A week after U.S. elections, President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair jointly declared their renewed commitment to invigorate the stalled Middle East peace process. The sudden illness and death of Yasser Arafat, president of the Palestinian Authority, occasioned the highly visible pledges to work diligently for a resolution of this longstanding conflict—including the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Numerous political leaders and pundits have joined with Bush and Blair, expressing hope that a change in Palestinian leadership will provide an opportunity for much-needed progress in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
The commitment to make Middle East peacemaking a top priority is both wise and necessary. Now, perhaps more than ever, it is vitally important that leaders in the international community—the United States, Britain, Russia, the European Union, and the U.N. Security Council—work with Israelis, Palestinians, and neighboring Arab states to translate hopeful words into more than wishful thinking. What is at stake? What is possible? Where do we go from here?
The urgency is visible in several ways. People caught in the ongoing strife experience daily frustrations and indignities born of physical uncertainty and insecurity, economic hardship, and military occupation. The rise of extremism on both sides is a predictable response to frequently thwarted expectations and dreams of a better future. The status quo is untenable, particularly since it includes massive walls of separation, expanding settlements, and violent extremism that often targets civilians.