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First Reform Palestinian Authority, Then Negotiate

The urgency of Prime Minister Sharon’s efforts to bring about the reform of the Palestinian Authority and the emergence of a genuine, effective and trustworthy Palestinian partner for peace was driven home during my most recent visit to Israel leading a five-member congressional delegation.

During our discussion, Sharon spoke frankly about the need for sweeping reforms within the P.A. prior to the resumption of substantive bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians. According to Sharon’s position, the Palestinians merit treatment by Israel as a partner for peace only after strides are taken to reform the unwieldy security apparatus, which has been linked directly to numerous attacks on Israeli targets, and concrete steps to correct its financial mismanagement. Reforms, Sharon contended, would not hold unless Yasser Arafat were himself removed from any position of executive authority within the P.A.

Sharon is right. His fundamental concern regarding the P.A.’s proclaimed reforms is not whether or not Arafat occupies the “presidency,” but the extent to which these reforms are genuine. A Palestinian leadership conducive to achieving a negotiated settlement with Israel must be allowed to emerge before the damage done by the last 30 months of violence becomes irreversible.

Sharon’s skepticism over the sincerity and willingness of the P.A.’s intentions to undertake meaningful reforms is well founded. For years the Palestinian leadership procrastinated on the subject of reforms, plunging their para-statal institutions deeper into the abyss of dictatorship. The implementation of meaningful reforms within the P.A. means an end to the corruption and cronyism that permeates the Palestinian leadership, by working to ensure that the Palestinian executive branch is held accountable for its actions, or inactions. This means cracking down on the terrorist infrastructure operating within areas administered by the P.A., and rooting terrorist elements out of P.A. security organs. Only through purging the Palestinian apparatuses of corruption and terrorism can a meaningful peace process develop.

Sharon’s message was clear: No meaningful discussion of Palestinian statehood can take place until Palestinian terrorist attacks cease, Arafat is no longer effectively in power and a new democratic Palestinian government has taken over.

This was the message articulated by President Bush in his visionary address on the Middle East delivered in the Rose Garden on June 24, 2002 — one he underscored on March 14 of this year.

We are at a hopeful moment in the peace process with the recent announcement of the creation of a prime minister’s office within the Palestinian Authority. However, for peace to become a reality, the new Palestinian prime minister must share the vision articulated by Bush and emphasized by Sharon during my recent visit to Israel. He must be empowered to fully exercise the authority of his office and to enable a new generation of Palestinian leaders to emerge from under the authoritarian control of the present regime, where their voices are stifled.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, chairs the Middle East and South Asia subcommittee of the House of Representatives international relations committee.

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