President Bush is again “optimistic” that Israeli-Palestinian peace can be finalized during the remaining months of his presidency. For Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, this can only mean one thing: more photo-ops with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, with massive frequent-flyer miles accumulating in the process. But yesterday, Rice finally complemented her shuttling with diplomatic results, winning a set of concessions from Israel that are intended to ease Palestinian livelihoods and create conditions that are ripe for peace.
I’m dubious regarding the potential for economic progress to translate into Palestinian support for the peace process-particularly in the short timeframe with which the Bush administration is working. That said, insofar as the goal is to improve the West Bank economy, many of the measures to which Israel agreed are sensible, if not long overdue. These include the decision to raise the number of Palestinian businessmen permitted into Israel to 1,500; issuing 5,000 additional work permits for Palestinian laborers; building new housing for Palestinians in 25 villages; and supporting large-scale economic development programs.
But the most essential concessions to which Israel agreed make little sense. These include decisions to dismantle one permanent roadblock and remove fifty travel barriers around Jenin, Tulkarem, Qalqiliya, and Ramallah. Israel has long maintained that these checkpoints critically bolster its security, stemming the flow of terrorists and weapons among the West Bank’s most contentious cities. Yet in agreeing to dissemble these barriers on account of political considerations, Israel is discrediting its own claims regarding the security-relevance of its West Bank policies. Moreover, on account of its decreased ability to monitor movement within the West Bank in the absence of a reliable Palestinian security force, Israel may face a decline in security.
Make no mistake: a further decline in Israeli security would be the final nail in the Annapolis coffin-a disaster for the Bush administration. Indeed, if the Annapolis “process” aims for the realization of a two-state solution-a long-held U.S. interest-anything that might validate the occupation as necessary for Israeli security should be immediately removed from the table. It is for this reason that I have viewed the cessation of Israeli settlement activity as a more reasonable Israeli concession for the Bush administration to demand: halting construction would have no negative security consequences for Israel, and would represent clear progress towards drawing the line in the sand that Israeli-Palestinian peace will require.
In this vein, Israel’s agreement to connect Palestinian villages to its power grid is downright regressive. Again, if the goal remains a two-state solution-in which Palestine is an autonomous entity-why would Rice press for the Palestinians to become more reliant on Israel for their needs? Indeed, if Israel’s recent experience in Gaza should teach policymakers anything, it’s that territorial concessions must aim to absolve Israel of responsibility for those territories entirely.
In short, once again, Rice has failed to meet U.S. policy objectives with narrowly tailored policies. For this reason, the Annapolis “process” remains a hopeless exercise, in which optimism trumps reality.