The visit of US President George Bush to the region and the realization of the two-state solution are governed by four determinants of which anyone interested in the peace process should not loose sight.
The first determinant is the time limit attached to President Bush s departure from the White House in eight months. Is this long enough for the US Administration to establish a Palestinian state? Will the remaining time be sufficient to establish a Palestinian state, even under international supervision in the manner of the independence of Kosovo?
The second determinant is the scandal surrounding Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Will Olmert remain as prime minister long enough to sign the peace agreement, or will there be a new prime minister in Israel around the time of signing who will need more time and support to start again?
The third determinant is the division between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Who will expect Israel to agree, and who will recognize the Palestinian state if the Palestinians themselves do not recognize each other?
The fourth and final determinant is the tense strategic regional atmosphere stretching from Iraq to Gaza and Beirut. Fears and suspicions among Sunni as well as Shia have begun to dominate the region and should be taken into consideration as sectarian divisions shape the landscape in the region and forecast the shape of wars to come.
President Bush s second visit to the region has taken place within this complicated regional and international discourse. To the pessimists, the aim of the visit was the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. Other visits to Arab countries merely are public relations. As evidence, the optimists provide in support of their view what the US President stated in his speech to the Israeli Knesset. The Palestinians were mentioned only once in his speech.
Yet, the Americans insist that the purpose of the visit is to achieve the vision of the two-state solution. They state that Bush s speech exaggerating US relations with Israel merely was an attempt to assure the doubters in Israel that the United States is committed to their security, and that they should trust that the US President will preserve their rights in the final settlement.
This makes sense, and all that the optimists in the Arab world have to do is just wait and see whether the water will contradict the diver.
In my discussion with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice two weeks ago, she strongly insisted that the two-state solution was viable. This is provided that the two parties, the Israelis as well as the Palestinians, abandon their impossible historical dreams and commit themselves to offering difficult concessions. She insisted that the solution lies in reaching points of agreement, not in absolute victory for one party and absolute defeat for the other.
Rice also stated that secret negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians already have gone beyond the paradigm of Kosovo s independence, and she entirely excluded the solution in the shape of a state with provisional borders. She stated: I say confidently that we have gone many stages beyond that. Today, we are talking of a real Palestinian state.
Secretary Rice believes that the two parties have gone beyond the Kosovo paradigm in their secret talks and insisted that there is a lot that the media do not know today, which might come as a surprise tomorrow. She foretold the establishment of a fully sovereign Palestinian state, albeit without a military character.
Nevertheless, what we see today on the ground does not reflect Rice s optimism. As we see it today, the water belies her and her US President. But again, the Palestinian tragedy has been waiting for a solution for the past 60 years, so why not wait several more months to see whether the water will not belie the US President and his secretary of state?
Today, the first indication of the water belying the US Administration is that the Americans and Israelis have a new obsession worrying them, meaning Iran, not Palestine. The speech of President Bush to the Knesset contained threats and accusations directed at Iran, which were repeated from the previous statements made by the US President and his secretary of state, who stated that Iran is the cause of all troubles in the Middle East today. If this is the case, will it not be wiser for the United States and Israel to isolate Iran from its regional environment by winning the Arabs to their side through the two-state solution?
The Arab streets and Arab leadership are convinced that the solution to the Palestinian question will solve the rest of the region s problems. Palestine is the main focal point of tension in the region, and is the spring from which waves of tension are launched into the Arab and Islamic world today. If this is so, then the solution of the cardinal problem might assure the Arabs of the United States good intentions, and they might become US allies in confronting other security challenges one day. But, the president s speech in the Knesset concentrated on Iran, not on ending the existing conflict. No doubt, Iran has its disturbing agenda in the region, which makes it a threat to regional security. However, the Israeli occupation and its continued violations of Palestinian human rights shown on television screens daily make the Arabs feel humiliation and injustice, and this makes stability in this charged atmosphere a remote possibility.
The present policy of the US Administration cannot convince the pessimists and optimists in the Arab world. It only will do so when solution and agreement are reached between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Nowadays, no strategist can fail to observe that the Middle East is divided into optimists and pessimists and doubters about the US role and its ability to find a solution to the Palestinian question. To date, the frequent visits of President George Bush and his secretary of state to the region have not offered any solution that helps the optimists to outweigh the pessimists view of the US role and its ability to find solutions, whether in Palestine, Lebanon, or Iraq. The fear is that the US role in the region will become part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. Nevertheless, I am one of those who believe in giving a last chance to prove good intentions. Accordingly, I state let us wait, be optimistic, and hope that the water will not disprove the US President.
Mamoun Fandy is senior fellow for Gulf security and director of the Middle East programme at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org, it was originally published by Asharq Alawsat, www.asharqalawsat.com/english.