The visit of King Abdullah II of Jordan to Washington and his summit with
President Obama revealed clearly a convergence of views on the need
to seriously address the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The Jordanian monarch did not arrive empty-handed. He
had been empowered by Arab leaders to deliver a unified Arab position.
The Arab League and the Organization of Islamic States are unified on
a peace plan that calls for normal relations with Israel once it quits
the lands it occupied in 1967 and "fairly" resolves the Palestinian
President Obama sent all the proper signals: his invitation to an
Arab leader before the Israelis and his reiteration of his "strong" support
for the two-state solution is clearly intended to rebut Israel's right-wing position.
The traditional US diplomatic approach has emphasized the "process"
part of the "peace process." President Obama's impressive signals
since day one in office -- telephoning Arab leaders before European
allies, appointing special envoy George Mitchell and speaking on
Al-Arabiyeh for his first interview -- reflect a different approach
than staid, unimaginative past years. In the last 30 years, US
administrations have usually only exhibited deep interest in the
Arab-Israeli conflict in the last year of two terms.
In the Arab and Muslim worlds the litmus test of any sane US foreign
policy will be how it deals with the Palestinian problem. On the
books, the US position is fine. On the ground, the opposite is true.
Washington has repeatedly opposed the 1967 Israeli occupation of
Palestinian territories and has called for its end. It has
consistently voiced disapproval of settlement activities. Leaders of
both major US parties have articulated a policy that calls for a
viable, contiguous Palestinian state on the lands occupied in 1967.
The United States has also opposed Israel's unilateral annexation of
East Jerusalem and --
along with every nation on the planet -- refused to recognize Israel's
application of Israeli law on residents of East Jerusalem.
Yet Israel's actions on the ground have gone counter to American and
international positions. The newly established Israeli government
refuses even to give lip service to the internationally accepted
requirements for peace. On the other hand, the freely elected
Palestinian leadership faces international boycott until it accepts a
solution that the Netanyahu government rejects.
Among the international community's demands of Israel has been the
acceptance of the two-state solution and a total settlement freeze. A
freeze of all settlement activity, which includes expansion and
natural growth, will certainly be a central focus of the robust
diplomacy of Mitchell and his team on the ground. Mitchell, who was
deeply involved in crafting the settlements language of the Mitchell
Report of 2001, understands the capacity of the settlements to destroy
the prospects for two states.
Jerusalem is another on-the-ground issue that will be a litmus test
for the Obama administration. The
repeated house demolitions and Israeli provocations in East Jerusalem
point to the need to confront this issue without delay.
A third imperative for Palestinians today is to reunite the Gaza Strip
and West Bank. Irrespective of the outcome of the internal Palestinian
dialogue taking place in Cairo, there is a need to reconnect
Palestinians. There is no excuse why Palestinians living in either
remaining sliver of Mandate Palestine should be barred from traveling
to the other part of the occupied Palestinian territories. Claims
by Israeli officials that barring the movement of people and goods is
done for security reasons do not withstand scrutiny. Under the
leadership of US General Keith Dayton, the most vigorous security
checks can be made to allow such travel.
With renewed peace talks, results must be stressed over endless
process. The last failed promise by
President George W. Bush came at Annapolis in late 2007 when he
promised that an independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian state
would see the light before the end of his term.
King Abdullah's message to the new results oriented American president
will be simple. More than four decades after UN Security Council
resolution 242, the "inadmissibility" of occupying land by force
remains valid despite the passage of time, the building of illegal,
exclusive Jewish settlements, and restrictions on movement. Time is
no longer on the side of those who favor two states. The Obama
administration must seize the initiative and insist that Netanyahu
come round to US support for two states. Otherwise, tension looms in
the Israeli-American relationship and the cries for one state with
equal rights for all will begin to drown out older ideological voices
seemingly unaware that settlement activity is foreclosing on the
prospect of two states.
Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian columnist, runs the Jordanian-based
Community Media Network and a former Ferris Professor of Journalism at
Princeton University. His email is email@example.com.