Haaretz (Editorial)
March 17, 2008 - 6:52pm

A senior American official quoted yesterday in Haaretz predicted that despite the upcoming presidential elections, and in advance of his visit to Israel in May, President George W. Bush will increase the pressure on both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to achieve significant diplomatic progress. The American intervention will be evident already at the end of the week, with the arrival of Vice President Dick Cheney for talks in the region. Immediately after him, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to arrive here. Recently, Rice has not concealed the U.S. administration's dissatisfaction with the progress of the negotiations for a final-status agreement and the way the sides are treating the road map commitments. She has once again expressed her disappointment with the policy of expanding settlements and with Israel's evasion of its commitment to evacuate outposts and dismantle roadblocks.

The American source said that Bush expects genuine steps from Israel to advance the implementation of his two-state vision. He emphasized that the U.S. would not force anything on Israel, but that it expects the Olmert government to decide where it is heading. Between the lines one could detect an implied threat that in the absence of progress, the administration will hold Israel responsible for the failure.

On Friday General William M. Fraser provided a practical dimension to American intervention: He convened the joint forum of Israel and the PA to design a plan to implement the first stage of the road map. However, while the Palestinian side sent a high-level official to the meeting - Prime Minister Salam Fayyad - Israel sent a government official - the head of the political-military bureau in the Defense Ministry, Amos Gilad.

The honor of the high-level American visitors is important. We should not make light of declarations by senior members of the administration, and we should welcome meetings meant to promote the road map. But Hamas and Hezbollah, which are financed by Iran, have not taken a time-out to follow the close race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, to be followed by the contest between the Democratic candidate and the Republican competitor.

The prime minister boasts of his unique personal relationship with President Bush, and has no way of knowing what the attitude of the newly elected president will be. If Olmert is truly interested in promoting the two-state solution, he must encourage his friend in the White House to use his remaining months in office to bridge the gaps between the sides. To that end, the prime minister must prove via practical moves on the ground that he is faithful to the Annapolis commitment of November 27 to make every effort to formulate a final-status agreement within a year.

The senior official saw fit to explain that when it comes to the peace process, Bush does not intend to behave like a lame duck. We can hope that he will follow in the footsteps of the three presidents who preceded him: Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, who did not end their involvement with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even after the American people had elected their successors. Pressure to put an end to the bloodshed and guarantee the Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic country is welcome pressure.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017