We can only hope that when Obama said that "now is the time" to move forward with a two-state solution - he means that he will force a solution by the end of 2009.
"The moment is now." - President Barack Obama at a press conference in Germany over the weekend on efforts to reach a two-state solution.
"I've found a method together with the world's leadership so that there won't be an hourglass here ... I agreed with the Americans that some of the settlements won't be dealt with at all, and some will not be dealt with until the Palestinians become Finns ... The whole package known as the Palestinian state has been off our agenda for an unlimited period of time ... Disengagement provides the required amount of formaldehyde so there will be no peace process with the Palestinians."- Dov Weissglas, prime minister Ariel Sharon's adviser (Haaretz, October 2004)
Unfortunately for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, just before the right wing came back to power in Israel, Weissglas' "Americans" - those of the so-called formaldehyde vision - lost their power. The controversy over "natural increase" in the settlements is nothing but a pathetic attempt to postpone the right-wing government's moment of truth and to paint a picture of Obama as the "nobleman" of the folk tales, who steals a "drop of milk" from Jewish babies.
In president George W. Bush's famous letter to Sharon, in which he mentioned the need to take into consideration large Jewish settlement blocs in the territories, Bush stressed that everything - including the right of return to a future Palestinian state - must be agreed on by both parties. By the way, one wonders what Netanyahu would say if Obama were to find a letter in the White House archive, in which one of his predecessors had promised Mahmoud Abbas that Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount) would be transferred to Palestinian sovereignty.
Let us assume that the previous U.S. administration did agree with a wink to ignore construction in the "settlement blocs." Can Netanyahu find a document and perhaps a map defining the boundaries of these "blocs" according to Bush? Which portions of the "security fence" are acceptable to our friends in Washington - those that add private Palestinian lands to settlements, or "only" those that encompass "government lands"?
Both Netanyahu and Ehud Barak know that from the U.S. perspective, both Gilo and Har Homa are in occupied territory. From this stems the following U.S. viewpoint: If you want to build an apartment for your children who just finished the army, ask the Palestinians nicely, offer them some territory in exchange and the next day, when the "blocs" become part of the State of Israel, you can build to your heart's content.
An American president who compares the Palestinians to black slaves in the United States will not postpone their liberation until they become as white as "Finns." His administration will not accept Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's interpretation of the clause concerning security in the first phase of the road map (which should have been completed in May 2003). According to this interpretation, to begin "sustained, targeted and effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure," Abbas must take the Gaza Strip by force. The Americans say that even Israeli security officials have been pleasantly surprised by the functioning of the Palestinian security forces. Israel could thus be seen as the party that is reneging on its commitments with respect to that clause, which includes the stipulations that it "immediately dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001" and freeze all settlement activity "including natural growth."
"Arik would have prefered for the first phase of the road map to take three years, for the second phase to take five years, and for the third phase to take six years," Weissglas said in that same interview with Haaretz. "Since it was decided that the road map was to be based on implementation and not on sanctified dates, he could accept it," he added.
Indeed, "the test of implementation," which applies only to the Palestinians, makes a mockery of the target date for the two-state solution: the end of May 2005. The formaldehyde becomes incendiary material for the Hamas extremists in Gaza and for the West Bank hilltop thugs, who are convinced that time and God are on their side.
After the expectations that Obama raised in Cairo, the Israeli-Palestinian problem is his problem, too. We can only hope that when the president said that "now is the time" to move forward with a two-state solution - he means that if, by the end of 2009, at the latest, on the eve of elections in the territories, the parties have not come to an arrangement on their own, he will force his solution upon them. Time's awasting.