Arab News (Editorial)
October 17, 2007 - 10:53am§ion=0&article=102536&d=17&m=10&y=2007

The Palestinians have longed for a state for nearly 60 years. Arabs and Muslims have also wanted one. So has most of the world. And now suddenly, so do the Americans. At least that is what they say. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says that it is time to establish a Palestinian state and that it is not only in the interest of Palestinians and Israelis, but in US interest as well.

This is a remarkable turnaround given that the US has for years been the principal opponent (apart from the Israelis themselves) of Palestinian independence. It almost sounds too good to be true. That is the view in the Arab world where Rice commands little or no trust. They know how decisive has been the malign influence Washington has had for more than half a century on the core Middle East issue. Perhaps, experience elsewhere in the Middle East has forced Washington to realize that Israel’s way is not the right way to protect American interests in the region.

Rice is, of course, quite right that a Palestinian state is in US interest. Middle East pundits have been trying to tell the Americans this for years. The absence of such a state and American appeasement of the Israelis as they heaped oppression upon the Palestinians have been the major source of anti-US sentiments in the region and the wider Muslim world.

But will this declaration of support for a Palestinian state make President Bush’s planned, but far-from-certain, Middle East summit next month in Annapolis, Maryland, a success? All depends on whether the Israelis and the Abbas government can agree to a declaration of principle as the basis for the talks. The Israelis have given the distinct impression that they want to sideline the talks into generalities with no decisions and deadlines to be decided.

In the event, it seems that the Americans have sided with the Palestinians to some extent. The November conference has to be “substantive,” says Rice. Add to this Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s sudden willingness to talk about Jerusalem, one of the Palestinians’ prime demands. Whether it is the result of US pressure is unknown but the terms of diplomatic engagement are clearly shifting. Even so, there is still a mountain to climb in order to reach Annapolis.

It will not be enough for Palestinian sovereignty to be accepted. Palestine has to exist as a recognized, functioning state like any other. There is no point agreeing and recognizing a state which a couple of weeks later is invaded and dismembered by the Israelis. Equally there is no point in recognizing a state that turns out to be another Somalia or Iraq at war with itself. In short, a viable Palestine involves the consent of both the Israelis and Hamas -- no mean feat. Possibly, an agreement could be hammered out initially between the Israelis and the Abbas government in the West Bank with Hamas ignored. But it would not last. Palestinian aspirations for full national identity do not allow Gaza to be a permanent prison camp. A mountain to climb, indeed.


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