This evening, United States President Bush gave a major speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The speech supposedly initiates a new push for Israeli-Palestinian and regional peace. Either that, or it is the swan song of the peace process. Some of the main points:
The United states will call an international conference this fall of all "regional" states that support a two state solution.
The United States will support the government of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad with major incentives including $190,000,000 in aid.
The Fayyad government must provide good government and security for the Palestinians, and the solution must provide security for both Israelis and Palestinians.
The United States will push for a two state solution and calls upon Hamas to recognize Israel and forswear violence and incitement.
Israel must dismantle illegal outposts and freeze settlement activities.
The negotiated solution must be based on borders that provide for a contiguous Palestinian state, and that take into account historical and existing reality.
"The vision of President [Mahmoud] Abbas and Prime Minister [Salam] Fayad is the vision of a peaceful state called Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people..."
"By following this path, Palestinians can reclaim their dignity and future and establish a state of their own."
"All responsible nations have the duty to help clarify the way forward by supporting the reforms of President Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayad."
Both PM Olmert and President Abbas welcomed the speech.
Unfortunately, there is a big shortage of responsible nations in the Middle East. The speech is viewed by skeptics as a "last ditch effort" to salvage the two state vision of the Bush administration.
There is more and less in this effort than meets the eye. The speech is not so much a function of developments in the Israeli-Palestinian arena, which do not provide promising conditions for a peace effort, but a reflection of what the United States needs in order to bolster its position in the Middle East. Mr. Bush is caught between Iraq and a hard place. US failure in Iraq, which becomes ever more evident with each daily SNAFU of the Iraqi government and each guerrilla attack, successively erodes the ability of the US to influence Middle East states regarding Israeli-Palestinian peace. At the same time, pressure from those same states -- particularly Saudi Arabia, is mounting for a solution to the Palestinian problem, which Bush must deliver in order to get support for continued US intervention in Iraq.
The peace initiative has several vulnerabilities. Nobody can make peace between Israelis and Palestinians by ignoring reality. That was demonstrated conclusively by the Oslo negotiations, which attempted to produce bits of paper about peace while settlements and suicide bombers were sprouting outside the conference rooms.
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