November 30, 2004

The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process: What Next?

What seems like many moons ago, I had written up a rather long post on the state of the oft-maligned peace process--around the time Bush and Sharon had held a summit circa. April 2004.

In a nutshell, I had written that, despite all the vitriole spewed in the Euro press about Sharon and Bush reaching a "separate peace"--what Bush had really done was spoken publicly about what everyone knew before but didn't say out loud, namely that: a) any final deal would necessarily involve Israel keeping hold of at least some of the settlements in the West Bank and b) there would be no unvarnished right of return (which would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state).

Back then, however, I had nevertheless expressed some displeasure because of the way by which Bush and Sharon had contravened one of the most basic precepts undergirding the roadmap (namely a sequenced process by which confidence building measures would lead to security talks which, in turn, would lead to interim understandings leading to, if all went well, a resolution of the so-called "final status" issues--ie, the toughest nuts to crack like right of return, settlements, Jerusalem etc.).

I was somewhat peeved because Bush had jumped the gun and broached certain final status issues--contra the sequential manner by which the roadmap was meant to proceed. This M.O. also bothered me because, as I wrote back then, it put into doubt America's role as the "honest broker" in the dispute since the Palestinians didn't even take part in the negotiations:

What do Madrid, Oslo, the '94 Agreement on Gaza and Jericho, Oslo II, the Hebron Agreement, the Wye River Memorandum, the Sharm-el-Sheikh Memorandum, Camp David II and Taba all have in common?

They were all multiparty talks with the U.S. (or other third parties) shuttling between the Palestinians and Israelis as something of an honest broker.

Now, flash back to the Bush-Sharon meetings of last week.

Forgive me if I've got this wrong--but I'm under the impression that the Palestinians were not even consulted about the outcome of the Bush-Sharon meetings.

Now one of the reasons that there was no Palestinian participation, of course, was that Yassir Arafat was persona non grata around the White House. He is now, of course, dead. Abu Mazen, among others (keep your eye on Dahlan and, yes, even Barghouti going forward) are more favorably viewed by the White House as compared to Arafat (to say the least).

What does this all mean? Well, very obviously, there is the fact that Arafat's departure from the scene allows for better conditions by which to kick-start the peace process. But what I'd really like to touch on here today is to toss out my two cents on how Condeleeza Rice might intelligently pursue a resucitation of the peace process with some legs. Not surprisingly, perhaps, I think (much like Arik Sharon desires) that we should stick to the roadmap--in the main. But, and likely unlike Sharon, I believe that just like Israel got to 'jump ahead' and reach informal understandings (ones, it should be noted, with the force of a Presidential declaration) back in April of 2004--Palestinians too (providing elections go off well and moderates are empowered) should get to fast-track forward on some final status issues too (more on this below) at critical junctures (ie, when Abu Mazen is losing street cred with nothing to show for his cooperation with the Israelis and Americans).

Keep in mind, in all of this discussion, the basic phases of the Road Map:

1) Phase I: Ending Terror And Violence, Normalizing Palestinian Life, and Building Palestinian Institutions; 2) Phase II: Transition (creation of an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders) and 3) Phase III: Permanent Status Agreement and End of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (resolution of the so-called "final status" issues to include borders, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements; and, to support progress toward a comprehensive Middle East settlement between Israel and Lebanon and Israel and Syria).

The problem with Sharon's approach to the roadmap was that the Israelis would insist on a 'quiet period' in which no terror attacks had occured before moving along further into the roadmap. But, of course, every single extremist in Palestine wanted nothing more than to blow up innocent Israelis whenever a window of opportunity existed to move the roadmap forward. The quest for Middle East peace has always been a race between moderates (Abu Mazen, Rabin), on the one hand, and extremists (Yigal Amir, Jihad Islami, Hamas) on the other. So while I can fully appreciate Sharon's desire for a 'quiet period'--it too often led to a complete stalemate in any forward movement--so as to play into the hands of the extremists. Today, the situation is different in that (contrary to my earlier belief) the "security barrier" has proven quite effective in repelling attacks so that the prospects of a "quiet period" are quite a bit higher. And, of course, Arafat's departure from the scene is, at least where we sit today, a net positive in terms of the security situation too (though this is debatable).

My point in all this? Let's move as swiftly as possible through Phase I of the Roadmap (the most critical component thereto, perhaps, the consolidation of Palestinian security services into a unitary force capable and willing to convincingly hunt down extremists and irrendentists). But, at the same time, and at critical moments when an Abu Mazen will need political oxygen (he is roundly opposed by many as too weak and in the pockets of the Americans--and opposition will get more pitched when the necessary crackdowns on Jihad Islami and Hamas are underway)--and much as Bush did with Sharon in April '04--let's publicly hint that the Palestinians will get a favorable dispensation on some of the final status issues as well. In particular, and least controversial now, a massive compensation fund should be created for Palestinian refugees who will be unable to return to '48 (or parts of '67) Israel and/or the Occupied Territories. These funds should allow those Palestinians dwelling in refugee centers in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan etc. (often now, for multiple generations) the prospects of a better life. In addition, America's spearheading of a major compensation fund would also be an opportunity for the Euros and Americans to work in cooperation on a critical issue--whilst also giving Europe an opportunity to put its money where its mouth is. Not to mention very good P.R. for us in the Arab world.

More on all this soon. In my view, after Iraq, resolution of this conflict is second to none (well, along with Iran and NoKo) as among the very most pressing foreign policy challenges we face today. Put differently, we can't win the war against radical Islam without resolving the Israeli-Arab conflict. That's not to say resolution of that conflict is some panacea. It's far from it--as atrophied economic systems, rampant poverty and unemployment, and authoritarian corruption and controls all act to radicalize Arab youth through the region. But, make no mistake, the conflict in the Holy Land is a (very) big part of the puzzle. And if nothing else, Arab leaders would no longer be able to distract their publics with footage of the latest helicopter gunship attacks gone astray in Gaza. Reckonings and accountability would therefore be more easily pressed upon many of the corrupt satrapies in the Broader Middle East.

Posted by Gregory at November 30, 2004 01:55 AM
Comments

Good overview. But do you think that other Arab governments are going to let peace break out between Palestine and Isreal when they essentially nixed the Barak offer in 2000? Abbas not only has to satisfy his own constituents but get the blessing of groups whose only reason for existing is to fight Isreal. The Palestinians are surrogates in the fight against Zionist/American imperialism. How dare they make peace?

Regards
Chuck

Posted by: Chuck Betz at November 30, 2004 04:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ending terror is the first part pf phase one of the road map.

If the new leadership - fairtly elected leadership - can do that, then anything is possible and a swift move to statehood and peace could occur between the tium,e they end the reign of terror and the 12 months that follow on from that.

NOTHING IS LESS LIKELY.

Posted by: reliapundit at November 30, 2004 04:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You've got it totally backwards. Until the EU and the Arab states stop funding Palestinian nationalism, the Palestinian nationalists have no incentive to sit down at any table. They'll keep bombing away as long as Iran and Syria and Germany keep paying the bills.

De-funding Palestinian nationalism is the first step in any process.

Posted by: Brock at November 30, 2004 04:31 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think that Bush and Co. realize that Arafat's passing has produced a long awaited opportunity for the Palestinians to elect a more moderate and hopefully more legitimate government. I also think that the Isreali populace sees this opportunity as well and will support movement toward peace so long as security isn't overly compromised. However, aside from the concern expressed by Chuck Betz above, there are two other potential barriers. First, the Palestinians have been so thoroughly indoctrinated with the "push the Jews to the sea" mindset that the concept of "moderate" has to be taken with a grain of salt. We see Palestinian students studying at local universities (San Francisco Bay Area) articulating a degree of anti-Jewish hatred that it would seem impossible to undo. However, I have always believed that people ultimately vote along with their pocketbooks and growing prosperity in the soon to be Palestine might well help.

The other problem is the European governments, particularly France, Germany, Belgium and, I suppose, Spain. As soon as Bush takes the lead, they will instinctively resist his leadership in part from their disappointment over his reelection, which they were unable to prevent, but more importantly as a reflexive rejection of American leadership in anything.

I think there is general agreement that settlement of this problem is a key element in the battle against Islamic extremism, but the Europeans do not yet take this battle seriously enough to put national hubris aside and roll up their sleeves to resolve the task at hand. It will take some remarkable diplomacy to get them on board and without them, and the pressure and economic clout that they can bring to bear, I am not sanguine that Bush alone can be successful.


Best wishes. I enjoy your comments.

Michael

Posted by: Michael Pecherer at November 30, 2004 04:43 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I often think that so many of these overviews are clouded by wishful thinking and forget to use basic rational thinking. All prospective candidates have claimed to continue Arafat's legacy, to uphold their claims for the right of return and are courting the support of internationally recognised terrorist groups. Hardly a fresh start. You may wish to argue that this is all lip service to secure the election and at the negotiating table things will be different, however, this basic premise of a stop to all state aided terrorism can't be fast tracked and if the PLO will not change it's charter which calls for the end of Israel, how can there be any forward movement. How much longer are we going to give the Palestinians the benefit of the doubt. They need to prove their credibility before any more negotiations go ahead.

Posted by: David Leader at November 30, 2004 01:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

How can I take anything you say, think or opine seriously if you didn't think the security wall would be effective? If you are *that* short-sighted then it casts a pall on anything else you may gaze upon. I'll read your stuff but the grains of salt tossed into your ensuing words of wisdom will be many.

Posted by: NahnCee at November 30, 2004 05:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The basic conflict is that the Palestinians say 'Israel must be eliminated and the Jews killed' and the Israelis say 'Never again'. Before there can be peace either the Palestinians must accept the existence of Israel or the Israelis must say 'OK, just one more time'. Right now the latter is more probable than the former.
The USA can never be an 'Honest Broker'. The Palestinians are our enemies, as was proved on 9/11. The whole idea of a USA sponsored 'road map' that will lead to peace is a delusion.

Posted by: zt miles at November 30, 2004 07:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yoy. I hate the comment sections on these posts.

That said, very reasonable and praiseworthy post itself.

One thing I'm not clear on is how, exactly, the Palestinians can rebuild their economy without some give on the roadblock and checkpoint situation; there are also numerous monopolies and price-gouging mafias that involve collaboration between Israelis, the "Tunisians," and guys like Dahlan (who I suppose is Our Man in Gaza, for what it's worth). IIRC Palestinians can only purchase oil from Israelis, and there are many other products that work the same way. I would hope that there's some way that Jordan could get access to the West Bank market and vice-versa, as my understanding is that trade between the two is at a virtual standstill with all of the security restrictions and the various vested interests.

Posted by: praktike at November 30, 2004 10:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Vioxx Causes Heart Attacks

Posted by: Vioxx at December 3, 2004 08:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Posted by: computer disk retrieval at December 7, 2004 05:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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