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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

 

New Envoy for Gaza

Chicago Jewish Star
August 19, 2005
By Aliza Becker

The planned Israeli pullout from Gaza is just days away. Hailed by many as a new opportunity for peace and a surprising reversal for Ariel Sharon, a lifelong hawk, the removal of some 9,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements has raised hopes throughout the world.

These hopes are amply justified, for the Gaza withdrawal holds such promise. It could lead to renewed negotiations for a two-state settlement; it could create opportunities for rebuilding the Palestinian economy; it could convince both Palestinians and Israelis to risk further necessary sacrifices; and it could begin to lessen the violence which has racked the region for far too long.

Despite the plan’s considerable potential, however, there’s a real danger that these hopes may be dashed. The withdrawal planning has been plagued by disorganization, conflicting agendas, ongoing terrorist attacks and resistance movements on both sides.

There are many outstanding issues to be resolved before the plan is fully operational. Israeli security needs must be balanced against the Palestinian need for economic revitalization, political stability and open borders in Gaza. Such a balance is proving very difficult to negotiate. For all of the remaining issues to be resolved satisfactorily, the U. S. needs to be actively engaged in the negotiating process even after the withdrawal itself has been implemented.

Ze’ev Schiff, a leading Israeli military analyst, has suggested that the U.S. is in a unique position to help with three top priorities of the disengagement process: securing the political cooperation and financial assistance of the Arab States; persuading the two sides to keep moving toward final status negotiations; and training the Palestinian Authority’s official security forces so that they will be better able to keep extremist groups in check.

Many Middle East experts, including former Ambassadors Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk, are concerned that the U.S. has not done enough to help move the process along.

Two U.S. officials have already been designated for this purpose: former World Bank president James Wolfensohn, who is handling the economic affairs of the withdrawal, and General William Ward, who has been handling security matters and is set to be transferred after the first stages of the withdrawal.

Both are consummate professionals with years of experience. But neither man has been authorized by the President to intervene in the political controversies of the disengagement. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meanwhile, has admirably demonstrated her commitment—but she has other diplomatic obligations which limit the time and energy she is able to invest in this process.

For these reasons, President Bush should immediately appoint a new, high-level envoy to the region—someone who will personally brief the President and Secretary Rice on all the latest developments. Someone with the gravitas to induce the two sides to make the hard decisions and follow through with them.

If the Gaza pullout succeeds, it is likely to lead to more negotiated agreements in the near future: Israelis will see that the cost of ceding territory is worth the benefit of much greater security; Palestinians will enjoy an unprecedented level of self-determination, bolstering the current government’s attempt to confront extremism. As a strong supporter of Israel, I believe these outcomes are crucial to the future of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

President Bush must do all he can to keep the two sides on the right track. Mr. President, please send a powerful emissary, backed with your full support, to save the Gaza withdrawal. This is an urgent matter that demands your immediate attention. It is in America’s best interest that Israelis and Palestinians learn to live in peace and security. We are presented with a situation that bodes well for a future negotiated two-state solution to the conflict—we cannot afford to let such an opportunity pass us by.

Aliza Becker is Executive Director of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom.

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