Peace for Israel requires a strong Palestinian Authority

If the building blocks of the Palestinian state-in-waiting are allowed to fall apart, the prospects for peace will collapse, too.

In Cairo, President Obama made an eloquent plea for peace in the Middle East, with a two-state solution at its heart. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded last week with endorsement of a two-state solution in his speech. Mr. Netanyahu presented demanding and problematic prerequisites for the establishing of a Palestinian state, but the fact remains – the scene is yet again set for political negotiations on a final settlement between Palestinians and Israelis.

President Obama has urged Palestinians to focus on what they can build, "The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern." he said in his speech in Cairo.

The US president is right. But how is such development to occur? That is the question the international donor group known as the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) aimed to answer at a recent high-level meeting in Oslo. We assessed Palestine's dire economic situation, called on donors to live up to their pledges, and demanded that Israel lift restrictions that are crippling the Palestinian economy and the Palestinian Authority's process of reform.

We know now, as we knew in 1993 when the Oslo Accords were signed, that a strong, viable Palestinian Authority (PA) is the foundation upon which a future Palestinian state will stand.

Palestinians are a hardworking people, and once there is an independent Palestinian state that can regulate commerce, have access to markets, and enable investment and job creation, they will gladly do without foreign aid. But today, still under occupation, the PA is dependent on outside donors – and the PA is crumbling before our eyes.

With a projected budget deficit approaching $400 million over the next few months, the PA is struggling to pay public salaries and cover utility bills.

And while it may be too soon to speak of donor fatigue, there is tangible donor frustration as the governance institutions we've worked so hard to build up are literally torn down in military operations in Gaza and the West Bank since 2000.

Make no mistake: If the building blocks of the Palestinian state-in-waiting are allowed to fall apart, the prospects for peace will collapse, too.

After all, the international donor community's unwavering support to the Palestinians is political, not only humanitarian. Our goal is a free and sovereign Palestine, living side by side with Israel in peace and security.

The billions of assistance dollars provided over the years since the Oslo Accords were intended to fortify the Palestinian economy and bolster a Palestinian state, not to keep the Palestinian territory's governing institutions on life support, even as conditions for the Palestinian people grow more desperate by the day.

What must be done to save the PA, and who must be held accountable? We need a new approach from every stakeholder in the peace process to rejuvenate commitment to a two-state solution and reverse the downward spiral.

From Israel, we need good faith. That means living up to the road map obligations, including a total freeze on settlement construction – provocative outposts on occupied land – and, just as essential, a readiness to engage in negotiations on a two-state solution.

Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech was a beginning which now needs concrete follow up through action on the ground. The scene is set for new negotiations, but urgent progress on the ground is needed in order to give much needed credibility to new negotiations. The current lack of trust and confidence among Israelis and Palestinians alike is critical due to numerous setbacks and broken promises in the past.

Israel must also abide by its pledge to lift the blockade on Gaza – a regime that bars staple foods like baby formula and tea, and that bans the import of construction materials needed to repair the tens of thousands of homes damaged or destroyed in the aerial bombardment earlier this year.

As long as the current conditions persist, there can be no economic development, let alone security and peace. The only local growth-industries will be tunnel trafficking and extremism.

From the Palestinians, we need unity of purpose and enhancement of security throughout occupied territories. The competing Palestinian factions must bridge the river of mistrust between them. Only a unified Palestinian national movement, ready to respect international norms, can credibly negotiate and implement a final-status agreement with Israel.

From the international community, we need resolve – and we need pressure.

Western and Arab donors alike must urgently honor their past financial commitments. So far this year, international donors have cut their contributions to the PA by as much as half compared with 2008. While we all agree on the imperative of Palestinian reconciliation, we must not hold our assistance pledges hostage in the meantime – for there will be nothing left to reconcile if the PA falls apart.

The AHLC is the only body left that can facilitate the required cooperation among these stakeholders. For despite its name, the AHLC is anything but ad hoc: It is the last standing pillar of the Oslo peacemaking architecture that has enabled dialogue among the Israelis, Palestinians, and their international partners through all the ups and downs of the past 16 years.

Our goal remains unchanged: a Palestinian state, living side by side with Israel, both peoples secure and at peace. But the largest obstacle is unchanged as well: a crippling lack of trust.

And time is running out. If the PA dies, there will be no second chance. Let the clarion call go forth from Oslo: Support the PA now, or risk all prospects for peace.

Jonas Gahr Store is the foreign minister of Norway and the chair of the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee.

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