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L.A. Times: "Bush's victory-in-waiting"

Jo-Ann Mort, APN Board Member, is the author of this OpEd on how the President needs to keep the heat on both Israelis and Palestinians to achieve peace.

L.A. Times: "Bush's victory-in-waiting"

By Jo-Ann Mort

Jo-Ann Mort writes frequently about Israel and is co-author of "Our Hearts Invented a Place: Can Kibbutzim Survive in Today's Israel?"

July 24, 2005

If the road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad, as some have suggested, then there isn't much hope these days for Jerusalem. If the road goes in the other direction, however, with Jerusalem as its starting point, then the future looks somewhat brighter. For a White House in search of democracy in the Arab world, resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the best hope.

Although the last two weeks have been stained with blood in the Middle East, President Bush still stands to record a major foreign policy victory if he steps up U.S. engagement with the two sides. This could also bring a needed win to Paul Wolfowitz, the new president of the World Bank and one of the architects of the Iraq war. Much of the groundwork to promote a peaceful Palestinian-Israeli future has been done by World Bank staff members in the region.

By all accounts, Bush made an excellent choice in appointing James Wolfensohn special envoy to manage the Gaza disengagement. Wolfensohn represents the "quartet" of the U.S., the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, and he enjoys the support of Israelis and Palestinians alike. Both sides talk positively about Bush and his envoy, something that hasn't happened in a long time. Unlike in Iraq, where the White House has gone begging to the international community with few takers, here the global powers have responded with a commitment to mobilize $9 billion over three years. The question remains how it will be used.

As immediate past president of the World Bank, Wolfensohn works closely with former employees who have drawn up detailed plans to ensure that the transfer of Gaza to the Palestinians aids Israel's security and answers its economic needs. Those plans also would help the Palestinian economy, and demand a transparent financial system and a democratic government.

Unlike other parts of the Arab world, where the White House has to force-feed democracy, the Palestinian Authority invites American help. The U.S. needs to offer more visible encouragement, providing assurance of economic and physical integration between Gaza and the West Bank. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sent a positive signal by canceling other plans in order to come to the region last week, but she's going to have to log a lot more miles to achieve success.

The White House needs to help Wolfensohn close the deal. He must succeed by:

• Ensuring that the Palestinians can trade with the world and attract investment, leaving Palestine with workable border crossings and trade corridors.

• Connecting Gaza with the West Bank and allowing movement in the West Bank among the Palestinian areas.

• Giving Palestinians functioning air and sea ports.

• Transferring assets from the Gush Katif Jewish settlements (the houses and greenhouses) so they are of use to the Palestinians.

As part of the agreement secured by Wolfensohn at the recent G-8 meeting in Scotland, the Palestinian Authority must create a fiscal stabilization plan by the end of October that will provide donors with the assurances they need before increasing aid contributions.

The Israelis - who also crave U.S. financial aid - must show goodwill in creating conditions to allow the Palestinians to build their economy and their democracy. And Israel must be willing to return to negotiations.

Bush should immediately reiterate his vision for the "road map" of steps to peace and demand adherence on both sides. This means making certain the Palestinians continue to reform and disarm and that the Israelis get serious about freezing construction of settlements and disbanding their illegal outposts.

Bush needs to give Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas something to claim as a victory, or risk undermining his fragile government. As current events show, Hamas gained enormous ground among the Palestinians during the four years of the intifada. Because it's probable that both Israel and the Palestinians will be heading to new elections shortly after completion of the Gaza disengagement, the White House is vital to furthering the momentum.

The Gaza withdrawal is probably a sure thing. But how it plays out will make all the difference, determining whether the peace process will move forward, bringing the president his goal of a Palestine state and a secure Israel - and laying the groundwork for democracy in the Arab world.