A Recipe for Successful
By Steven David Masters,
Surprisingly, the violent military takeover
of Gaza by Hamas in early June and the formation of a national
emergency government in the West Bank, led by Prime Minister Salam
Fayyad, has led many in Israel and the US to see a new
"window of opportunity" for peace amidst the upheaval.
Government officials and concerned citizens in both countries
are beginning to focus on a proposal made by President Bush in
16th speech, calling for a peace "conference" or "meeting"
among the stake holders in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,
scheduled for this fall in Washington, DC.
A Growing Chorus of
with past peace initiatives have already begun to question the
thinking behind President Bush's peace plan. Israeli Defense
Barak recently criticized the new initiative as "air,"
"atmosphere" and "souffle." Others have been even less
Ben-Ami a former Israeli foreign minister, wrote
in the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star, that Bush’s
plan is “flawed...the current American initiative sounds
reasonable, but it is essentially unrealistic." Henry Siegman,
who served nearly 20 years as Executive Director of the American
Jewish Congress, titled his recent article in the London Review
of Books "The Great
Middle East Peace Process Scam."
Sadly, Barak, Ben-Ami and Siegman are
essentially right. The Bush Administration’s call for a
peace "conference" this fall, which has since been downgraded to
a "meeting," is built upon several flawed assumptions, ranging
from which parties should and should not be invited to the
limited agenda and goals for the conference. At the same time,
we must also acknowledge the positive aspects of the initiative,
in order to begin a serious campaign to transform it into a plan
with the promise of actually moving the region closer to
With the familiar posturing that
accompanies the prospect of negotiations, too little attention
is being given to learning from the mistakes of the past as the
parties try to forge ahead toward a new future.
The best time to assess the potential
promises or pitfalls behind a peace initiative is before the
parties take their seats at the negotiating table, in order to
discover what steps each side could take in advance to increase
the likelihood for success. By identifying and advocating for
necessary course corrections now, we can have an impact over the
conference’s fate, providing a recipe for successful
First, the Good
In his speech of July
16th, President Bush continued to issue the most powerful
statements ever to emerge from the White House in support of
Palestinian statehood. He also called for an end to Palestinian
corruption, and pledged that the US would help "show the world
what a Palestinian state would look like – and act like.
We can help them prove to the world, the region, and Israel that
a Palestinian state would be a partner – not a danger."
The President further called for international involvement to
create the diplomatic momentum necessary to "move forward on a
successful plan to a Palestinian state."
For the first time, President Bush also
came close to President’s
Clinton’s parameters for peace when he stated that an
agreement must be based on "the borders of the past, the
realities of the present, and with agreed changes," and he
expressed support for the 2002
Arab League Peace Initiative, re-introduced at an Arab
League summit this year, saying "re-launching the Arab League
initiative was a welcome first step. Now Arab nations should
build on this initiative."
But...The Guest List is
wishing to deny these important, positive aspects, the very
ground rules the President presented for the peace
conference/meeting appear to doom his initiative to failure.
Syrian President Bashar
al-Asad, for instance, does not appear to be on the guest
list, despite the fact that he has frequently extended peace
feelers in recent years, and of course, the Bush Administration
has reaffirmed its policy to diplomatically isolate Hamas,
thereby ensuring that Hamas can play no role in the
Thus, two of the most central players in
this conflict are to be excluded from its resolution. As Ben-Ami
wrote, "It is a fantasy to believe that peace can be concluded
without the radicals’ participation. As long as Hamas and
Syria are left out of the US-led peace process, they are
condemned to remaining in Iran’s orbit."
And The Conference Goals Are
Designed for Failure
aim of the meeting – "to review progress toward building
Palestinian institutions, look for ways to support further
reforms, and support the effort going on between the parties"
– is equally problematic. The assumption is that
Palestinian society must first achieve a certain level of state
building before its leaders can sit down with Israeli leaders
and negotiate the final contours of a peace
Unfortunately, there is no basis to believe
that the lack of progress in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking can
be laid at the feet of weak Palestinian institutions. Instead, a
failure on all sides to spell out in sufficient detail the broad
principles for resolving final status issues seems to be the
factor which has doomed every prior peace initiative.
Gershon Baskin, Israeli director of the Israel/Palestine Center for
Research and Information wrote
in the Jerusalem Post that the chief flaw in the Oslo
agreement was both sides' failure to sufficiently clarify their
vision for solving the problems of borders, Palestinian
sovereignty or statehood, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees and
water early in the process. In the absence of such a shared
statement of principles, "each side was free to develop among
their own constituencies disparate understandings of what the
final outcome would be. Rather than coming closer together on
most of the core issues, the gaps in understandings grew
throughout the years."
Ingredient: A Jointly Negotiated Vision for Resolving the
news is that during the second Intifada, attempts were made in a
variety of unofficial settings to achieve such a statement
– from the Geneva
Accord to the Peoples
Voice Initiative, to the One Voice
Movement – involving important segments of
Israeli and Palestinian society, coming together to negotiate a
joint vision for resolving the conflict. Thus, much of the
groundwork has been laid.
Remarkably, one key architect of the Bush
Administration’s foreign policy has embraced this
thinking: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Understanding the
importance of such a framework, Secretary Rice has embarked on
an effort to facilitate the negotiation of a statement of
principles relating to final status issues, one she refers to as
a "shelf agreement."
Before this past week, reports out of
Israel indicated that Prime Minister Olmert had consistently
resisted Secretary Rice’s approach, preferring instead to
restrict his discussions with President Abbas to issues of
Palestinian institution building. Last week, news reports [1, 2,
3] for the
first time confirmed that Prime Minister Olmert and President
Abbas have indeed been hard at work negotiating a statement on
the core issues of the conflict.
If indeed Prime Minister Olmert has moved
past his past rejection of negotiating a shelf agreement, then
there is reason for hope in the upcoming peace
Saudi Arabia, whose participation is
critical to the meeting’s success, has reportedly
conditioned its participation on the ability of Prime Minister
Olmert and President Abbas to work out the details of this shelf
agreement. The stated aims of the conference would also
necessarily shift if such an agreement were worked out. Instead
of assisting in the strengthening of Palestinian civic
institutions and state building, the conference would now focus
on implementing the shelf agreement.
A New and Creative
Roed-Larsen, a senior United Nations official immersed in
the region for decades, has just penned a document entitled "Two
Steps in One Go," setting out a blueprint for achieving Rice
and Ben-Ami's vision. It seeks to bridge the Palestinians'
rejection of past negotiations’ gradualism, and the
Israelis' lack of willingness to go to final status talks with
Palestinian interlocutors they do not trust.
The document calls for the creation of a
Palestinian state with provisional borders, followed by
state-to-state negotiations on final status issues, using
principles agreed upon prior to the establishment of the
Palestinian state. Larsen is hoping that the parties could take
up this idea prior to the US sponsored peace "conference" in
November, creating a greater likelihood for the participation by
states, such as Saudi Arabia, that are hinging their
participation on the condition that the gathering deals with
"the substance of peace."
There is Still Time to Alter
the Recipe for this Peace Initiative
The US must work feverishly over the next few months
with the Israelis and Palestinians to hammer out a statement on
final status issues. If the parties are successful in arriving
at a joint vision, the conference this November could hold much
promise. If they are not, I fear that come November, we will not
see the beginning of a viable peace process, but rather the
foundations for another horrific turn toward violence in the
region. Neither Israelis, Palestinians nor the US can afford the
repercussions of another failed peace
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for
Justice and Peace
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Phone: (312) 341-1205
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