Ziad Asali
Congressional Quarterly (Opinion)
January 4, 2005 - 12:00am

Before making any serious comments about the letter that President Bush presented to Mr. Sharon we must take note that it was written before the passing of Chairman Arafat and the changes that have lead to the democratic election of a new Palestinian President. Political reality has changed and will unquestionably have an impact on policy.

The predictable parts of the President’s significant letter included his commitment to the vision he expressed on June 24th, 2002 for two states living side-by-side in peace and security, and as the Roadmap as the route to get there. His vision for a Palestinian state was that of one that is viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent state; one that is supported by the international community as it develops democratic institutions, a free and prosperous economy and capable security institutions dedicated to maintaining law and order.

His support for the Disengagement Plan came as no surprise. Neither were his restated commitment to the Roadmap. The reassurances that the President felt that he needed to provide to Israel for the risks included the significant and controversial points. The most salient was his statement that it is realistic to expect that any final statement agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect new realities on the grounds.

The other point he made about the borders was his reference to responsibilities Israel assumes consistent with its statement that the barrier is a security and temporary barrier rather than a political and permanent barrier and therefore should not prejudice any final borders.

Significantly, the President reiterated his commitment to a negotiated peace settlements between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. Another controversial point he made was his view to resolve the refugees’ problem by resettling them in the state of Palestine rather than Israel.

The President’s commitment to the security of Israel, expressed forcefully and unwaveringly coincided with his repeated reference to threats of terrorism. In fact he used the word terror, terrorism or terrorist 13 times in a two page letter. One hopes that association with these words does not collectively burden the Palestinians as people.

Critics have pointed out that the reassurances give to Mr. Sharon were unmatched by explicit reassurances needed by the Palestinians. Withdrawal of IDF forces, cessation of settlement building, relieving the oppressive measures against civilians, ending the occupation, addressing various aspects of the rights of the refugees, acknowledging political rights that reflect the realities on the grounds in the old city and in East Jerusalem. It remains to be seen what reassurances the President will give the new Palestinian president on his first visit to Washington.

For those of us who are more interested in a peaceful resolution than in scoring debating points, we must factor in the new Palestinian political realities, the potential for a cooperative and coordinated relation between parties whose strategic interests in a two-state solution do not fundamentally contradict each other. The President has the

unmatched opportunity to implement his vision by coordinating the efforts of an old ally with that of a new one.



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