Peace in Middle East requires US involvement

When I lived in Israel nearly four years ago, a car bomb that claimed two lives outside a crowded Jewish vegetable market in Jerusalem just a few blocks from my apartment was characterized by both parties as only a “delay” in the ratification of the then Clinton-sponsored Wye Memorandum peace negotiations.

Today, the Wye Memorandum is merely a memory swallowed by blind violence. Yet, despite the escalating bloodshed in the region-peace is still not a fallacy.

It will, however, require constant and active participation from Washington.

Whether President Bush’s initial resolve to maintain a distance between his Administration and the Middle East buckled under the weight of either the rising casualties in the region or the strategic need to cajole the Arab world into supporting the sequel to the U.S.-Iraq standoff. The fact is that we’re on the ground. Indeed, the integral importance of American diplomatic capital was evident shortly after its reintroduction into the equation.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did away with his demand for seven days of total peace before resuming peace talks with the Palestinians and released Yassir Arafat from the compound where he had been trapped by Israeli tanks for weeks. Arafat arrested the last suspect in the killing of Israel’s minister of tourism. And most significantly, the United States introduced a long overdue resolution to the United Nations Security Council affirming the need for a Palestinian state, subsequently ratified by the Council.

Still, while the Bush Administration’s decision to re-deploy its Middle East Envoy, General Anthony C. Zinni, in hopes of achieving a cease-fire is a good start, Washington should be aware that only the full weight of its diplomatic efforts can keep both the Israelis and Palestinians moving towards peace in the long run. Otherwise, the alarming level of violence-over 1,000 Palestinians and 320 Israelis killed since the September 2000-has already eroded both parties’ belief in the possibility of reaching a negotiated settlement so much so that without outside coaching, the cycle of destruction will simply continue feeding itself into a frenzy.

The Administration cannot afford to return to the sidelines, where it stood idly for months before Sharon announced his plan for peace: to force the Palestinians to the table through increased casualties-the very strategy he has repeatedly accused Arafat of employing and thus used as an excuse for Israel’s refusal to resume peace negotiations.

Already, while Gen. Zinni pauses for photo-ops with officials from either side, aimed primarily at thawing Arab resistance to the now inevitable shift of the “Made in America” war on terrorism’s target from Osama bin Laden to Saddam Hussein, both the Israelis and Palestinians are throwing up blockades on the road toward ending the violence.

Palestinian suicide bombers continue to claim lives within Israel. And the Israeli government has stated that it will accept a cease-fire with the understanding that it will still carry out the “selective” assassination of suspected would be terrorists, which-regardless of its illogical and criminal nature-isn’t a cease-fire at all.

Gen Zinni’s two pervious trips to the region ended in his quick departure once the violence got out of hand. With the death toll for both sides escalating and the Middle East presenting a mosaic of security threats, Washington cannot risk any further instability. Only consistent external pressure will keep the Israelis and Palestinians from dragging each other deeper into conflict.

The time has come for the United States to pull up a permanent chair at the negotiating table and put its diplomatic capital to work before this investment opportunity goes up in smoke.

Eduardo Moncada is a graduate student at the School of International Studies.