Chasing dreams of future peace By Jeremy Bowen
Middle East editor, BBC News
A journey to Ramallah from Jerusalem tells you a lot about the state of peace
and war between Israel and the Palestinians.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton does not get the delays at checkpoints
that most people face.
But if she looked out of the window of her armour-plated SUV she would
have seen some of the ways this place is changing, and why that
undercuts the policy that she is here to promote.
Throughout her visit, speaking to Israelis and
Palestinians, Mrs Clinton has been saying that she wants to create a
Palestinian state alongside Israel - the so-called two-state solution
to the conflict.
She says that making a Palestinian state possible is a commitment she
carries in her heart, not just in her portfolio as secretary of state.
But when others who also believed for years in two
states look out of their car windows at what is happening in the West
Bank and Jerusalem, they cannot help thinking that their dream has
Big chunks of the land that Palestinians want to use
for their state has been taken for Jewish settlements, for the network
of security roads and military bases that protect them and connect them
to Israel, and for the complex of walls and hi-tech fences that make up
the separation barrier.
And as the land goes, so does trust, on both sides.
Palestinians find it easy now to ignore politicians when they talk
about peace, because they have heard it so many times before.
The years of violence have also worn down Israelis.
Many who used to think a Palestinian state would make their lives safer
and more secure now think it would turn into Greater Hamastan - a
bigger version of Gaza and an easier place to use as a base for
launching rockets into the heart of Israel.
More than vigour
Even those who still have some hope that the two-state solution is
possible and desirable believe that the next few years are the last
possible opportunity to make it happen.
“ Mrs Clinton's words have been almost indistinguishable from those of her
predecessor Condoleezza Rice ”
Mrs Clinton hinted at that herself. She said that time was of the
essence, and that the Obama administration was going to work vigorously
to get the two sides to make an agreement.
It will take more than vigour. The Israeli Prime
Minister designate, Benjamin Netanyahu gets his core support from
parties who reject the idea of a Palestinian state.
If they dominate his governing coalition - when and if
it is formed - then a collision with Washington looks inevitable, if
President Obama and Secretary Clinton are as keen as they say on two
For this to work, the Americans are going to have to
persuade the Israelis that their security will be enhanced, not
jeopardised. In the current climate that will be difficult.
The Americans will also have to show Palestinians that they are
prepared to lean on their Israeli friends. Pressure on Palestinians
costs nothing for American politicians. In fact its absence can lose
“ The decisions taken by Mr Bush made the divisions broader and deeper ”
But pressure on Israel is an entirely different matter, and it will be
necessary if Israel is to stop expanding Jewish settlements in the
occupied territories and is to contemplate ever removing some of them.
In her public statements while she has been here Mrs
Clinton's words have been almost indistinguishable from those of her
predecessor Condoleezza Rice. Both women called for peace and for a
state called Palestine alongside Israel, and both said they would work
to make it a reality.
By the time Secretary Rice left office the vision
looked as distant as ever. The difference between them hinges on the
determination of their bosses.
Former President George W Bush always seemed to be paying lip-service to the
What Palestinians and Israelis do not know yet is whether President
Obama will be different. His intentions seem clear, but he has a very
crowded and complicated agenda.
In the Middle East alone, what he does with the
Israelis and the Palestinians will be shaped by what he also wants to
do across the Arab and Muslim countries of the world.
And the fault lines in the small area that makes up
Israel, the West Bank and Gaza have a habit of producing challenges
that demand action.
The decisions taken by Mr Bush made the divisions broader and deeper.
It will be clear soon enough whether President Obama has what it takes to
bridge the gaps, and even close a few of them.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/03/04 18:45:10 GMT
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