An inside story of how the US magnified Palestinian suffering
The covert push to empower Fatah failed. And isolating Hamas just made things worse. But it's not too late to change course.
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Such dialogue won't be easy, but with concerted US-led effort, it is within reach. A significant portion of the provisions that will constitute a comprehensive agreement, even on the most difficult issues, have already been put together by discreet, experienced Track2 negotiators.Skip to next paragraph
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The difficulty lies in the politics of giving concessions and selling them to the public. Only the US has the influence to move the parties past their weaknesses with a comprehensive regional initiative, thereby defusing those who argue against concessions for any bilateral peace agreement while other enemies remain.
That's why President-elect Obama must reconsider his plan to appoint a traditional Washington-based Middle East envoy, reportedly former envoy Dennis Ross, and instead pursue a course that signals change. He should:
•Declare his determination to pursue from his first day in office, not the final six months, full peace between Israel and all its neighbors. Only by doing so can he win support among Israelis, Palestinians, the Congress, and the international partners we'll need to support this historic effort.
•Name an outstanding peace envoy to be resident full time in the region with authority over our missions in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. He or she must have the presidential backing and stamina to withstand the pressures and pitfalls of a comprehensive peace process over the long haul. In addition, this envoy must have authority over all US interactions with the Palestinians and Israelis and later, with other parties, reporting directly to the president in collaboration with the National Security Adviser and secretary of State. Assisted with staff comprising the US government's foremost experts, this envoy would be the single US voice on this issue.
•Empower the envoy to engage with all parties to the conflict, regardless of current prohibitions, on all issues, overturning long-established policy.
Only by an "all out" effort can we hope to convince all the parties, and a skeptical international community, that the US is determined to achieve peace and prosperity for all the peoples of the region.
• Norman H. Olsen served for 26 years as a member of the US Foreign Service, including four years working in the Gaza Strip and four years as counselor for political affairs at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. He was most recently associate coordinator for counterterrorism at the Department of State. His son, Matthew N. Olsen, is the director of Explore Corps, a nascent NGO that uses outdoor education and youth programming to facilitate peace-building among young adults, with several current projects in the Gaza Strip.