A few weeks ago, I said goodbye to Palestine. I first arrived there in September 1999, just as the newly elected Israeli government of Ehud Barak and a Palestinian leadership still dominated by Yasser Arafat agreed that, within one year, they would achieve a permanent settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Signing on as a legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team, I hoped to contribute -- and bear witness -- to an extraordinary event: the final stage of the Middle East peace process. Less than four years later, few Palestinians can say the words "peace process" without wincing. Negotiations came to a halt in January 2001; and the other hallmarks of the process -- Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, confidence-building measures, "people-to-people" programs -- are seen by most Palestinians as naive illusions or, worse, as gimmicks intended to distract attention from Israel's continuing occupation of Palestinian land. As a veteran Palestinian cabinet minister told me when I paid him a farewell visit in March, "You've chosen the right time to leave. The Oslo era is over."

But is a new era beginning? Last week, Mahmoud Abbas (commonly known as Abu Mazen) was confirmed as the first prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, and he brings with him a new cabinet composed of outspoken critics of the status quo, as well as some of its traditional defenders. In his inaugural address, Abu Mazen pledged to reform Palestinian governmental institutions, restore order in Palestinian areas, and consolidate authority under "one law, and one democratic and national decision that applies to us all" -- an indirect challenge to the Islamist organizations that compete with the Palestinian Authority for political and military supremacy. The government of Israel is now contemplating a series of measures to facilitate the work of the new Palestinian government. And the United States has responded by presenting the latest Middle East peace plan, the "road map," which it devised last fall in collaboration with the United Nations, the European Union and Russia (known collectively as the Quartet).

The way forward, however, may be blocked by the road already traveled. The Palestinian state of mind is far different from that of the frenzied diplomats in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, many of whom were posted to the region in 2000 with the expectation of helping to implement a peace deal and who have instead watched impotently as Palestinian-Israeli relations unraveled. Now those reenergized diplomats are once again talking about the road map's ultimate destination -- two states, a secure Israel and a viable, democratic Palestine, living side by side in peace. Even though all parties are studiously avoiding associating new efforts with the process that flowed from the Oslo peace accords Israeli and Palestinian leaders signed in 1993, Palestinians will judge the road map, and any subsequent initiative, based on their experience during the past 10 years.

The lessons from those years, too painfully learned to be ignored, bear revisiting. First, no amount of peace education or high-minded rhetoric about reconciliation will compensate for failure to improve the conditions in which Palestinians are living. The issue is not economic aid or job creation; it is freedom of movement. The majority of Palestinians in the West Bank have been barred from leaving their towns and villages for much of the past two years -- and even before the intifada, they faced arbitrary and often humiliating treatment at military checkpoints. Movement restrictions have become the most potent reminder of military occupation, and they have rendered Palestinian government irrelevant to many of its constituents' lives. The last time I visited the acting governor of Jenin, in late March, the town was under curfew, and he had been confined to his home for several days. He met me unshaven, in his pajamas, and could only smile wryly when I asked about the Palestinian Authority's security enforcement capacities.

The physical fragmentation of the Palestinian territories has spawned political fragmentation, making Abu Mazen's task of enforcing "one democratic and national decision that applies to us all" exceptionally difficult. The recent political transformation in Ramallah, the political seat of the Palestinian Authority, has grabbed headlines across the world, but appears remote to Palestinians elsewhere in the country. According to one popular joke, three Palestinian men are held at a military checkpoint. When the soldier asks the first one where he is from, he responds, "Nablus," and the soldier orders him to stand to the side and hold his shirt up. The second one responds, "Jenin," and is also ordered to stand to the side with his shirt up. The third one responds, "Ramallah," to which the soldier says, "Here, hold my gun while I question these two."

As the United States and its fellow Quartet members begin talks with Israel and the Palestinian leadership about the implementation of the road map, they will have to strike a balance between the need to achieve freedom of movement for Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the need for effective security solutions in the places -- and at the times -- of most imminent threat. As it stands now, a terrorist threat or incident often prompts Israeli authorities to seal off an entire town, preventing everyone from children to young men to grandmothers from leaving or entering. No one is oblivious to the disastrous consequences of terrorist attacks, in human or political terms; however, blunt, untailored responses lead Palestinians to question the Israeli security rationale behind movement restrictions and to assume that the intention is collective punishment of Palestinians.

Second, the rule of law must be regarded not only as a human rights objective, but also as a foundation for political legitimacy and effectiveness. During the Oslo peace process, Israel and the United States called on Palestinian security services to take whatever measures were necessary to prevent terrorism; the principle of due process was an afterthought or ignored altogether. Opposition party members were detained without charges for months, and the court system was too weak to administer credible justice. As a result, Palestinian law enforcement decisions became so intertwined with the political temper of the day that they were difficult to disentangle in times of crisis.

After the intifada erupted, the Palestinian Authority then lacked the legitimacy, as well as the legal basis, to keep detainees in custody. Their release only confirmed Israelis' belief that the Palestinian Authority supported terrorism; their imprisonment drew scorn from Palestinians who saw the Palestinian Authority as doing Israel's bidding. On several occasions when the Palestinian Authority attempted to reassert itself by jailing those most clearly involved in acts of violence, it faced demonstrations and popular resistance.

If the Palestinian Authority reassumes security control in areas under its jurisdiction, there will, inevitably, be calls once again for it to take sweeping measures against opposition groups -- especially those most closely associated with violent action. Although the Palestinian Authority can and should be expected to do everything in its power to prevent terrorism, it must assert its power, as responsible governments do, consistent with the power conferred by its laws.

Finally, although personal relationships are important, they are not, alone, a reliable foundation for peace. The Oslo peace process was built in large part on personalities, and it fell with them. Commitments were breached and institutions were sidelined. The momentum of negotiations was often fueled primarily by the strength of the relationships among the negotiators. After more than two years of violence, that reservoir of goodwill has, to a great extent, dried up. Palestinians and Israelis alike will judge whatever new process unfolds solely by the other side's compliance with its obligations. If the road map is to succeed, they should be given the opportunity to do precisely that. A cold assessment of each side's progress by objective third parties will go much further toward building mutual confidence than a loosely articulated vision of the future or a friendly pat on the back.

It is difficult to predict what the next era of Palestinian-Israeli relations will bring. The hopefulness that animated the peace process during the Oslo years has given way to a tired sobriety. But that in itself may be just what the next peace process requires. In one of my last farewell visits, a reformist member of the Palestinian Legislative Council told me that he was certain I would come back to Palestine. I asked whether he thought that Palestinian political reforms would yield a diplomatic breakthrough. He immediately responded, "No." Then, after a pause, he added, "But they were the right thing to do." Omar Dajani is an American lawyer of Palestinian extraction. He was a legal adviser to the Palestinian Liberation Organization during the 1999-2000 peace talks and later a political adviser to U.N. special envoy Terje Roed Larsen.

He's got the road map; let's see where he goes: Mahmoud Abbas leaves Ramallah after being sworn in as the Palestinians' new prime minister last week.Jenin residents watch and wait.