A new opening for Mideast peace

The Baltimore Sun

There is much to be said for President Bush's plans to host a fall conference on the future of Palestine.

First, it gives an important boost to Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, as well as Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. If there is ever a chance for a broad spectrum of Israeli society to agree to negotiate, it is with these leaders at the helm. This is also the right team to engage bipartisan American leadership.

Second, the administration's new engagement gives a needed boost to surrounding moderate Arab states that are paying a heavy price for supporting a comprehensive settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Syria's recent announcement that it plans to attend the conference shows the efficacy of such a boost.

Emphasizing the importance of a "political horizon," President Bush is calling for a final settlement that will not be sidetracked by attempts to derail it with terrorism. Instead of heaping conditions on Israel and the Palestinians, which would guarantee that spoilers on all sides could disrupt the delicate peace process, he is directing attention to the endgame - a first for any American president.

This is an important step, yet two critical components are missing from the American approach: a strategy to persuade a majority of Palestinians to embrace the peace process and reject violent resistance, and a strategy to deprive of regional sponsorship any militants intent on derailing the process.

Convincing most Palestinians is certainly possible. Polls have always indicated that the majority of Palestinians and Israelis were in favor of a two-state solution. According to a recent survey by Fafo, a polling and research firm based in Norway, most Palestinians want reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas as well as new elections. Consequently, if the administration wants to convince the majority, it must speak to the majority - not simply to Fatah, as it has been wont to do.

The Palestinian people also need evidence that their dignity, freedom and basic human needs will be addressed by a new Israeli approach to the Palestinian economy and by freedom of movement that will make economic opportunity and an improved quality of life possible. Only this will compete successfully with militancy. Research suggests that a key benefit of the Oslo process was the opening up of the Palestinian private sector and the steady increase in opportunities for young people. What stood in the way of further progress in this arena were the lack of political will and economic generosity to truly transform Palestinian life for the majority.

Thus, we need a mini-Marshall Plan for Palestine that will appeal to secular and religious Palestinians alike. The roughly $200 million offered by the administration is inadequate to this task, as most of it was already promised and thus represents no new investment. True economic opportunity is essential in order to fully realize the Abrahamic ideals of social justice.

Depriving militants of regional sponsorship, the second of the two strategies, is also within reach. The peace process must become enticing for all parties in the region that would otherwise be spoilers, or supporters of spoilers, such as Iran and Syria.

Ultimately, the administration must earnestly engage these countries so that, at the very least, they do not support these opponents of a Palestinian-Israeli peace process. This can be done without bowing to unreasonable demands of either Syria or Iran. America can stand firm against these geopolitical escalations while simultaneously extending an enticing olive branch. Israeli security has begun to recognize the importance of such a move and is calling for direct negotiations with Syria. Similarly, America needs to encourage all parties to become part of the future peace.

We no longer can afford in this region the kind of peacemaking that excludes an honest engagement with those who are impoverished, nor can we afford to leave out nations that can undo the delicate process of rapprochement between enemies. Truly comprehensive peace is the order of the day.

Rep. James Moran, a Virginia Democrat, is senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. He may be contacted at www.moran.house.gov. Rabbi Marc Gopin is the James H. Laue professor at George Mason University's Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. His e-mail is mgopin@gmu.edu.

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