In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the administration is in a unique position to dramatically establish real, lasting peace. Anything less than a concerted effort, however, will result in another failure, leading to even greater violence.
The Bush administration hoped to avoid becoming as involved in this conflict as former President Clinton had been. Bush and his team hoped that, somehow, the intifada, which began in September 2000, would end, almost of its own accord.
While the Bush team made numerous attempts to bring about cease-fires and encourage both sides to resume negotiations, their underlying approach was that peace would come when both sides tired of violence.
Most of the cease-fires were short. Each failed attempt to stop the violence only fueled more attacks and reprisals by both sides.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat each responded to the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington by offering to play a major role in the coalition against terrorism. Both Sharon and Arafat emphasized their desire to assist the United States; yet each attacked the other, labeling his adversary a "terrorist."
Sharon called Arafat "Israel's bin Laden" and drew parallels between the attacks on the United States and those that Israel had endured from the Palestinians.
Conversely, Palestinians called their suicide bombers "freedom fighters" and sought to portray Israeli troops as "terrorists."
In addition to the growing violence in the region, other factors have contributed to the urgency and importance of America's renewed role in the Middle East peace process.
The Bush administration feels that daily stories of Israeli activities against Palestinians fuel anti-Israeli and anti-American sentiment. Thus, the administration hopes that reducing Israeli-Palestinian tensions would remove this issue from bin Laden's panoply of appeals to Muslims around the world.
The administration is also motivated by the fact that virtually every Arab leader has called on the United States to help resolve this conflict. In addition, our European allies have also encouraged the United States to play a more constructive role.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, for example, presented a forceful case for greater U.S. involvement when he met with Bush last week.
The real key will be American actions after Powell's remarks. Jordan's ambassador to the United States stated that what America does will "indicate that this is not an isolated speech but that the administration has decided this is the time for very close engagement with the Middle East."
Essentially, America must boldly help both sides achieve their major objectives, which will require that each also make significant concessions, which they have, thus far, been unwilling or unable to make.
The United States must reaffirm its support for the security of Israel and the sanctity of the state behind recognized borders. This includes increased pressure on Arafat to take all steps to end violence against Israelis, including arresting those responsible for past attacks and those planning future violence.
Powell's speech will certainly reinforce President Bush's recent talk at the United Nations calling for a Palestinian state, but this must be followed with concrete proposals delineating the nature and boundaries of this state.
Solutions cannot be imposed upon the participants; neither side would be willing to live up to dictated agreements. Past negotiations, however, provide a basis upon which the administration can build.
In particular, Israelis and Palestinians came very close to working out the framework for an agreement when they met at Taba in January 2000. The United States was not a party to these negotiations, which should now be used as the start for a settlement.
Using the Taba talks as the basis, a Palestinian state can be established comprising all of Gaza and approximately 95 percent of the West Bank. To compensate for the 5 percent of the West Bank that would remain as part of Israel, the Palestinians would receive an equivalent amount of land near Gaza. This provides Palestinians with more room, while hardly impacting Israel.
Palestine would gain control of about half of the current city of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount (al Haram al Sharif), but excluding the Western Wall and Jewish holy sites. Israel and Palestine could have their capitals in their respective sections of Jerusalem.
Under the scenario that could develop if Taba were the starting point for the new negotiations, the new Palestinian state would be recognized by the United Nations and would receive significant economic assistance to jumpstart its economy. Its military would be severely curtailed and would be required to stop all violent acts against Israel.
The Palestinians would have to declare that the conflict with Israel was over and must work to ensure that other Arab states endorsed the agreement.
Palestinians would have to end their anti-Israel propaganda and revise their anti-Israeli school texts.
While Israel would keep only 5 percent of the West Bank, it is significant that this is where 140,000 of the 180,000 Israelis who live in the territories currently reside.
Officially adding this land to Israel would also broaden the width of the country. It would enable Israel to add some of the surrounding Jewish areas in the West Bank to the municipality of Jerusalem, thus enlarging the Jewish city, albeit with different than current borders. Settlers living in the more outlying settlements would be given the option of remaining in the new Palestinian state or moving within Israel's new borders.
Even if they accept this framework, the two sides have many other serious issues to resolve including water rights, international peacekeepers and schedules for implementation.
At present, neither side appears ready for such a comprehensive settlement. Many Palestinians are still not willing to accept any two-state agreement as they yearn for the elimination of Israel.
Even the majority of the less radical Palestinians remain unwilling to give up their dream of gaining all of the West Bank and an unlimited right of return for all Palestinian refugees.
Many Israelis, including Prime Minister Sharon, publicly refuse to accept any agreement that would result in abandoning the majority of settlements in the West Bank and all in Gaza. Many are not willing to accept any new borders for Jerusalem, even if these lead to a larger Israeli-controlled city. Most believe Israel cannot absorb so many Palestinian refugees.
Even if an accord is reached, in the aftermath of so much violence and broken accords, neither side trusts the other. Only the United States can provide appropriate assurances that the next agreement will be fulfilled.
Secretary Powell's speech may provide a temporary reprieve, but if it is not followed by a concerted American effort it will do more harm in the long run. To be effective, American actions must include diplomatic, economic and other pressures.
While the administration should not seek to impose final terms, it must restart the process of negotiations that will lead to a settlement. The world changed as a result of Sept. 11 and the United States must ensure that these changes include a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
(Ralph Nurnberger is counsel to the Washington law firm of Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, LLP and teaches graduate courses on international relations at Georgetown University.)