My participation in meetings with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in recent weeks compels me to challenge Isi Liebler's portrait of the relationship between Israel and the Bush Administration as eroding ("Storm clouds ahead," November 7). These meetings and the recent surge in horrendous attacks against innocent people in the West Bank and Amman underscore the importance of the long-standing US-Israel relationship. It is essential that the Bush administration immediately mount a sustained, high-level effort to move the Israelis and Palestinians on to the path toward a two-state solution of their conflict, encompassing Israel as a Jewish state and Palestine as a state for Palestinians, living in peace and security with one another. With Palestinian elections scheduled to take place in two months and the possibility that Israeli elections will soon follow, the Bush administration must work expeditiously and diligently with both Israelis and Palestinians to prevent either side from taking steps during these coming months that would block the emergence of this two-state solution. Secretary Rice's recent round of meetings with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is an excellent first step. Other steps must follow quickly. Otherwise, the opportunity to achieve this solution created by Yasser Arafat's passing last year and Prime Minister Sharon's courageous disengagement from Gaza this summer will slip away. Liebler, unfortunately, does not acknowledge this. In fact, he seems to be painting Yasser Arafat back into the picture, even while referring to Yasser Arafat's successor, Abbas. Unlike his predecessor, Abbas has strongly denounced Palestinian violence and has declared frequently and unambiguously that he seeks to negotiate a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that results in a secure Jewish state living side-by-side with a Palestinian state. This, by, the way, is the same policy goal articulated by President Bush many times during the past three years. While Abbas's actions to achieve that goal can be questioned, his stated intentions cannot. Unlike his predecessor, Abbas has embraced President Bush's roadmap. The roadmap does not, as Liebler writes, "obligate Palestinian to first [emphasis added] dismantle the terrorist infrastructure." Rather, it calls for Palestinians and Israelis to "perform their obligations in parallel." An Israeli parallel step to Palestinian's dismantling terrorist infrastructure is to "dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001." Surely this step would not, as Liebler writes, "contribute toward more funerals for Israeli civilians." On the contrary, settlements can actually create security problems for Israel, such as the need to assign more soldiers to defend them. That is an important reason why the vast majority of Israelis supported Prime Minister Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the settlements in the northern West Bank. Furthermore, if the Palestinian Authority under Abbas's leadership can point to accomplishments such as an improvement in the daily lives of Palestinians, including greater freedom of movement, and an enhanced Palestinian economy, the PA's standing among Palestinians would increase, while Hamas's would decrease. This would generate support for the PA in the January elections at the expense of Hamas. Clearly that benefits Israel and improves its security. Liebler is correct that the "US as a superpower remains critical to Israel's security." That is why every Israeli government has taken American policy into serous consideration when determining its courses of action. This is not "blind acquiescence." It is smart decision-making that enhances Israel's security in the short and long-term. Now that Israel's disengagement has been completed successfully, Prime Minister Sharon's government needs to work with the Bush administration to build a bridge from that disengagement to a realistic two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When leaders of Israel Policy Forum met with Secretary Rice two weeks ago, we outlined our ideas on building this bridge. We believe that the Bush administration should concentrate on ways to pursue three familiar steps, each consistent with the roadmap. Failure to make serious progress on each of these steps has, in the past, contributed to serious setbacks on the arduous road to peace. The three steps, which should be implemented together rather than in sequence, are as follows:
Unambiguous and effective efforts by the Palestinian Authority to control terror and prevent attacks on Israelis;
An Israeli freeze on expanding existing settlements, including roads and other associated infrastructure, and the removal of unauthorized settlement outposts;
Efforts to help grow the Palestinian economy so that the PA can provide jobs and basic services for Palestinians.
A comprehensive freeze on all settlement construction throughout the West Bank would convey a critical signal to the Palestinians that Israel intends to seek a two-state solution. This step together with an improving Palestinian economy would strengthen the PA's position among the various Palestinian factions, including Hamas, and make it easier for the PA to pursue anti-terror operations.
We also suggest that the Bush Administration move immediately to isolate Islamic Jihad and to encourage the PA to confront them militarily. Although Islamic Jihad is the smallest of the Palestinian terrorist groups, it has perpetrated the most violence in the past weeks and months. It is also the terror group with the closest ties to Syria and Iran. Therefore, the administration should also incorporate pressure to cut off support for Islamic Jihad into existing American-led, multinational campaigns against those states.
These are the kinds of actions that only the United States can take. They can only be taken in the framework of a rock-solid, reciprocal American-Israeli relationship and friendship. That is the state of this critical relationship today. That is what enables the Bush administration to help Israel build the bridge from disengagement to a realistic two-state solution, leading to a secure Jewish Israel at peace with its neighbors.
The writer is president of Israel Policy Forum and a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.