authority legislature to Hamas in elections, and then lost complete control of Gaza after it was routed militarily. Hamas then used its new territorial base as a launching pad for thousands of rockets into Israel.
In this, Israel's legitimate security concerns cannot be discounted. The West Bank must not be allowed to turn into the next Gaza Strip, with rockets raining down on Ben Gurion Airport and Tel Aviv.
It is worth remembering that, historically, Israel has always embraced every Arab hand that was extended forward in a true gesture of reconciliation and co-existence. Despite all the recent bloodshed, nearly 60 percent of all Israelis still support a two-state solution to the conflict.
Ultimately, freezing settlements in the West Bank will not reconcile Hamas with Israel's existence or remove it from Gaza; it might not do much to politically rehabilitate the weak Fatah movement; and it should not stop the Arab world from investing in the economic future of the Palestinians.
A lasting two-state solution requires two credible partners, and not just one side -- Israel -- taking superficial steps simply to placate world opinion.
Now is the time for the Arab world, in concert with moderate Palestinians, Israel, the U.S., and the rest of the international community, to come together to forge a real partnership for peace.