It’s easy to forget, but the United States has a pressing year-end deadline to meet in Israel-Palestine as well as in Iraq. At Annapolis in November 2007, President George W. Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pledged to “make every effort” to hammer out a comprehensive peace accord “before the end of 2008.” For Bush, the joint statement underlined a previous vow, uttered soon after the 2004 election, “to use the next four years to spend the capital of the United States” on creating a Palestinian state. And to accomplish that mission, recall, he had promised to “ride herd” on Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) at the signing of the 2003 “road map” that was to have produced a sovereign Palestinian entity by 2005.
The perpetual expressions of urgency are disingenuous, at best. Leave aside that Bush has ordered no intensive US diplomatic effort on the Israeli-Palestinian front and that he has, from long before Hamas took over parts of the PA, insisted upon the escape clause that “a Palestinian state will never be created by terror.” As the Bush administration opposes reconciliation between Hamas and Abbas, it is clear that the goal of peace is, shall we say, aspirational. And the towering concrete wall rising in the West Bank, the panoptic terminal replacing the main checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the light rail tracks being laid by Israel on the road to Qalandiya—all these rapidly emerging “facts on the ground” bespeak the real task at hand. While Israel and the US defer and defer negotiations with the PA over the core issues of the conflict, whether on the pretext of Palestinian violence or the fairer, but still self-serving premise of PA disunity, Israel fast-tracks the consolidation of the settlement project in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This project must proceed as quickly as possible before a change in circumstances intervenes.