International consensus needed

The failure of US efforts to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table has prompted officials in Washington, the region as well as analysts everywhere to think of alternative approaches.

Among these, the idea of an American-designed solution recently surfaced again. The suggestion is that the US will either draw up the principles for a solution that would then be implemented after discussions between the parties on detail, or the US will propose its own detailed solution that the parties might find hard to reject.

The idea is similar to attempts by President Bill Clinton, after the Camp David negotiations in 2000, to suggest certain parameters for a solution in what later became known as the Clinton plan. His failure is among the arguments used by those trying to discourage the current US administration from repeating the approach.

Another deterrent for the Obama administration is the prompt and clear negative Israeli reaction to any such possibility. Israeli suspicions stem mainly from the widely publicized differences between Israel and the US over several aspects relating to the peace process.

The Palestinians have been less explicit in their reaction. Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator, made a vague reference to the possibility in what was understood by analysts as positive.

But while there hasn’t been a clear official position, there have been lively internal debates. Those who support the idea are encouraged by a few factors. The US appears genuinely enthusiastic about finding a solution and has shown this in part by attempting to discourage Israel’s settlement expansion policy. Secondly, the US is unlikely to veer much, in drafting a solution, from the stipulations and requirements of international law. The resolutions of the UN Security Council, including the roadmap, should therefore be among the main guiding principles in any US-proposed solution.

Those opposed, however, are arguing against the idea mainly because Palestinians can neither afford a solution that is not based completely on international law–which explicitly calls for a complete end to the occupation of all territory occupied in 1967 and a rights-based solution to the refugee issue–nor can they afford to reject any American proposal. The latter is especially true in light of the relative weakness of the Palestinian leadership as a result of the domestic Palestinian division, as well as the dependence of the Palestinian Authority on the political and financial support of the international community in which the US administration is a decisive element.

One of the factors that will determine whether a US-drafted solution would stand a good chance of success is to what extent the US bases any such proposal on consultations with other international players who also have interests and influence in the Middle East. These include the members of the Quartet, not least the EU, which has shown for the first time a unified Middle East policy as presented in the statement of the European Council of Ministers in December last year.

The success of a US solution will also depend on the extent to which it reflects international consensus and international legality, because the only arguments against such a proposal by any of the parties would represent a clear deviation from those. The more the US coordinates with its international partners, the higher the likelihood of success.