Analysis: Building a bridge over troubled waters

Sidelining Hamas will be much more difficult than isolating Arafat, which Bush tried five years ago.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Just over five years ago, in a dramatic Middle East policy speech that led the way to the road map to peace, US President George W. Bush essentially said that Yasser Arafat was not a partner for peace. That speech lent a great deal of justification to Israel's quarantine of Arafat in his Mukata compound in Ramallah. A similar theme ran through Bush's remarks on Monday night. But this time it was not just one man that the US president was placing beyond the pale, but an organization - Hamas - with a massive following and a territorial base much more significant than the Mukata. As a result, sidelining Hamas will be much more difficult than isolating Arafat.
  • Editorial: Break the code But if the speech five years ago led to the launching of the road map, Monday night's speech laid the foundation of an overpass aimed at bridging the current difficult reality. This reality can be summed up as follows: Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas can make all the right declarations, but does not have the ability to assert his authority over all the West Bank and Gaza, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is limited - because of the bitter Israeli experience of the last seven years and his own political weakness - as to what he is now able to offer the Palestinians. Hence the bridge. And the bridge that Bush laid out Monday night is based on new Quartet envoy Tony Blair, and the regional "meeting" that Bush called for in the fall. The Bush Administration is coming over to an idea that was first broached in 2003 by former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk in an article that appeared in Foreign Affairs, where he broached the idea of an international trusteeship for "Palestine." Bush doesn't go quite as far as Indyk did in that article and call for an international trusteeship to take formal control of Palestinian territories. But, like Indyk, Bush made clear Monday night that there was a need to develop accountable Palestinian institutions so that there would be a responsible address that Israel could deal with and - eventually - cede territories to. Blair's job can be fairly described as being the midwife to those institutions. Indyk wrote that a responsible and accountable Palestinian political partner and an effective Palestinian security capability was something that would trigger an "appropriate Israeli response." The spirit of that idea was apparent in Bush's words. The road map presumed that there was a Palestinian Authority that could control the territories, and that could deliver. The intervening five years, and especially the last two years, have proven that this is not the case. The effort now, Bush made clear, must be on developing that capacity inside the PA. Only then can a state emerge. The development of that capacity will demand, the US president made clear, on the support of the Palestinian people, who must make a choice between the moderates and the extremists, and the support of the moderate Arab states, which need to make clear that they support the process. Blair's job will be to build the institutional capability, and the job of the regional meeting is to publicly cement moderate Arab support for the process of negotiation, based on an end to terrorism and a two-state solution. Five years after the Bush speech launched the road map, Monday night's speech aimed at reconstructing one of the elements that the road map was based upon - responsible, accountable Palestinian governing institutions.