US must finish peace process it started

LeadersThe first scheduled meeting between the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, and the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, as part of the recent round of negotiations, took place this week (12 December). The United States' initiative, launched last month in Annapolis, brought Israeli and Arab leaders together with the intention to broker talks on 'a new era of peace'. The US administration is not least among those who hope the process will bear fruit. President George Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have been working for six months to bring all the parties together.

The process bears striking similarity to the Clinton Administration's efforts exactly seven years ago. Then President Bill Clinton, also nearing the end of his days in the top job, brought the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to Camp David in what some saw as a last-ditch effort to leave his mark on the conflict. Whether it was an exercise in self-promotion or sincerity that sparked the talks, all hopes were dashed when the meeting collapsed and the Palestinians launched the second intifada.

The failure of 2000 is one in a long line of unsuccessful endeavours to address the conflict that has consumed the Middle East for 60 years. So while the scepticism that has led many commentators to doubt the potential of the Annapolis process is understandable, the latest peace talks are not without hope.

The meeting of the Israeli and Palestinian leaders for the first time in seven years has been a substantial achievement. Also at the table were the Syrian and Saudi Arabian foreign ministers. Syrian participation was only secured in the week of the conference upon assurance that the Israeli occupied Golan Heights would be on the agenda. Something of a quiet bear in the region, Saudi Arabia was also a vital attendee and only declared its participation in the lead-up week.

Beyond its logistical successes, the Annapolis agenda made an explicit commitment to achieving a peace treaty and referred to the 'core issues' of the conflict, considered to be that of Palestinian refugees, Israeli settlements and Jerusalem. It is widely accepted that for any lasting resolution to be reached, these three issues must be decisively addressed.

This will involve concessions on both sides of the conflict and the deliverance of bad news to home populations. Olmert needs to tell the Jewish settlers on occupied land that they no longer have a home, while Abbas will be tasked with informing those Palestinians who lost their home in 1948 that they can never return. Such realities, if stated to the leaders' respective publics, may spell domestic chaos. Peace will only come at a price and everyone involved knows this.

The speeches delivered by the two leaders in Annapolis acknowledged the difficulties that need conquering. Omert declared his country to be prepared for the bumpy road ahead, while Abbas challenged those who see peace between the two as impossible. The statements seemed candid, personal and sincere, and in this atmosphere of renewed negotiations deserve the benefit of lingering doubts to the contrary.

Reports last week that Israel is planning to build several hundred new homes in East Jerusalem — occupied territory — are a perplexing contradiction to the latest pledges. In the Annapolis agreement, which bears Olmert's signature, all parties commit to the immediate implementation of 'obligations under the performance-based road map'. The road map in question, espoused as a plan for peace by the Quartet — the US, Russia, European Union and United Nations — explicitly forbids the creation of new settlements.

Met by US condemnation, the announcement of new settlements will only hinder Israel's credibility and question its willingness for peace with the Palestinians. If any of the Quartet members genuinely seek peace, firm action needs to be taken. This responsibility falls largely with the US, given their impetus for the latest round of negotiations and close relationship with Israel. They must oversee the fulfilment of agreements they have brokered and move beyond simple disapproval. Without anyone to enforce the promises reached between Israel and Palestine, the project may well be futile.

The prospect of failed negotiations and further disappointment risks throwing the region into desperate turmoil. If it is a legacy that Bush is after, then he will have to earn it. Likewise, the Israeli and Palestinian leaders will have to deliver more than just rhetoric. A fourth party has a role to play too. The international media, who possess powerful influence, must stop predicting doom and downfall and instead acknowledge that peace is attainable.

Achlea SciclunaAshlea Scicluna is a freelance writer in her third year of a Bachelor of International Relations at La Trobe University. She is currently based in the Netherlands on a study scholarship. The time abroad has provided Ashlea with opportunities to further explore her passion for international affairs.



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Existing comments

Good job, although I wouldn't emphasise only the "Har Homa" build up without mentioning the daily Kasam attacks on innocents civilians of Shderot.

Shlomo Cohen | 17 December 2007  

Firstly, Ashlea good to see you got that scholarship. Clearly my reference made all the difference! Secondly, interesting article but I feel that the main obstacle here is in Washington. So long as the US will not reverse its support for Israeli rejectionism then there is little hope for a just peace.

Also, it's not fair to say the latest round of the conflict began with the launch of the Al Aqsa intifada. That sounds like the latest round was a conscious decision made by the Palestinians.

Marko Beljac | 27 December 2007  

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