Palestine: It’s Time to Clinch the Deal

Why is Bush’s Middle East peace plan the best vision around?

June 26, 2002

Why is Bush's Middle East peace plan the best vision around?

President Bush articulated a vision of two democratic states — Israel and Palestine — living in peace side by side with the support and blessings of the Arab States and of the United States.

As a plan it is woeful, full of ifs and buts. But as a vision, it is extraordinarily bold. The President’s insistence that the Palestinians democratize before they gain statehood is especially important.

After all, if they gain their statehood before democracy is truly entrenched, then Palestine will most likely become like Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Libya. In other words, it would be just another authoritarian Arab regime where people have no self-rule.

There will be many in Palestine and the Arab world that will resist this idea, labeling it an external dictation of who rules Palestinians. I hope that Palestinians reject these voices — and take President Bush’s demands for democratization constructively.

I hope they immediately start work on a constitution that will enshrine an independent judiciary, empower the parliament, limit executive powers, increase transparency, localize governance and strengthen accountability. It is time to start nation-building.

Now I am aware that one problem with the vision outlined in the speech is the indirect demand to Palestinians to dump Arafat.

The problem with the demand is that the only entity that is capable of initiating the political reforms that President Bush is calling for is the Palestinian Authority (PA) headed by Arafat.

There are two issues here — both operational and symbolic: How to ensure that the PA will reform itself? And how to marginalize Arafat, who in many ways is seen as the father of Palestinian statehood?

The Palestinians will have to work it out. I only hope that they realize that achieving statehood is more important than supporting Arafat. Perhaps they can convince Arafat to take a ceremonial position — and conduct fair and open elections to allow new leadership to emerge.

This is not the time for defiance for the sake of defiance. Yes, there are plenty of problems with this peace plan. But this is time to clinch the deal.

Even in the worst-case scenario — even if the President Bush’s plan fails completely — the Palestinians will still be better off. They will at least have an honest, accountable, transparent government that respects the rights and dignity of its own citizens — and uses its resources for the welfare of its people.