Maen Areikat
The San Francisco Chronicle (Opinion)
October 27, 2009 - 12:00am

President Obama's election and the shift in the U.S. attitude toward the Arab and Muslim worlds have given new hope to those seeking a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East. This new approach is a welcome departure from the previous eight years of misguided policies - most notably toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Many in the United States now understand that a solution to this conflict could help resolve other regional problems. For more than 42 years, Israel's occupation and colonization of Palestinian land, denial of Palestinians' basic rights and refusal to comply with U.N. resolutions and international law, have frustrated attempts to end the conflict.

In 1988, the Palestinians unequivocally recognized Israel's right to exist on 78 percent of historic Palestine and accepted an independent Palestinian state on the remaining 22 percent - the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip. They demonstrated a readiness to pay a heavy price for peace. Instead of reciprocating, Israel has spent most of the last two decades seizing Palestinian land, violently splitting the remaining 22 percent that Palestinians accepted as their future state.

Israeli actions, such as the expansion of illegal settlements, building of the wall, internal closures, ethnic cleansing of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, and the siege of the Gaza Strip are meant to torpedo any prospects for peace. Israel refuses to implement U.N. resolutions. These policies have increased tensions between Palestinians and Israelis, derailed attempts to broker a peace agreement and emboldened extremists everywhere.

Denying Palestinians their basic human and civil rights perpetuates conflict and serves as proof that the Israeli government is not serious about peace. Nevertheless, the Palestinian people remain strategically committed to a peaceful resolution to the conflict. But, without an end to Israel's military occupation and its withdrawal from all territories occupied in 1967, peace will remain elusive.

Negotiations should be a means to an end, not an end unto itself. After 18 years of negotiating, experience has taught us that unless there are clear terms of reference, a clear structure for the negotiations, and a clear endgame, the process will become about process and not substance. For meaningful progress, all issues must be on the table, including Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, water, borders and security.

The purpose of these talks must be a final agreement that ends the occupation and thus the conflict once and for all. This process must lead to an independent, sovereign and viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, as well as a just and agreed upon resolution to the refugee problem. The Palestinians cannot accept interim or provisional solutions, such as those advocated by Israel's prime minister.

The Obama administration should make it clear that Israel's refusal to stop settlement activities in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and its refusal to engage with Palestinians on the core issues of the conflict, are what is hampering U.S. efforts to restart negotiations. The active engagement of the president and his Special Envoy George Mitchell sends a clear signal of this administration's commitment to peace. What is needed now is to translate this commitment into results with a strong, intelligent, and even-handed approach that puts a lasting and just peace above all other considerations.


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