How Obama Can Still Advance Mideast Peace
As President Obama’s second term draws to a close, there has been widespread speculation as to whether the United States will support a U.N. resolution on the Israel-Palestinian Authority impasse or make a “parameters” speech or statement laying out his vision of what a final status agreement would look like. In my judgment, the president should do neither.
A UN resolution would be highly problematic for a number of reasons. It would feed the Palestinian illusion that they can gain a state without direct negotiations with Israel, and it would raise expectations on the Palestinian street that would not be fulfilled. While less problematic, a parameters statement would be a fruitless exercise; it will not bring the parties any closer to a resolution than they are today, particularly because Obama will no longer be president and will have no leverage to bring his vision to fruition. Instead, I respectfully suggest that he put forth some immediate actions for each party to take to facilitate a two-state outcome in the future.
Among the actions the Palestinians should take are: end the incitement that has contributed to the violence that has plagued Israel for almost a year, including the continued glorification of the terrorists who have killed Israelis; ensure that the textbooks and curricula in Palestinian schools not teach hatred of Israelis and Jews and not perpetuate the myth that a future agreement will provide for the return of Palestinians to Jaffa or Safed or other places that are or will be a part of Israel; create an economic development plan with the support of the United States, the European Union and the moderate Arab states; and bring back Salam Fayyad, former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, to administer the plan.
Some of the actions that Israel should take were laid out in a report recently issued by Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS). CIS is made up of more than 230 retired IDF generals and their counterparts from Israel’s security services (the Mossad and Shin Bet) and its police. It is non-political. Significantly, the actions suggested do not depend on whether or not there is now a Palestinian partner — virtually everyone acknowledges there is not. The report proposes robust security measures but is not limited to those measures. It is in part premised on the realization that Israel’s security is also dependent on the economic viability of a future Palestinian state. Hence the report also recommends measures to enhance the economic strength of the Palestinian Authority. (The CIS report can be found at securityfirst.co.il.)
I learned of CIS through my involvement in the Israel Policy Forum (IPF), which was founded in the 1990s to advocate for a two-state solution. In the past, the most fervent advocates of the two-state solution did not focus enough on the security challenges that would face Israel once it agreed to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and possibly Gaza. That has changed. IPF, the board of which I have recently joined, places significant emphasis on planning for the security of Israel at whatever time in the future an agreement can be reached with the Palestinians.
Despite some press reports to the contrary, IPF is not advocating a campaign to oppose the policies of the government of Israel. It advocates a two-state outcome with robust security measures — both totally consistent with the policies of the government. It does not advocate the dismantling of settlements. Obviously, if there is to be a two-state outcome, Jews living in what will be a Palestinian state will be faced with a choice — to continue to live in in that state, just as Israeli Arabs live in Israel, or move back to Israel, or to one of the settlement blocs that will become part of Israel. IPF does support, as do I, curtailing expansion of existing settlements outside the settlement blocs, a position Jerusalem has adopted in the past. IPF is cooperating with CIS to help disseminate its report in the United States. IPF has also established a relationship with the Center for New American Security (CNAS), a Washington-based think tank which has issued a detailed report suggesting possible security measures to protect Israel once a two-state outcome is realized. (The CNAS report is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
In June, I participated in a five-day “security mission” during which IPF leaders, along with representatives of CIS and CNAS, visited the places that represent the critical security challenges posed by an eventual two-state outcome, including the Israel-Gaza border, Hebron, east Jerusalem, the Etzion settlement bloc, and the Israel-Jordan border. We were briefed by individuals who deal with these challenges every day, including military experts, Arab and Jewish mayors, author A.B. Yehoshua, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro.
These meetings confirmed my view that despite the fact that it carries risks, the only viable option is the two-state outcome. The status quo is unacceptable, as it breeds stagnation, violence and continued conflict. A one-state solution is unacceptable, as it cannot maintain Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state. President Obama can make a contribution to the realization of a two-state outcome by challenging the parties to take immediate action to pave the way for such a result at some future time.