US PRESIDENT George Bush’s end-April invitation to his Palestinian Authority counterpart to visit Washington in an effort to revitalise the Arab-Israeli peace process is the former’s last chance at making a meaningful contribution to the issue.
Already, America’s turning the other way to Israel’s farcical follow-up of the Annapolis initiative has robed the Bush administration of the sincerity-card, confirming doubts about its willingness to deliver on promises.
Abbas is sure to adopt a firmer posture than November as Israel’s high handedness between then and now has dramatically added to the numerous complexities of the equation. Should the meeting materialise, the White House must be informed of the necessity of meeting added prerequisites, failing which indulging in further negotiations would waste everybody’s time.
The first requires pressuring Israel into shedding the indifferent position that attaches zero commitment to pledges. The immediate aftermath of the Annapolis meeting is a good case in point, when no sooner than all parties had journeyed home did Israel renege on its promises, begin settlement expansion and resumed the bomb-and-choke treatment responsible for unprecedented humanitarian miseries that have seemingly become the Gazans’ permanent lot.
The second pre-condition would require flexibility on everybody’s part, including Abbas’ Fatah. It is now abundantly clear that varied attempts to subdue Hamas have only ended up hurting ordinary Palestinians inside Gaza. Their plight has been adequately documented by the international media and continuation of policies that drive them further against the wall reflect poorly on a supposedly free world attempting to broker peace in a long troubled conflict. It is imperative to engage with Gaza by way of sitting across the table with Hamas, an added feature that will test Washington’s flexibility as well as genuineness to the most divisive issue between the Muslim world and the West.
As repeatedly pointed out in this space, George Bush is by no means the first statesman attempting to leverage the Palestinian tragedy to add colour to his legacy. Many have tried and failed before. Though political wisdom is not the most defining quality of the outgoing American president, whether he succeeds where others have failed will depend on his ability to reach beyond the conventional mindset that has limited progress all these decades. From the looks of things such expectations seem misplaced, to say the least.
Yet respond Abbas must to every initiative that presents itself, for the sake of the suffering people he claims to represent. However great the differences between all those preparing for yet another round of negotiations, there is one thing in common — all must display flexibility on points they have simply ruled out in the past.