As we approach the international conference in Washington, Israeli-Palestinian talks are gaining momentum. The doubts, hesitations and vacillations are clear and understood, yet it seems that despite past failures and disappointments, Israel must find the opportunity.
It appears that a change has come about in the Palestinian Authority. Terror against Israel from Judea and Samaria has diminished significantly, and after all, security and prevention of terror were set out in the Road Map as one of the conditions to any diplomatic process.
Although terror from Judea and Samaria has decreased, primarily due to Israeli security operations, efforts on the part of the Palestinians are also evident. Although these efforts are far from satisfactory, they are far greater than witnessed before.
I know Palestinian Prime Minister Dr Salam Fayyad well from years of working together. He is an intelligent and honest man who is well aware of the need to re-organize the Palestinian administration. His efforts in rectifying and "cleansing" the Palestinian economy have already been highly praised, and his efforts to improve Palestinian life are impressive. However, the level of support he will receive from Mahmoud Abbas, his superior, and the backing he will receive from the Palestinian public will determine whether he will succeed in implementing his good intentions.
With regards to the Chairman, Mahmoud Abbas; his position, which negates terror and violence as a means of achieving a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, is well known. It was expressed at times and in places where much courage was required to do so. However, his weaknesses are also well known: He is not a charismatic leader and his ability to lead the Palestinian people through controversial issues is doubtful. However, there is no doubt that the incumbent Palestinian leadership is the most convenient for Israel as a negotiating partner.
The partition of the Palestinian Authority and the turning of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank into two hostile states are a positive development in this context. The acts of murder and atrocities perpetrated in Gaza and the radical Islamist regime that has taken over there, have made it clear to the majority of West Bank residents that radical Islam, both religious and political, is their main problem - and not Israel.
The rumors circling the West Bank as to a hit list comprising 250 senior Fatah names prepared by Hamas has contributed to a better understanding of the meaning of terror.
I heard from a well-known journalist, whether in jest or in earnest is unclear, that during the bloody events in Gaza mothers would warn their children, who were cooped up in their homes, that the safest time to go out was when they heard the roaring of Israeli helicopter engines: That's when the gunmen run for their lives…
Another weighty consideration for supporting the acceleration of the process is the American stance. The US administration is striving, and even pushing, for progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track. Israel must be attentive to the will of the current American administration not only because of its great friendship, but also because of its understanding of the existential threats Israel faces, which have increased as of late.
Ultimately, the Israeli-Palestinian question is difficult and painful, but it does not pose an existential threat to Israel. It is Iran and its agents to the north that pose an existential danger. An agreement in the Palestinian arena that would be led by the Americans and backed by the majority of Arab states would present the US with the required political climate, regionally and globally, to impose harsher measures on Iran.
The tendency to belittle the power of the incumbent American administration, which is nearing the end of its term in office, is a mistake; the Bush administration is vastly different to ours, and conjectures based on Israeli politics should not be made as to the developments in the American administration.
A president in his last year in office does not resemble a president in his first year; however, his ability to act is still vast. The incumbent president is a true friend who is well aware of the threats and ways to remove them.
Israel must not miss out on his remaining term in office.
The writer was former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s bureau chief and senior adviser