Claude Salhani
The Middle East Times
October 13, 2008 - 8:00pm

Every decade of so the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict undergo serious transformation as the result of changing conditions on the ground. The changes, however, have not always been for the better.

Consider the following shifts in direction from the late 1940s with the creation of the State of Israel and the declaration of war by all its neighbors in 1948. Almost 10 years later, Israel goes to war against Egypt during the Suez crisis (1956). Then 11 years later Israel launches the Six-Day War, capturing large swathes of Arab lands.

It took six years for the Arabs to regroup and rearm and start the October War, in 1973. Nine years later, in June 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon and evicted the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But in doing so a new enemy was created, Hezbollah.

Five years after the invasion of Lebanon, the first intifada erupts in 1987, followed by the second intifada in 2000.

The timing is just about right – eight years since the second intifada - for another repositioning in the region.

Recent developments in the Palestinian territories and in Israel suggest that we are on the threshold of another major shift in the 60-year-old conflict.

Consider two tectonic policy shifts that have taken place in recent weeks in the Middle East conflict. The first comes from Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the second and more recent statement comes from the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Salam Fayyad.

Speaking to the Hebrew language daily newspaper, Haaretz last week Olmert ventured where no other Israeli prime minister had gone before him, saying that the time had come for Israel to recognize the reality that its occupation of Arab land had to stop and the only resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians was to recognize the need for a two-state solution.

"If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished," Olmert was quoted as saying by the Israeli daily.

The second astonishing statement comes from Fayyad and was made Sunday night in Washington in front of about 600 prominent Palestinian Americans, journalists and diplomats attending the third annual black tie gala hosted by the American Task Force on Palestine, where Fayyad was the keynote speaker.

The Palestinian prime minister stated that the future Palestinian state wanted more than just peace: "We don't just seek peace. We seek a meaningful and lasting peace with Israel. We seek strong ties with Israel. We seek strong economic ties between the independent states of Israel and Palestine. We seek warm relations with Israel. We do not want to get to the point where we just accept each other."

Fayyad, a Texas educated economist, said the Palestinians did not want to erect walls, but build bridges.

His statement is probably the most direct outreach from the Palestinian leadership toward Israel since the PLO recognized the existence of the State of Israel.

Olmert said Israel now had a "partner" in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Fayyad said Sunday night that Israel would have "a Palestinian partner in ending the occupation, but not "for improving the quality of occupation."

"We do not want to close Israelis out of our lives," said Fayyad. "We want to live with the Israelis as our neighbors."

Regretfully, the timing for this historic rapprochement of view on both the Israeli and Palestinian outlook to the crisis comes at a bad moment, with the United States and Israeli leadership in transition.

The U.S. presidential election is now only 21 days away, rendering the current American president incapable of pushing through any major policy issues in the final three weeks of his mandate, a la Clinton.

And Olmert, too, is something of a lame duck as he prepares to step down in the wake of an alleged financial scandal.

If one fact emerged from this 30-year debacle in the Levant it is the realization that as tectonic as individual initiatives might be, without the active participation of the White House, chances of any breakthrough in the Middle East conflict stand at nil.

"Ultimately," said the Palestinian prime minister, "the only way forward is with the United States leading the way."

And that will have to wait until the new administration is settled.

"We are at a crossroads," Fayyad said Sunday night.

Hopefully, the next administration will waste no time in trying to bring together both two sides at the crossroads and get traffic moving in a positive direction.


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