'Once and for all'

Olmert's government must explain precisely where it stands; galvanize support, understanding for Israel.

olmert yad vashem 224 (photo credit: Meir Azulai: Flash 90)
olmert yad vashem 224
(photo credit: Meir Azulai: Flash 90)
The news that oil-rich Arab states have made aid promises to the Palestinians and not kept them is as expected as it is unacceptable. Donor nations who keep the Palestinian Authority afloat met in London on Friday. Of the $717 million promised in December by Arab League members, only $153m. has actually been delivered. The only Arab countries to have contributed are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Algeria. "Clearly, when you make a pledge you ought to fulfill it," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice commented. One Arab diplomatic source blamed the arrears on "frustration" that the negotiations between Israel and the PA, led by Mahmoud Abbas and Salaam Fayad, on a "shelf-agreement" are not showing sufficient signs of progress. Reading between the lines, what this diplomat seems to be saying is that Israel has not made the sweeping concessions needed to loosen the Arab purse. But Palestinian Prime Minister Fayad took a more balanced view: "We're supposed to build institutions and enhance our capacity in all fields of governance including security, [but] so far the international donor community, [which] was supposed to provide us with the funding necessary to do all of these things" has not done so. The prospect of a deal would be immeasurably better were the Palestinians making progress in building civil society, transparent political institutions and representative government. If the international community genuinely wants progress, it must bolster the comparatively moderate elements in Palestinian society. If reformist elements are indeed to triumph over both the previous Fatah-led kleptocracy and the Islamists of Hamas, whose legitimacy is partly grounded in the social welfare projects they carry out, the international community must provide moderates such as Fayad with the wherewithal needed to turn Palestinian society around. There are clinics and schools throughout the West Bank that need to be refurbished, but the funds are lacking. With exacting accounting practices, professional support from abroad, and a reform-oriented Palestinian leadership, the lives of average Palestinians can be rapidly improved. AT THE same time, the Palestinian leadership, Fayad included - and reflexively supported by the international community - has made an obsession of complaining about the number of West Bank checkpoints Israel has yet to remove, with hardly a word of appreciation for those barriers that are now gone and whose absence could at any moment allow a terrorist infiltration. The sooner the PA implements its security obligations under the road map, the sooner it disarms gunmen and terrorists, the quicker more barriers can be lifted. On her way to London, Rice also responded to a number of pointed questions from reporters about settlements by saying, "I raise it all the time. Look, it's not helpful... The best answer here is to determine what's going to be in Israel and what's going to be in Palestine... The United States government does not accept that anything that is done prior to an agreement can, in fact, now present a fait accompli or determine the final outcome... But the best thing we can possibly do is finally, finally, determine what those borders are going to be." While it is too bad that Rice bundles the entire Jewish presence over the Green Line - Jerusalem, Ma'aleh Adumin, Ariel, Gush Etzion and the Jordan Valley - under one rubric, she does have a point about clarity. Jewish claims to Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem are profound and strong. And yet, most Israelis are prepared to see the creation of a Palestinian state in the heartland of our patrimony in return for an authentic peace. Rice now calls on Israel and the Palestinians to agree "once and for all" on final borders. Amen. It has long been clear what the Palestinians, via Abbas, Fayad and former PA prime minister Ahmad Qurei, are demanding: an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 Armistice Lines, the division of Jerusalem and the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees. These positions are completely unacceptable to the overwhelming majority of Israelis. And yet the Palestinians have done a fine job of articulating their grievances and negotiating goals. It is long overdue for the government of Ehud Olmert to explain to the world - and us - precisely where it stands, and to seek to galvanize support and understanding for Israel's positions.