One year ago, even as intifada-related violence raged at unprecedented levels, United States President George W. Bush announced a new diplomatic initiative designed to build the foundations for a just and sustainable peace. The president envisioned two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace, security, and dignity, fulfilling the national aspirations of their peoples. He called for new Palestinian leadership, and transformed, accountable, and democratic Palestinian institutions, which Palestinians deserve and are eminently capable of creating. He called for reciprocal actions from Israel to promote this vision, including an end to settlement activity. Above all, he called for an end to the destructive violence and terror that has so damaged the hopes of a generation of Palestinians and Israelis.
Over the past year, the US has worked with Israelis and Palestinians, friends in the region, our Quartet partners, and others to make this vision a reality. Together, we developed a roadmap of reciprocal and mutually-reinforcing obligations to guide us toward the two-state vision. Palestinians took important first steps to reform their institutions and introduce a credible leadership that is committed to peace.
Last month, in Sharm al Sheikh and Aqaba, we took another important step forward. Under the active leadership of President Bush, a new, hopeful dynamic between Israelis and Palestinians emerged, as the two parties undertook important commitments to each other and Arab parties made equally important commitments to support the peacemaking process. The regional scope of this effort is particularly important. The president called for a new, committed regional approach that would require all the states of the region to shake off old complacencies about the conflict. Urging the region to take advantage of the opportunities created by the fall of Saddam’s tyrannical regime, the president hailed the appointment of a new Palestinian prime minister committed to peace, and the emergence of Palestinian officials committed to serious political and economic reform.
In Aqaba, at an event hosted by Jordan’s King Abdullah, President Bush brought Prime Minister Sharon and Prime Minister Abbas together for a three-way meeting that was candid, frank, and remarkably free of the rancor and rhetoric that has too often characterized such encounters. Both sides made very clear commitments to the president’s vision, and most importantly, acknowledged their own responsibilities and obligations to achieve it.
There is a key theme, too often missing in the past, that has characterized President Bush’s diplomatic efforts from the outset: accountability and performance. The president has made clear that all sides have obligations to take steps for peace, the United States included, and that each side must accept those obligations, and be accountable for them. In short, they must perform. We have put a US coordinating and monitoring mission on the ground to monitor the way Israelis and Palestinians fulfill their responsibilities and meet their commitments. Our embassy in Tel Aviv and Consulate General in Jerusalem will work with Israelis and Palestinians on next steps in the process of redeployment and security, as well as on the other obligations contained in the roadmap.
The Palestinian-Israeli redeployment agreements in Gaza and Bethlehem are the first fruits of this process. It is extremely important that we consolidate this progress. It will take an extraordinary effort from both sides, and the United States will be there to assist at every step. We have to be realistic about how hard this will be, and humble in the face of past setbacks. There are no easy answers or magic formulas. But it is clear that ordinary Israelis and Palestinians are weary of conflict, and are willing to make sacrifices to achieve peace and the prospect of normal lives for their children. With active US engagement, the parties can turn a new page in their relations and make a reality of President Bush’s powerful vision.
William J. (Bill) Burns, currently US assistant secretary of state for near east affairs, has been actively involved in the Arab-Israel conflict for the past 20 years.