Three pieces of advice

The deterioration in Palestinian-Israeli relations that has put us back into the vicious circle of violence and ended the implementation of the first phase of the roadmap has also once again focused attention on the American role in this conflict. Most Palestinian politicians and analysts, and some on the Israeli side, have blamed the United States (although not only the United States) for the recent collapse. What magnified American responsibility for the failure to implement the roadmap was US insistence that it take sole responsibility for the monitoring role that is a crucial component of the roadmap plan.

The began as a Quartet-crafted document that reflected a compromise understanding between the divergent views of Quartet members–Russia, the United Nations, the European Union and the United States. But when the actual implementation began, the Bush administration pushed the other Quartet members aside and gave them the impression that it would take the lead in supervising roadmap implementation. It is no surprise, then, that the US is widely seen as responsible for the roadmap?s failure.

Certainly, the recent increase in US attention to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is related largely to the difficulties American policy is facing in the Middle East region. The significant decline in credibility that the US has experienced as a result of this conflict, the war in Iraq, and also its actions in some Islamic states, is pushing the American administration to try to offset the slide in credibility by acting as peacemaker between Palestinians and Israelis. As a result, the collapse in Palestinian-Israeli relations and the subsequent eruption of violence coinciding with the dramatic swing in tension in Iraq is having a negative impact on US public opinion about Bush administration policies. We can only expect, then, that the government will have to do its best to prevent Palestinian-Israeli relations from slipping off the abyss. That begs the question, however, as to whether the US will proceed along the right path, and in a manner that takes into consideration lessons from the past.

Two general deficiencies have characterized the US approach as it attempted to implement the roadmap in recent months. These are the inability to understand and compensate for the traditional power imbalance between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as a superficial American understanding of internal Palestinian politics. While there remains a slim chance of salvaging the roadmap from this dramatic deterioration, that chance rests on the extent and quality of political capital that the administration is willing to invest.

As such, three words of advice might come in handy. First, it is still possible to reinstate the ceasefire, provided that this cessation of violence is mutual on the part of both Palestinians and Israelis and stems from each side?s adherence to that early clause of the roadmap that calls for Palestinians and Israelis to declare an end to all violence anywhere against the other.

Second, all components of the first phase of the roadmap should more or less be implemented in parallel: steps in security, political reforms, troop withdrawal, a settlement freeze and dismantlement, and the reinstatement of Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem, etc. The sequential approach, which is the Israeli approach, is fatal.

Third, the United States government should refrain from the deep interference in internal Palestinian politics that has characterized recent weeks and show more respect for Palestinian law, the constitution and democratic processes. Recent US interference in the form of public statements and practical interventions has only backfired.