Zbigniew Brzezinski and William B. Quandt: From Bush, Mideast Words to Act On

Roundup: Talking About History

Zbigniew Brzezinski and William B. Quandt, from the Washington Post (6-17-05):

[Mr. Brzezinski was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, and Mr.. Quandt was a senior member of his staff with responsibility for the Middle East.]

The statement President Bush delivered at the conclusion of his recent meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas deserves serious attention. It has been much discussed by the Israeli press but drew scant commentary in the U.S. media. The president, in his formal presentation, declared that any final-status agreement between Palestinians and Israelis "must be reached between the two parties, and changes to the 1949 armistice lines must be mutually agreed to."

Lest there be any misunderstanding, the president said that "Israel should not undertake any activity that contravenes road map obligations or prejudices final-status negotiations with regard to Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem. . . . A viable two-state solution must ensure contiguity of the West Bank. And a state of scattered territories will not work. There must also be meaningful linkages between the West Bank and Gaza. This is the position of the United States today. It will be the position of the United States at the time of final-status negotiations."...

...Yet the president has a clear incentive to make that effort, and were he to do so he could count on broad bipartisan support from the American public. All of his ambitious and valuable goals in the Middle East would be helped immeasurably by a successful conclusion of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

For the next few months the Israeli-Palestinian agenda is likely to be dominated by the impending Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and by Palestinian elections. But before year-end the moment of truth for the Bush administration will arrive, and the president will have to decide whether to live up to the words he spoke last month by injecting a sense of urgency into the search for a final-status Israeli-Palestinian peace, or whether to settle for another interim agreement, as preferred by Sharon.

We both worked with a president -- Jimmy Carter -- who decided to go all out to achieve Israeli-Egyptian peace. We also know that any major American peace initiative in the Middle East can be politically costly and immensely time-consuming. Yet without a truly serious U.S. initiative, the parties will never reach a fair and lasting peace. In terms of the American national interest, exercising presidential leadership was the right thing to do in 1978-79, and it is the right thing to do in 2005.

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