One side effect of the current showdown between Washington and Jerusalem is that it has provided an opportunity for American diplomats and Mideast experts to step back and reassess the situation, and the results have been fascinating. Several key figures long involved in pushing the Oslo/land-for-peace equation are now saying quite bluntly that it doesn’t make sense, at least for now, and that the Obama administration should back off.
Most notably, Aaron David Miller, who served as a Mideast advisor to Republican and Democratic secretaries of state for two decades, writes in the current issue of Foreign Policy that the so-called peace process is a formula for failure.
He called his article “The False Religion of Mideast Peace” and admits to having believed in the Oslo process as an article of faith. But Miller, who worked closely with Dennis Ross and Daniel Kurtzer under Secretary of State James Baker, now says the Mideast has become “nastier and more complex” over the years, that U.S. priorities and interests have changed, and that the “notion that there is a single or simple fix to protecting those interests, let alone that Arab-Israeli peace would, like some magic potion, bullet or elixir, make it all better, is just flat wrong.”
The former policy planner and negotiator asserts that settling the Arab-Israeli conflict now is not only virtually impossible but that it is not the most critical issue in the region and besides, its resolution would not guarantee Mideast stability.
“Going after the Israelis piecemeal on settlements to please the Arabs or to make ourselves feel better won’t work unless we have a way of achieving a breakthrough,” Miller writes. And the U.S. does not, he concludes, so it should focus on helping the Palestinians develop their institutions, and Israel should do the same, rather than the U.S. trying to hit a home run and striking out. Which is, ironically, what Prime Minister Netanyahu has been saying, calling for gradual economic development of the West Bank as basis of a future peace agreement.
Similarly, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former State Department official, made the case in the Wall Street Journal on Monday that while a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement would be of “real value,” its benefits are highly exaggerated and the issue is getting more prominence than it deserves — a distraction for the U.S. rather than a solution to its problems in dealing with Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Arab states.
“Announcing a comprehensive plan now,” he writes of those urging President Obama to do so, “one that is all but certain to fail, risks discrediting good ideas, breeding frustration in the Arab world, and diluting America’s reputation for getting things done.”
These are remarkable conclusions, given that Miller and Haass have been firmly entrenched in the State Department mindset for so many years. And while they agree that it would be foolhardy to ignore the Palestinian issue, they in effect throw cold water on President Obama’s contention that resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict is of the highest priority and the key to stability in the region.
On the diplomatic level, Israel needs to find a way to get out from behind the defensive position it finds itself in as a result of rejecting President Obama’s ill-planned calls for a building freeze in east Jerusalem.
Some have suggested calling the Palestinian Authority’s bluff by going right to the end game, announcing a peace plan and challenging the PA to sign on, or at least resume negotiations, immediately.
David Suissa, a creative advertising professional, wrote a column in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles several weeks ago calling on Netanyahu to “skip the concessions and put a final peace plan on the table.” He says the plan essentially would mirror the proposal President Clinton almost pulled off at Taba: a two-state solution with Israel holding on to the large Jewish communities of the West Bank, the Palestinians giving up their claim to the right of return, and the two sharing Jerusalem.
Suissa says Netanyahu should proclaim that if Mahmoud Abbas signs on, the conflict will be over, finished. But if there is no response or counteroffer in 60 days, the deal is off.
Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition members may balk, but he need only remind them that the Palestinians have said no to every Israeli proposal and have never even offered a counter-proposal or concession of any kind. If nothing else, Netanyahu can show the U.S. and the world that Israel is ready to make a deal and that it is the Palestinians who refuse to budge.
None of which brings peace any closer, perhaps, but just might accomplish the goal of bringing reality closer for the administration, recognizing that it is the Palestinians who are the stumbling block.
The sooner the administration appreciates what it can and cannot do, and why, the more it will focus on playing a lower-key role in bolstering the Palestinian Authority’s economy and institutional infrastructure and Jerusalem’s security and confidence.
It’s time bold peace agreement pronouncements gave way to the slow, arduous process of building from the bottom up. Not as dramatic, true, but maybe this time it will work.
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