Reuters is carrying a report suggesting that Secretary Rice is drawing up an 8-month timetable – what is, essentially, on the ground confidence building measures for the Israelis and Palestinians.
According to the report:
The U.S. timeline, the first of its kind presented to both sides, includes specific dates for when Washington envisages Israel letting Palestinian bus and truck convoys travel between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, a demand that has raised some Israeli objections.
Washington, at the same time, has set dates for when Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas would step up deployment of his forces and take specific measures to begin curbing rocket fire by militants, officials who have read the document told Reuters.
While the US engagement is welcome, it is this kind of approach that has consistently failed and that secretary rice seemed to be moving away from in the last month. Once the secretary of State started talking about the need for a political horizon and for discussions on the end destination of the peace process it appeared that the administration had belatedly understood that efforts at improving the daily situation on the ground, absent addressing the core political issues, would be doomed to failure.
This indeed has been Rice’s own experience with the access and movement agreement that she negotiated with the Israelis and Palestinians on November 15, 2005. That agreement was never implemented and in several subsequent visits, the secretary of state found herself renegotiating the micro-details of which elements of the old agreement might actually be implemented. All this goes to show that issues such as closure, checkpoints, security, and settlements are all part of a political context and a political conflict that requires comprehensive resolution and that does not lend itself to being managed and ameliorated by way of piecemeal tinkering.
If reports of the 8-month timeline of Israeli and Palestinian deliverables are part of a confidence-building track that will accompany serious political negotiations, then such an approach is worthwhile; but if they are a substitute for negotiations, then conceptually Secretary Rice has just taken a giant step backwards.