The peace process has once again entered a dead end. Senator George Mitchell has fallen into the trap of negotiating about negotiations. There is little chance that bilateral negotiations at this time will be capable of producing agreements on either the Israeli-Palestinian or Israel-Syria track. The US mediator has been focusing on "process" rather than "substance". The Middle East is not Northern Ireland. Here we all have a pretty good idea of what the end game looks like (on both tracks) and we also have 18 years experience of failed process.
The parameters of agreement are more or less known. The needs, interests, threat perceptions and means to answer them are known on both tracks by experts but have not yet been detailed and no international commitments have been made to provide for them. The possible agreed outcomes of negotiations are light years away if left to the standard classical negotiating process. Yes, the parties must be brought back to the table and there must be a process where they can relate to the substantive issues. But we don’t need to wait for them to produce the substance in a bilateral process.
Resolution of the Arab-Israel conflict is a US and international strategic interest, which means that the old formula stating that "the parties have to want it more than us" is no longer true. The parties no longer have the right to veto peace and to allow the conflict to continue to endanger the security of the region and the whole world. The United States and the Quartet must not be held hostage by domestic politics in the US, Israel or the Palestinian Authority (in Syria, this is less relevant).
There are several possible alternatives to bilateral negotiations. The following is what I propose for the Israeli-Palestinian track:
The Quartet requests from the parties to provide answers to the following questions within three months:
- What are the difficulties and obstacles that you would face in implementing a "two-states for two peoples" solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
- What are the primary concerns that you would face (including but not limited to domestic concerns) in implementing this solution?
- What are the primary threats that you would face as a result of implementing the solution?
- What mechanism/means would you propose to monitor, verify and ensure compliance with obligations undertaken by the other side in accordance with a peace agreement?
The objective of this exercise is for the parties to detail the specific difficulties they would face within the parameters of the well known solutions to the conflict without them having an opportunity to put their maximalist positions on the table. After receiving the answers, the Quartet (led by the US) would spend the following months developing detailed responses to the threats and difficulties spelled out by the parties. A major emphasis within the Quartet plans would have to be on the role of credible third parties and third party multi-national forces (military, police and civilian–led by the US but without necessarily having US soldiers on the ground) and not solely reliance on the parties themselves to deal with those threats unilaterally or even bilaterally, which they have proven over the years incapable of doing.
The Quartet’s responses would entail expansion of its "diplomatic tool box" to comprise a large quantity of "carrots and sticks". The "carrots" are specific ways to deal with as many as possible of the threats and obstacles detailed by the parties. The Quartet must be willing to include its own commitments for meeting the real needs of both parties. All threats must be treated with the utmost sincerity and the answers provided must be based on real commitments. Likewise, the diplomatic toolbox must contain "sticks"–those consequences backed by commitments that the Quartet is willing to use if the parties fail to cooperate.
Once the Quartet has designed the package providing responses and solutions to the obstacles, difficulties and threat perceptions presented by the parties, including the mechanisms they propose to confront issues of monitoring, verification and enforcement of implementation of treaty obligations, the Quartet would place on the table for the parties the draft of a full peace agreement (in the format of a declaration of principles) including all permanent status issues. The DOP would state that the agreement relates to all the relevant territory including Gaza that will be included in the implementation of the treaty once the political situation there enables it.
There are additional non-bilateral possibilities. One is to encourage the "Fayyad plan" for building the institutions of the Palestinian state from the bottom up. Another could be Israeli transfers of parcels of land in area "C" to the Palestinian Authority for development of large infrastructure projects. Israel could also turn over the four settlements in the northern West Bank that were vacated in the 2005 disengagement. The US president could present the "Obama parameters"–a revision of the Clinton parameters adding the regional dimension made possible by the Arab Peace Initiative–and call on the parties to negotiate on the basis of those parameters. Finally, a new UN Security Council resolution could preserve the viability of the two-state solution by including the basic parameters of peace (borders, Jerusalem, refugees, etc.) within the text.
*Published by bitterlemons.org