Where to now for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking?
May 14, 2014
Update from AIJAC
May 14, 2014
Number 05/14 #04
With the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks indefinitely suspended since the Fatah-Hamas deal in late April, this Update focuses on where the quest for peace might go from here.
First up is Dr. Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who takes as his starting point a much-analysed speech at the Institute a few days ago by American Middle East mediator (and former Australian) Martin Indyk. He closely analyses what Indyk said, noting his concerns about construction in settlements are more complex than most media reports have suggested, and also that Indyk stated that the Palestinians refused to engage from mid-February onward even though the Israeli government offered concessions which placed them in the “zone of possible agreement.” For all the analysis from this outstanding scholar, CLICK HERE. Also discussing Indyk’s remarks and strongly disputing his claims about construction in settlements is former senior US official Elliot Abrams.
Next up, top Israeli journalist and author Ehud Yaari offers his diagnosis of what went wrong and attributes it primarily to one major American shortcoming – a refusal to consider pursuing an interim agreement in the absence of progress toward a final peace. He says the way forward is to seek an interim agreement that would “temporarily bypass the insoluble core issues yet allow for the speedy establishment of a Palestinian state over 70 percent to 90 percent of the West Bank” and for the US to use its financial leverage over the Palestinians to pressure the Palestinian side to accept. For the rest of the peace plan envisioned by this highly knowledgeable journalist, who knows all the key players on both sides, CLICK HERE. Yaari also gave an interesting recent presentation on al-Qaeda and Israel at the Washington Institute.
Finally, Israeli columnist and author Ari Shavit offers his own peace plan based on his own reading of where the Israeli peace camp, which he has long supported, went off the rails. He urges what he calls a “New Peace”, a model of gradual, step-by-step US-coordinated construction of the economic and civil society basis for Palestinian statehood which would encourage the development of a globalised, interdependent and democratised new Palestinian generation. For the details of Shavit’s model of “New Peace” – which shares something with the ideas of both Satloff and Yaari, CLICK HERE. A somewhat similar idea for a new, more gradualist American policy comes from an editorial in the Washington Post.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Jonathan D. Halevi offers detailed analysis of a document released by Israel which seemed to show that the Palestinians had already decided to abandon talks as early as the beginning of March – which is consistent with Indyk’s comments about Palestinian refusal to engage from February forward.
- A detailed analysis of the discussion in Arabic within the Palestinian Authority of the alternatives to negotiating with Israel over coming months, prepared by the Middle East Media Research Institute.
- Additional interesting comment on where Kerry’s Mideast peace efforts went wrong from Shmuel Rosner, former Knesset member Einat Wilf, former Middle East mediator Aaron David Miller and American pundit and publisher Mort Zuckerman.
- Israeli academic Jonathan Spyer explains the peace process failure via “Palestinian magical thinking”, a belief that if they just hold out long enough, somehow they will someday get everything they want without compromise. Meanwhile, columnist Jeffrey Goldberg calls attention to some historical facts that even critics of Israeli policy should acknowledge and take account of – especially the repeated offers by Israel of statehood for the Palestinians.
- Former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert was yesterday sentenced to six years in prison for corruption in his previous role as mayor of Jerusalem. Comments on what this says about Israeli society come from Jonathan Tobin.
- An Amnesty International researcher admits that witnesses, including Palestinians, often lie or are mistaken in their claims about attacks or war crimes, something that often seems unacknowledged, or at least insufficiently accounted for, in Amnesty’s own research.
- Arab writer and commentator Abdullah Hamidaddin writes a piece which reaches out to try and find common ground with Israelis on the occasion of Israel’s 66th Anniversary.
- Human Rights Watch has written a report confirming that there is “strong evidence ” that the Assad regime is using chlorine as a chemical weapon. This agrees with Israeli intelligence claims, which say that Syria has launched at least 30 chemical weapons since last August, each of which has led to fatalities. Yet more evidence comes from Der Spiegel.
- The UK Telegraph says that the evidence suggests that the Syrian regime is getting the chemical weapons it is using from Iran.
- Some good analysis of the implications of the now overwhelming evidence of continued chemical weapons use in Syria for US foreign policy from noted political scientist Prof. Michael Curtis.
- Martin Kramer reports on the bizarre case of an Egyptian cleric who insists the division of the Arab world into small states was masterminded by acdemic historian Prof. Bernard Lewis, and who then adds that this belief about Lewis is not a conspiracy theory but “what we believe according to our religion.”
- On the Boko Haram abduction case in Nigeria, Michael Rubin points out that an aspect that is being ignored is the virulently anti-Christian sentiments which Boko Haram leaders openly say is motivating their behaviour. Plus, Israel sends counter-terror experts to assist the Nigerian government in finding the kidnapped girls.
- Isi Leibler writes about the pitfalls of interfaith dialogue which is not full and frank, but merely a feel-good exercise.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Ahron Shapiro discusses some forgotten realities about the early years of Israeli rule of the West Bank, as revealed by the writings at the time of a leading Israeli peace advocate, Prof. Amnon Rubenstein.
- Glen Falkenstein discusses the worrying spread of extreme forms of Islamic Sharia law in Southeast Asia.
- Or Avi-Guy document what Hamas leaders are saying about the significance of its “unity” deal with Fatah and whether Hamas’ rejectionist, pro-terrorist policy will change as a result.
Decision Time on the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process: U.S. Strategy Hits a Critical Juncture
May 12, 2014
As narratives about the root causes of the impasse in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations take shape, U.S. leaders have a major decision to make about whether to disengage from diplomacy or deepen involvement in less high-profile ways.
Senior U.S. officials — including President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry — face an important decision about the peace process in the coming days. Should Washington invest heavily in active efforts to prevent a further spiral in Israeli-Palestinian relations and rebuild the basis for diplomacy, or should it disengage and wait for the parties to gain the urgency for negotiations that U.S. diplomats believe they lacked in the most recent round of talks?
The contours of that choice emerge from a detailed, impassioned, and painstakingly evenhanded speech delivered by Ambassador Martin Indyk to The Washington Institute’s Weinberg Founders Conference on May 8, 2014, chronicling the nine months of Israeli-Palestinians negotiations he stewarded on behalf of Secretary Kerry. In addition to those formal and “cleared” remarks, Indyk expanded at length on the reasons for the breakdown in the peace process in an unscripted but on-the-record question-and-answer session in which the brunt of criticism fell on the architects of Israeli settlement activity for their determined efforts to undermine prospects for progress. Lost in the heavy focus on settlement activity — including the media stir it caused abroad — was important news Indyk revealed about the recent diplomacy, especially the fact that U.S. negotiators believed they may have had sufficient compromises from Israel to reach a breakthrough agreement, but Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas refused to even respond to American proposals when he came to Washington to meet with President Obama in mid-March.
Key takeaways from the speech and follow-on remarks include the following:
- While Indyk recited a list of objectionable statements and actions by each side, he said it was “determination to use settlement activity as a way of sabotaging the negotiations” that poisoned the atmosphere for further talks. More generally, he bemoaned the negative impact settlement activity could have on Israel’s long-term future. “Rampant settlement activity — especially in the midst of negotiations — doesn’t just undermine Palestinian trust in the purpose of the negotiations; it can undermine Israel’s Jewish future. If this continues, it could mortally wound the idea of Israel as a Jewish state — and that would be a tragedy of historic proportions,” he said.
- Even while castigating the architects of settlement activity for purportedly scuttling the talks, Indyk clearly noted in his prepared remarks that more than half of all settlement units actually constructed during the negotiations were within the slices of West Bank territory that Palestinians had previously proposed to cede to Israel in land swaps. The zone in question is even more restrictive than the area inside the “security barrier” or within Israel’s definition of “settlement blocs.” When asked whether this limited area of construction might suggest that Israeli settlement activity during peace talks was actually quite restrained, Indyk rejected that thesis and said that Palestinians made no distinction between units built and units in early phases of the planning process. “The combination of tenders and planning — they said 8,000 planning units were announced — and coming as each tranche of prisoners were released, had a dramatically damaging impact on the negotiations,” Indyk said.
- These and other problematic acts and statements notwithstanding, Indyk noted that Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu had shown significant “flexibility” in bilateral talks with U.S. officials and, by the time of his early March visit to Washington, was in “the zone of a possible agreement.” Indyk did not offer specifics regarding Netanyahu’s compromises, although press reports have referred to major concessions on territory, including a willingness to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 lines with land swaps. More generally, Indyk directed no critical comments at the prime minister, though he left unaddressed the basic question of why, in his account, Netanyahu did not rein in the settler lobby in his government if he was willing to make politically explosive steps toward an agreement with the Palestinians.
- Indyk said that by the time the U.S. administration re-engaged with Palestinians shortly after Netanyahu’s visit to seek compromises from them and press toward an agreement, Abbas had disengaged from the process: “I can’t say that I fully comprehend all of the factors involved, but during that time [Abbas] shut down…The fact is that when he came to Washington in mid-March and we put ideas on the table, by that point he wasn’t willing to respond.” He added: “[Abbas] is seventy-nine now, he’s weary, he wants to leave office, and he’s more focused on succession now than on making peace.” According to Indyk, the elections envisioned as part of Hamas-Fatah reconciliation are key to Abbas’s plans — he does not want to resign under the current circumstances because a Hamas figure (the head of the now-suspended Palestinian Legislative Council) would replace him.
Given the breadth of Indyk’s prepared remarks, it important to note several key items he did not raise:
- The Obama administration‘s first-term experience with peacemaking and how it may have provided both sides with important context for this round of negotiations. That early effort included the faceoff with Israel on settlement activity (i.e., “not one brick”), Israel’s subsequent agreement to a ten-month settlement freeze, the lack of Palestinian engagement for the first nine-and-a-half months of that freeze, and the impasse that resulted.
- Any mistakes or deficiencies by the U.S. peace team and the wider administration. Of course, it may be too much to have expected Indyk to offer any mea culpas on behalf of his boss, Secretary Kerry. But details of such errors are already beginning to emerge. Earlier in the Weinberg Conference, for example, Israeli peace negotiator Michael Herzog revealed that Kerry had reached inconsistent understandings with each side on how to extend negotiations — including on the fourth tranche of prisoner releases — and thereby contributed to the delay in that process. In addition, it bears noting that Indyk offered no hint about intra-administration differences over the peace process, in which disputes between the State Department and the White House/National Security Council were reportedly a major impediment to a concerted, coherent U.S. approach. More generally, he did not address the cosmic question — in retrospect, were the past nine months a propitious moment for a major U.S.-led push toward a breakthrough accord, and was it wise for the administration to pursue one?
- The role of other Middle East actors and the “Arab Peace Initiative.“ In the past, Arab actors have figured large in U.S. negotiating strategy because of their ability to provide cover for Palestinian compromises or offer diplomatic carrots to Israel. At various points in the peace process, U.S. officials have cited the promise of broad Arab and Muslim recognition of Israel as an inducement for Israeli compromise; more recently, Arab states also played a negative role by affirming, at the Arab League summit in March, Abbas’s refusal to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, which will likely make any compromise on this issue more difficult in the future. However, Indyk’s account referred solely to the three-way relationship between Israelis, Palestinians, and Washington. It is unclear whether this lacuna reflects an implicit confirmation that the regional impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to decline, especially against the backdrop of such transnational crises as the Syrian conflict and Iran’s pursuit of regional influence.
- The hot-button issue of Israel‘s demand for recognition as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Asked about this in the question period, Indyk said it was “legitimate” for Israel to raise the issue, and that “once the Palestinians come to understand what their state will look like and when they will get it, this issue will become much less important, and solvable.” Yet he offered a gloomy prognosis on resolving it soon: “At the moment, the gap on this issue is very wide. Prime Minister Netanyahu says it’s foundational, and [Abbas] says ‘I won’t even discuss it.'”
WAITING FOR KERRY’S DECISION
At the heart of Indyk’s account is a narrative about what really caused the negotiations to stall. In rhetoric and emotion, the main thrust of his speech was that Israeli settlement activity (actual and planned) was first-among-equals as the reason for the current impasse — not the only reason but surely the most significant. At the same time, his account portrays a flexible Israeli leader willing to make substantial compromises for a peace agreement only to be met by a Palestinian leader who, at the critical moment, refused even to respond to American proposals. Reconciling both aspects of this narrative is not easy.
Perhaps the real impact of Indyk’s speech is the implications it may have for senior U.S. officials — especially Secretary Kerry — as they mull the critical decision of how to proceed with peacemaking. Currently, U.S. policy is under “reassessment,” said Indyk, a term that is pregnant with memories from the Kissinger-era “reassessment.” As Indyk noted, however, that past “reassessment” was just a pause between bouts of peacemaking — only a few months after it was concluded, Washington brokered a breakthrough second disengagement agreement between Israel and Egypt.
In the current situation, there is intense speculation as to Secretary Kerry’s next step. On the one hand, he could choose from variations on the “James Baker option”: endorse the focus on settlement activity as the principal, though not sole, reason for the breakdown in diplomacy, announce some version of the U.S. ideas sufficient for Israeli-Palestinian agreement, and invite the parties to call him whenever they have the “urgency” (to use Indyk’s term) to make the compromises needed for breakthrough. This would have the effect, if not the intent, of heaping the lion’s share of blame on Israel and effectively freeing Palestinians from responsibility for their actions (and inaction) in the process. While this type of policy may be alluring to some, it has the seeds of many future policy headaches, such as feeding international condemnation of Israel that the United States would have to work to counteract; feeding Israel’s sense of abandonment at a critical moment in the Iran nuclear negotiations; and feeding a potent mix of defiance and irresponsibility among Palestinians that might end with a much worse political configuration in Ramallah.
Alternatively, Kerry has a range of options to keep the United States — and him personally — engaged in peacemaking, though perhaps in a different format. This includes taking active steps with the parties to ensure the sustainability of their security cooperation; proposing unilateral steps each could take that might reshuffle the political situation in a way that makes formal negotiations more likely to succeed; coordinating with both sides to prevent a spiral of negative unilateral steps that would make a return to diplomacy more difficult (such as further Palestinian initiatives to gain status and rights in the UN system, or actual Israeli settlement construction in outlying areas that most Israelis believe will end up as part of a Palestinian state); and working with Abbas to ensure that Palestinian reconciliation efforts result in political dominance for pro-peace forces and present credible, reform-minded candidates for leadership succession.
This policy direction would require persistent American engagement — i.e., lots of hard work — though not the high-flying diplomacy of recent months. In the coming days, it will become clear whether Washington is disengaging from the Israeli-Palestinian arena until the parties themselves change course, or instead shifting from the high-risk, high-reward efforts of the past nine months to a lower-profile, more incremental, but still deeply engaged role for U.S. diplomacy.
Robert Satloff is executive director of The Washington Institute.
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John Kerry Doomed the Israeli-Palestinian Talks by Refusing to Consider a Transition Agreement
New Republic, May 12, 2014
If the United States and the major donor nations endorsed a transition agreement, the conflict would become a dispute between two states, leaving the Palestinian leadership with little choice but to forge ahead toward a final-status solution.
The option adamantly rejected by Secretary of State John Kerry in his quest to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace is the only route remaining to achieve substantial progress toward a gradual resolution of the conflict: a transition agreement that falls short of a comprehensive deal.
The refusal of the American team even to consider this approach ultimately led to the current deadlock in the negotiations for a Final Status deal. An “End-of-Conflict-End-of-Claims” agreement as envisioned by Kerry and his staff was bound to prove elusive once again.
The Palestinians, contrary to and despite their oft-stated public claims, were never enamored of the idea of making the inevitable compromises over core issues — refugees and Jerusalem — for what they see as no more than a tiny statelet. Mahmoud Abbas, like Yasser Arafat before him, has repeatedly stated his wish to see a Palestinian state within 1967 borders, but he fails to prove, time and again, that this is his actual political platform. There is no craving amongst the majority of the Palestinians for sovereignty behind fences that will separate them from Israel. A leading Palestinian strategic thinker, Dr. Ahmed al-Khalidi, addressing a Georgetown University audience put it this way: “The concept of Palestinian statehood is nothing but a punitive construct devised by the worst enemies of the Palestinian people, the United States and Israel, in order to constrain Palestinian territorial aspirations and moral claims.”
Kerry and his aides made the wrong assumption that for the sake of a statelet, the president of the Palestinian Authority would be willing to make the necessary concessions. During nine months of talks, Abbas did not budge from his well-known positions, while, for the first time, Israel was prepared to accept the formula of 1967 borders with land swaps as a basis for an agreement.
Abbas exploited Prime Minister Netanyahu’s admittedly unwise approval of housing tenders in Jerusalem and the settlements during the sensitive negotiations in order to “shut down” the talks, according to a top American official. The Palestinian leader had already turned down the proposed American “framework for negotiations”; he had refused to meet Kerry on his latest trip to the region; and then moved to resuscitate the unimplemented reconciliation bargain with Hamas.
The Palestinians are pursuing what may be termed “runaway statehood,” to be reached through a unilateral Israeli withdrawal, such as the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip, or by obtaining U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state without reaching an agreement with Israel. Alternatively, they are threatening to abandon the pursuit of statehood if this proves impossible: Abbas and his negotiators keep warning the Americans and the Israelis that they will dismantle the Palestinian Authority and thus collapse into Israel’s unwilling arms.
The road not taken by Kerry, a transition agreement, would have led the U.S. to seek a broad understanding between the parties that would temporarily bypass the insoluble core issues yet allow for the speedy establishment of a Palestinian state over 70 percent to 90 percent of the West Bank. Such a transition agreement would allow Israel and the Palestinians to dramatically change the political landscape while temporarily setting aside the most difficult issues that have prevented an agreement for the past 20 years that have elapsed since the signing of the Oslo Accords.
A transition agreement would entail security arrangements, some revision of the current customs union between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and also dismantling Jewish settlements to the tune of 30,000-50,000 people. The Palestinians would not be asked to make any further concessions in order to get a Palestinian state going.
At present, Abbas objects to any interim agreement or a “Palestinian state with provisional boundaries” envisaged by the 2002 U.S.-backed Roadmap plan, but once the United States and the major donor states that foot the bill of the Palestinian Authority endorse a transition agreement, the Palestinian leadership will have little choice. It is also likely that support can be mobilized for a transition agreement among many Arab and Muslim nations. The agreement will have to be internationally recognized with a supportive resolution by the Security Council. There will have to be guarantees to the Palestinians that, following statehood, negotiations will continue to demarcate final borders and reach an agreed solution to the refugee problem and the status of East Jerusalem and the holy places. The conflict would thus be transformed into a dispute between two states. The Palestinians would get their state without giving up their national objectives, while Israel would obtain an end of the occupation.
Ehud Yaari is a Lafer International Fellow with The Washington Institute and a Middle East commentator for Israel’s Channel Two television.
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Enough with the White House lawn ceremonies. Here’s a real way forward.
by Ari Shavit
The New Republic, April 28, 2014
John Kerry is a hero. Although all odds were against him, he took it upon himself to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was determined to make the impossible possible and to succeed where so many others have failed (among them, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Clinton). In the last 15 months, the secretary of state marshaled his significant stamina, invested his precious time, and risked his political capital to carry out the noble mission of bringing peace to the Promised Land.
Yet peace is not nigh. Despite the personal determination, intellectual commitment, and diplomatic dedication of the extraordinary American peace team, Israelis and Palestinians are as divided as they were a year ago and a decade ago. Both pretend to sing the song of peace that the benevolent American expects them to sing. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas don’t really mean it. Jews and Arabs are deeply suspicious of one another and do not agree on the fundamentals that could make peace a reality. Hence, the formidable work done by Kerry’s team—a creative solution to the settlement issue, Jerusalem, borders, security arrangements, refugees—made no headway. Like some tragic twenty-first-century Sisyphus, Kerry rolled up the rock of Middle East Peace just to see it slip from his hands and roll down the slope into the abyss. Even if a last moment Jonathan Pollard / Palestinian prisoners swap can be agreed upon and several more months of pseudo-negotiations secured—it is now apparent that there is no deal there. Kerry’s peace is a benign American peace that the harsh realities of the Middle East reject.
So should the quest for peace in our time be abandoned? Should the fourth grand failure to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict convince us all that the two-state solution is doomed? Should the lesson of the (failed) Oslo Accords, the (failed) Camp David Summit, the (failed) Annapolis Process, and the (hopeless) Kerry initiative be that violence, occupation, and settlement are allowed to go on and on and on? Some pundits suggest that the United States should turn away from the conflict. Others think that the secretary should lay his peace plan on the table and wait until the parties grow up and endorse it. Both schools of thought promote, unintentionally, dangerous ideas. The Middle East cannot sustain a vacuum in its midst. When one occurs, it is immediately filled with extremism and bloodshed. Left to their own devices—without active American leadership—regional tensions would escalate violently. So what should be done in the wake of Kerry’s failure is quite different.
We must pause now, take a long breath, and think about what went wrong and why. Why were the peaceniks mistaken? Why did the 1993, 2000, 2007–2008, and 2013–2014 peace initiatives—which we full-heartedly supported—not bring about peace?
Because the assumptions of Old Peace were wrong. Because the wishful thinking of peace seekers in the United States, Europe, and Israel blinded us to the depth of the 100-year-long Holy Land conflict. As solution-oriented liberal Westerners, we did not wrestle seriously with the fact that the conflict did not begin in 1967 and that it would not necessarily end with the resolution of the problem that 1967 created. We overlooked the notion that the Palestinians’ formative trauma is that of 1948, and therefore it is highly unlikely that they would give up their demand to return to the cities, villages, and homes lost that year. We dismissed the possibility that the Palestinians are victims of an anachronistic political culture whose negative ethos makes it especially difficult to offer the concessions required to reach a historic reconciliation in this day and age.
At the very same time, the Old Peace seekers did not address the fact that Israel’s chaotic politics make it almost impossible for its leadership to take the bold steps needed to end occupation in a timely manner. We also failed to recognize the traumas Israelis went through in the last 20 years as each attempt to reach peace ended with turmoil, terror, and bloodshed. While we who believed in Old Peace were totally right about the futility of occupation and the scourge of settlement, we were misled to believe that ending occupation quickly is possible and that resolving the settlement issue would smooth the way to a comprehensive peace. Ignoring the traumatic past, we could not present a realistic vision for the future. Failing to distinguish between the occupation issue (which we rightly identified as corrosive) and the peace issue (on which we were somewhat naïve) was the fundamental flaw. This failure sabotaged our efforts over the last two and a half decades to end occupation. It led to a vicious circle whereby every year we all hoped for peace by the coming spring, and every year we ended up with thousands of new settlers by the following winter. This vicious circle might very well repeat itself in 2014. In order to free ourselves, a New Peace mindset is needed.
What is New Peace? It is an attempt to reconcile liberal-democratic values with the merciless Middle East. It is an enterprise designed to reach peace gradually rather than instantly. It is an endeavor that replaces the castle in the sky of formal peace with the tent on the ground of a de facto peace.
New Peace will not alter the ultimate goal of Old Peace: a two-state solution. But it will not be obsessed with mutual recognition and the drafting of end-of-conflict documents. Rather, it will focus on fostering the conditions that will allow the two states to evolve and flourish side by side. New Peace will not forsake the hope that eventually a democratic Middle East will emerge. But it would acknowledge the political culture of the Arab world and the Palestinian people as they are now and it would try to make the most out of it.
How can all this come about? Very simply. First, Israel will freeze all settlement activity beyond the separation barrier. Then Israel will initiate limited pullouts from designated areas in the West Bank. The Palestinians will commit to turning every piece of liberated land into a development zone in which massive building projects (resembling those in the new Palestinian city of Rawabi) will take center stage. The Saudis and the Gulf states will finance those development enterprises. The Egyptians and Jordanians will give the process political backing and military guidance. The United States will oversee it all, and Europe will do what Europe does best: NGO activity and civil-society building. While the Israelis and Palestinians advance the process with unsigned understandings and undeclared cooperation, the Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, and Turks will institute major regional economic projects. Gas pipes, water distillation plants, high-tech companies, free commerce zones, and programs to eliminate illiteracy will weave the fabric of a New Peace reality. Interdependence and mutual economic interests will be New Peace’s substitutes for hollow signed agreements, meaningless legal documents, ongoing ideological debates, and futile diplomatic rituals. The long-term end-of-occupation initiative will be interwoven into a larger scheme of a realpolitik peace. Unlike Old Peace, which had at its core White House lawn signing ceremonies, New Peace will be based on quiet, clever, and realistic White House leadership. American behind-the-scenes thinking, planning, and prompting will lead, coordinate, and monitor the unilateral processes and the regional one while impelling the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the Middle East to move forward and create a relatively stable environment that would eventually—after a decade or two—lead to an overall comprehensive and formal peace.
The advantages of New Peace for the Palestinians are self-evident. Abbas’s failure to recognize Israel as a Jewish state proves that the Palestinian national movement has an inherent difficulty in making significant ideological concessions vis-à-vis the Jewish national movement: Zionism. Israel has recognized the Palestinian people and their right to have a Palestinian state; the Palestinians have not reciprocated by recognizing the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their ancient homeland. To this day, they find the very concepts of Jewish peoplehood and Jewish sovereignty unacceptable. This ideological reticence—which makes Israelis suspicious, anxious, and nervous—is one of the major obstacles preventing Old Peace from materializing. And yet, there are strong and constructive new forces in Palestine wishing to move forward, to pursue freedom, happiness, and prosperity, and to build a democratic state. These forces—personified by the former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Salam Fayyad, and manifested in the building project of the modern city of Rawabi—cannot yet grapple with such charged issues as Jerusalem, refugees, and final-status peace. Fayyadism and Rawabism are not yet strong enough and mature enough to do that. But the new Palestinian moderates can grow and prosper within the protective greenhouse of a New Peace structure that will expand the Palestinian geographic, political, and economic space—year by year, quarter by quarter. If at any given point in time the Palestinians are better off than in the previous point in time, there is hope. A new generation of modernized and globalized West Bankers may find reconciliation with their Israeli neighbors essential—and feasible. Over time, a benign Palestine may be established and a two-state steady-state may come to be.
New Peace would be beneficial for Israel just as it would be for its Palestinian neighbors. Most Israelis realize that the only way is the two-state way. But most Israelis are paralyzed because of the failure of previous peace initiatives and the apparent brutality of their neighborhood. At the very same time, Israel’s bizarre political system and dysfunctional republic do not enable it to deal with the enormity of the settlement project in one quick blow. For strategic, political, and psychological reasons, Israelis need time. They need a gradual, cautious, trial-and-error approach. They need to realize that dovish mistakes can be mended and security risks can be controlled. Reasonable, middle-of-the-road Israelis must be convinced that the essential yet dangerous retreat from the West Bank will be handled with care, caution, and wisdom.
Polls indicate that most Israelis have abandoned the greater-Israel ideology, are willing to divide the land and establish a Palestinian state. Yet since Ariel Sharon’s untimely departure—some eight years ago—they have not been offered a reasonable way to do all of the above. Rather, they were constantly asked by the international community and the Israeli left to put their faith in Abbas, whom they do not trust. These intimidated citizens of the only democracy in the Middle East gave up on Old Peace because they came to the conclusion that it ignores history and reality. But these very same sensible middle-class individuals would endorse New Peace if they were persuaded that it does not ignore history and reality. Once the all-or-nothing approach is replaced by a step-by-step approach, they may very well go for it. The time bought will also enable them to fix their political system and reform their republic in a way that will allow Israel to tackle the massive mission ahead. As long as they are not faced with uncalculated existential risks, Israelis will probably be willing to try to curtail occupation and eventually end occupation—within the sensible and realistic framework of New Peace.
The advantages of New Peace for the moderate Arab nations are just as clear. The most striking outcome of the Arab Spring is the loss of legitimacy of all (non-democratic) Arab regimes. Whether they are reactionary monarchs or secular dictators—all Sunni leaders walk on thin ice these days as their moral authority has been undermined. This inherent weakness makes it nearly impossible for the monarchs and dictators to strike a formal peace agreement with the hated Zionists and to make the painful rhetorical concessions needed if an end-of-conflict accord is to be publicly signed. And yet, most of these Arab leaders are now closer to Israel than they ever were. Fear of Iran, fear of the Muslim Brotherhood, and fear of American decline make them see Israel as the lesser evil and bring about strategic cooperation between Sunnis and Jews. But only some good news from the West Bank—tangible, positive developments—will provide them the political justification for fully embracing such an alliance. That’s why a gradual approach to ending occupation would suit the Sunnis just fine.
America would definitely do better if it promotes New Peace. In the last two decades, the United States made every possible mistake in the Middle East. It tried to impose peace and it tried to impose democracy—and failed at both. It tried war and it tried appeasement—and ran into the wall. So now Americans are sick and tired of the region they tried to reform. They are fed up with its violent ways and oppressive regimes. Imminent energy independence allows some Americans to believe they can actually disengage from the one part of the world they failed to transform. They are wrong. As 9/11 proves, the Middle East tends to chase those running away from it. So the United States needs a new strategy that will enable it to address the Arab world and the Jewish state as they really are. Fantasy time is over. A total disengagement is not possible. The only way forward for America is to promote a grand Sunni-Jewish alliance based on concrete mutual interests and on the co-production of a reasonable, long-term end-of-occupation strategy. If the United States sponsors and coordinates Israeli-Palestinian unilateralism, and puts it in a larger regional context, it will lay the foundation of a New Peace.
Forty odd years ago, the United States did just that. Henry Kissinger brokered an Israeli-Jordanian de facto peace, which held for 24 years, until a formal agreement could finally be signed. The close yet unofficial bond between the Hashemite Kingdom and Israel that spanned from 1970 to 1994 could very well be the model for New Peace. Israel actually saved Jordan in 1970, when Syria was about to invade it, and Jordan tried to save Israel in 1973, when Egypt and Syria were about to attack it. The two nations stood by each other for a quarter of a century, without formal diplomatic relations. If America once again musters Kissinger-like realism, it could bolster Israeli centrists, Arab pragmatists, and Palestinian moderates.
Paradigms are difficult to change. Sacred paradigms are especially difficult to challenge. We are emotionally attached to them as they are familiar and (paradoxically) reassuring. Yet the theory of Old Peace has misled us for a generation while playing into the hands of the enemies of peace. So now, when there is overwhelming evidence that Old Peace is dead, we must shift directions. We must think differently about peace and act differently regarding peace. If we fail to do so, we may soon see a political avalanche in Israel-Palestine. The century-long conflict might spiral out of control just because we were not courageous enough to face up to an inconvenient truth and see reality as it is.
Ari Shavit is the author of My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel.