President Obama's recent visit to Palestine was significant for many reasons. First, it took place only few months after the U.S. strongly opposed the Palestinian successful bid at the UN which strained the relationship between the two sides. It is safe to say that a process of normalization of relations has started as a result of the visit. Second, President Obama announced during his visit that the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be a top priority for his administration and a national security interest for the U.S., the related parties, and the whole world. He unequivocally expressed support for the Palestinian people's right to self-determination and to a sovereign state. Third, the President acknowledged that engaging the Palestinians and their leadership is crucial to achieving peace in the region. Efforts to pressure the Palestinians financially and politically have proven to be futile. Dialogue is the best venue to understand each other's views. Finally, the President spoke repeatedly about the fact that time is of the essence and that nobody can afford to waste more of it. With a tumultuous Middle East changing rapidly, waiting any longer is not an option.
Up until President Obama arrived in the region, the visit was the subject of cautious anticipation. Palestinians have gone down that road too many times, and the promise of hope has been mixed with skepticism rooted in years of frustration. But, now that the visit is over, the U.S. must seize the opportunity and capitalize on the momentum it created. Providing an atmosphere conducive for the return to a meaningful and genuine political engagement and laying the foundation for such an engagement are very important. This is what Secretary of State John Kerry intends to do over the next few weeks. A task that will be filled with difficult challenges, but nevertheless worthy of the effort. The fact that the Secretary has already met with Palestinian and Israeli leaders after President Obama left the region is an indication of the seriousness of U.S. efforts
I have always been told by U.S. officials, present and past, that the parameters of a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine are well known to all. An end to the conflict leading to two states living side by side in peace and security, with an acceptable solution to all the outstanding issues: Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements, security and water. There is no need for another process or any additional negotiations. Twenty years have passed in a process that did not bring peace. It is time to make decisions.
Israel can be an important player in shaping an emerging Middle East embroiled with uncertainty. This will require ending the military occupation of Palestine and recognizing the right of the Palestinians to self-determination and statehood. By doing so, Israel can secure its place in a region that is yet to be clearly defined. Ignoring the above prerequisites for peace and stability, and dismissing the surrounding changes would only push Israel into more isolation in a region determined to move forward. Israel's ability to confront the uncertain challenges lying ahead will be undermined and the prospects of peace could become more remote.
As I watched President Obama's helicopter land at Al Muqata'a, President Abbas' headquarters in Ramallah, I carefully followed the official reception. Both presidents stood firm on the platform while the Palestinian and U.S. national anthems were played; inspected the Guards of Honor; and stopped to salute each other's flag. President Obama's visit reinforced in my conviction that while Palestine today is de facto, it will not be too long before the U.S. accepts Palestine de jure. By taking such step, the U.S. will be in line with the position of the international community.
The ingredients are there for the birth of the national homeland of the Palestinian people. A homeland with which the U.S. can, and should, puruse elevated relations that go beyond the political aspects of making peace in the region. In the 1990s, the Clinton Administration established a bilateral committee with the Palestinian side. Meetings were held twice a year and covered a wide range of issues of mutual concern such as the judicial development, education, and health among others. Since 2000, this bilateral committee ceased to convene and the U.S. viewed its relations with the Palestinians through the angle of the "peace process" and Israel.
As President Obama rightly noted, Palestine today is home to an immensely entrepreneurial and educated young Palestinian generation seeking opportunity and prosperity. The same generation, however, has grown skeptical about the prospects of an end to the conflict. Elevating relations with the Palestinian people can immensely enhance not only the prospects of peace, but also the confidence and trust of an up and coming generation intent on building a modern, democratic, and pluralistic State of Palestine.
The author is the Chief Representative of the General Delegation of the PLO to the U.S.