Friday, April 16, 2010

Team Obama on Isr/Pal, Requirements for "Peace"

Dear Friend,
Secretary Hilliary Clinton has articulated the latest version of the Team Obama position on Israel/Palestine.

I'm summarizing it, giving you the last (and most important) part. She spoke last night (April 15), at the dedication of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace in Washington D.C.

After reviewing aspects of the tortuous path, especially condemning HAMAS (Gaza) and praising the FATAH steps (West Bank), she details what the Obama administration is expecting of the Palestinians; and then the Israelis; and the Arab states. Discern for yourselves whether we have reason to HOPE that underlying issues can be addressed and resolved according to the wishes of the majority populations of both peoples.

If time is a problem for you, scan the bold print for highlights. JRK (with thanks to the ATFP (American Task Force on Palestine).

The PLO has emerged as a credible partner for peace. It has rejected violence, improved security, made progress on combating incitement, and accepted Israel’s right to exist.

The Palestinian Authority’s two-year plan envisions a state that is based on pluralism, equality, religious tolerance, and the rule of law, created through a negotiated settlement with Israel, and capable of meeting the needs of its citizens and supporting a lasting peace with Israel. And under the leadership of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, the PA is addressing a history of corruption and building transparent and accountable institutions that can provide the necessary foundation for that future state. The United States has partnered with the PA to improve the effectiveness of its security forces. Reforms have increased public confidence in the courts -- last year they handled 67 percent more cases than in 2008. The PA is building schools and hospitals and training teachers and medical staff, and even developing a national health insurance program.

Sound fiscal policies, support from the international community – including hundreds of millions of dollars this year alone from the United States – and improving security and rule of law have led to significant economic growth. More and more Palestinians in the West Bank are finding jobs, starting businesses, and lifting themselves and their families out of poverty and the economic stagnation that resulted from the Intifada. The number of new business licenses issued in the West Bank in the fourth quarter of 2009 was 50 percent higher than the same period in 2008. And three new venture capital funds are set to launch this spring with the support of American, Arab, and European investors.

Considerable work remains. The PA must redouble its efforts to put an end to incitement and violence, crack down on corruption, and ingrain a culture of peace and tolerance among Palestinians. The leadership should refrain from using international organizations, particularly the United Nations, as platforms for inflammatory rhetoric. And we strongly encourage President Abbas and his government to join negotiations with Israel. Israelis must see, too, that pursuing the path of progress and diplomacy can and will lead to peace and security. But there is no doubt that, so far, the progress we are seeing in the West Bank is positive and encouraging.
Last year I visited a classroom in Ramallah where Palestinian students were learning English through a U.S.-sponsored program that has taught thousands of Palestinian young people. They were studying Women’s History Month and Sally Ride, the first woman astronaut and a personal hero of mine. The students, especially the girls, were captivated by her story. When asked for a single word to describe Sally and her accomplishment, one student responded: “hopeful.”

Today hope is stirring in the West Bank because of strong leadership and hard work. People are seeing a difference in their daily lives. And parents can imagine a future for their children that holds more than conflict and humiliation.

But this progress is tenuous. Without increased support from the international community, including from the Arab states, without larger, steadier, and more predictable financial support, the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to build institutions and spur growth will run out of steam. If the PA cannot overcome corruption and smuggling, development will fall short. And if it fails to control violence, the progress will slow to a halt.

Sustaining and extending positive development also requires Israel to be a responsible partner. The Netanyahu Government has lifted roadblocks and eased movement throughout the West Bank. These are encouraging moves that will improve quality of life, but Israel can and should do more to support the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to build credible institutions and deliver results to their people. Both sides would benefit from a real partnership that fosters long-term growth and opportunity.

Ultimately the fate of these efforts hinges on the peace process. In contrast to Hamas, the Palestinian Authority has staked its credibility on a path of peaceful coexistence. Even more than economic opportunities, Palestinians yearn for a state to call their own, for the dignity that all people deserve, and the right to chart their own destiny. If Mahmoud Abbas cannot deliver on these aspirations, his support will fade and Palestinians will turn to alternatives – including Hamas. And that way leads only to more conflict.

Vindicating the Path of Peace

For Israel, that means accepting that concrete steps toward peace – both through the peace process and in the bottom-up institutions building I have described – are the best weapons against Hamas and other extremists. Prime Minister Netanyahu has embraced the vision of the two-state solution. But easing up on access and movement in the West Bank, in response to credible Palestinian security performance, is not sufficient to prove to the Palestinians that this embrace is sincere. We encourage Israel to continue building momentum toward a comprehensive peace by demonstrating respect for the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians, stopping settlement activity, and addressing the humanitarian needs in Gaza. And it should refrain from unilateral statements and actions, including in East Jerusalem, that could undermine trust or risk prejudicing the outcome of talks.

Israel has worked hard in recent years to improve security, and, along with the increased capacity and commitment of Palestinian security forces, the number of suicide bombings has – thankfully – dropped significantly. As a result, however, some have come to believe that Israelis, protected by walls and buoyed by a dynamic economy, can avoid the hard choices that peace requires.

But that would mean continuing an impasse that carries tragic human costs, denies Palestinians their legitimate aspirations, and threatens Israel’s long term future as a secure and democratic Jewish state. Israelis and Palestinians alike must confront the reality that the status quo has not produced long-term security or served their interests, and accept their share of responsibility for reaching a comprehensive peace that will benefit both sides.

So too must the Arab states, who worry about the destabilizing impact of extremists like Hamas but don’t do enough to bolster the efforts of the Palestinian Authority. It is in their interest to advance the Arab Peace Initiative with action, not just rhetoric, and make it easier for the Palestinians to pursue negotiations and achieve an agreement. If the Arab Peace Initiative is indeed the genuine offer it appears to be, we should not face threats by certain Arab states that it will be "taken off the table" each time there is a setback. We look forward to a deeper conversation about implementing the Initiative and the concrete results it would bring to the people of the region. And we are encouraged by the work of a number of NGO’s and civil society groups, including some who are represented here, to articulate a more complete vision of the benefits of peace.

For our part, the United States understands the need to support the reforms of the Palestinian Authority and continue efforts to restart substantive negotiations. We know that we cannot force a solution. The parties themselves must resolve their differences. But, we believe that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree to an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the ‘67 lines, with agreed swaps, and Israel’s goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israel’s security requirements.

This path is not easy. It will require all parties, including Israel, to make difficult but necessary choices. And it will take bold leadership. We have seen it before – old adversaries like Sadat and Begin extending the hand of peace because they knew it would make their people stronger – and it is called for once again today.

Reflecting on one of his many conversations with Egyptian President Mubarak, Danny Abraham observed that, “There is no question that… many of the leading figures in the Arab world know what benefits a full peace with Israel will bring to their countries, but they also know that in the prevailing political climate it is dangerous to state such a truth.”

Changing that climate will require mobilizing a broad constituency for peace that can provide a political counterweight to the forces of division and destruction. There is an ever-more pressing imperative to make the case for peace clearly and publicly. And the most compelling arguments will be the results people – Israelis, Palestinians, all the people of the region – see in their daily lives.

In Leah Rabin’s book, she writes about the thoughts that preoccupied her husband during his last day. He wondered how deep support for peace ran among his people. In the quiet moments around their kitchen tables or in coffee shops and busy markets, did they believe in peace? Because Rabin understood that agreements between leaders are the beginning, not the end. Whether peace takes hold depends upon it becoming a habit of the heart. In order for it to be real, people have to learn to live and work and go to school together. Peace must grow in our homes and in our communities. It must to be nurtured between and among human beings, and then passed on to our children.

Today, as Danny Abraham likes to say, peace is possible in the Middle East. The way forward is clear. All it requires is the political will – from the leaders, the people, and the partners – to choose peace, and to turn the promise of a safer, more secure, and more stable future into reality.