The ball is in Olmert's court

Abbas has the authority to negotiate with Israel. No more wasting time on photo-ops.

Olmert Abbas 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Olmert Abbas 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Before her trip to the region this week, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said her purpose was "to recommit to existing agreements, but also to begin to explore and probe the political and diplomatic horizon." Exploring horizons means defining the end game - the creation of the Palestinian state alongside Israel as the main element of a permanent status agreement. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert objects to moving into permanent status negotiations, while Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has spoken about negotiating the establishment of a Palestinian state with provisional borders, as Phase II of the road map mentions. The road map mentions a Palestinian state with provisional borders only as an option, and the Palestinians have made it quite clear that they reject this approach. President Mahmoud Abbas wants to move directly into permanent status negotiations and to finally reach the end of the peace process that began 15 years ago with a full peace agreement with Israel. June 5 will mark 40 years of occupation. Enough is enough! Until the first intifada at the end of 1987, less than five percent of Israelis supported the two states for two peoples solution to the conflict. Now, too many years later, a large majority of Israelis understand that it is a primary Israeli national security interest to create the Palestinian state next to Israel. An even larger number of Israeli politicians understand that this is the best option for Israel; any other option is next to national suicide. If it is not clear to everyone, it should be - time is running out on the two-state solution. This option for peace will only be relevant for as long as there is a majority of Palestinians who support it. There is still a considerable majority of Palestinians who do support this solution, but as their lives continue to be more and more miserable and there is no sign of any political horizon for them, more and more Palestinians will come to the conclusion that they stand a much better chance of winning an international battle against Israel by demanding full democracy within a single binational state. Olmert, Abbas and Rice have no choice but to provide the horizon for both peoples. If they fail to do this, they do not deserve to continue to serve their people. No one has any faith in empty processes any more. The leaders must actually achieve results that will have a direct impact on peoples' lives. There must be two parallel tracks moving forward, one political and one of positive developments on the ground. These will enhance each other and help to increase the chances of success. ON THE political front there is no escaping the need to renew the permanent status talks on the basis of where they ended with the Taba understandings of 2001 and the Clinton parameters. The on-the-ground track must include steps both of an immediate nature and of the kind that provide hopes and ignites dreams of a better tomorrow. What's needed is well known: Freeing up movement in the West Bank, increasing the numbers of work permits in Israel for Palestinians - something that would also help the Israeli farmers - allowing goods to move between the West Bank and Gaza, improving and increasing the movement of people and goods through border check points, etc. THERE ARE also some items on the agenda of a more grandiose and daring nature such as a plan being discussed by Palestinian entrepreneurs to build a new city in the West Bank that would be a source of jump-starting the economy. There is an economically feasible and viable plan to transport water from Turkey to Gaza (and Israel) that would immediately impact on the quality of life there. The Gaza seaport project should be restarted. Gaza international airport should be renovated and activated. A cargo terminal should be constructed at the Rafah crossing to Egypt. Prince Hassan of Jordan has proposed the creation of a solar energy project and water desalination plant on the Gaza-Egypt border. A rail link from Gaza to the port of Ashdod should be constructed. The list can go on and on. There is no shortage on good ideas for building a more normal life for Palestinians and Israelis alike that would have a direct impact on real people. What is in dire shortage is the political will and the political directive of the decision-makers to move forward without delay. While it would be very nice if the new Palestinian unity government would be formed quickly and would immediately adhere to all of the international and Israeli demands, it should also be recognized that Abbas has the full authority to move ahead in negotiations with Israel. There is no logical reason to delay this process any longer. SENIOR US officials have told me that President George W. Bush has given Rice clear instructions to press on forward. Some local analysts have suggested that Rice does not have the full backing of the White House, yet in questioning that analysis, I have been told directly and without any doubt that the secretary is intent on moving forward and that the president is in complete agreement and support. We also know how anxious Abbas is to move forward; however he will not be a partner in any process that appears to be a charade akin to the Oslo process. No number of photo-ops will allow Abbas to be made a fool of to serve Israeli political needs. If this process does not move forward it will be because Olmert will not allow it to move forward. That is the bottom line. Olmert must decide. Time is running out, both for peace and his own political career and ambitions. These two issues are inextricably linked - peace making and Olmert' political career. If he does not advance peace, he will not last politically. The writer is the Co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.