President Obama and his team of Middle East specialists have forcibly opened the door to inculcate direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians even as pundits on all sides are busily projecting the failure of this new round of talks. However, there are many steps that can be taken and built together to generate a momentum making peace inevitable:
It is possible to recognize many of the traps in advance, such as the September 26th deadline on the Israeli settlement freeze and use the realities on the ground to affect a compromise that allows each side to get enough to overcome this pre-condition. The history of the Oslo peace process and the second Camp David talks provide a playbook of political and military entanglements to avoid.
A series of new coalitions supporting the peace process must be formed both within Israel/Palestine and across the globe. In the United States an important new coalition would mean connecting the membership of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and J Street. It is necessary for the left and right to actively support the peace process together and for their support to help to engender other organized constituencies to come together and demonstrate their own affinity for peace.
The power of the Quartet is often diluted by the negotiations between its four entities. It is necessary to free each member to make their own bold statements and play a far more direct role in the peace process. One example would be for the European Union to announce its support for the peace process by offering to provide $10 billion toward the establishment of an international refugee compensation fund. The United Nations can choose to improve its relationship with the State of Israel by creating a list of concrete steps to take Israel out of the international dock. Russia can work directly and publicly with the international community to freeze the nuclear program of Iran and effectively remove this overriding issue from the path to peace. The United States needs to recalibrate the peace process to formally include these international partners, (willingly sharing the limelight), and more in a new and broader diplomatic collaboration and publicity campaign for peace.
The Arab League placed its own peace initiative on the table in 2002 and re-endorsed it in 2007 offering the State of Israel a normalization of relations in exchange for a return to the 1967 borders. It is necessary for the Secretary General to emphatically underline the support of the Arab League for the peace talks and to reiterate its offer to the Israeli government in terms that move the initiative forward becoming a new and larger inducement to Israel.
Turkey has been increasingly at odds with the Israeli government since its military intervention in Gaza in December 2008. Turkey was engaged up until that time in working as the facilitator of negotiations with Syria. It is important for the international community to support the rebuilding of the relationship in the aftermath of the Mavi Marmara tragedy and the start of a new round of preliminary talks moderated by Turkey between Syrian and Israel.
A critical wild card in the peace process involves the activity of Hamas which has already demonstrated its intent to disrupt the negotiations by brutally murdering Israelis. It is possible for Egypt and Saudi Arabia and other key regional and international powers including Russia to meet with representatives of Hamas and work to restrain it. These and other steps will collectively relieve pressure from the direct negotiating process and provide the time necessary for meaningful progress to be made.
Another major area of concern involves maintaining security along the Jordan valley. This issue will require the Jordanian government to offer to upgrade its truce with the State of Israel and work with the new Palestinian State and an international military force acceptable to Israel to patrol the territory and enforce security requirements. This will engender an essential international partnership beyond the parameters of the direct negotiations.
I was pleased to see that the Obama administration has provided monies, (USAID), to advocate positively in favor of the peace negotiations and am hopeful that many of the items listed above are in discussion and remain to be implemented. However, as I have previously written, unless both peoples are formally brought into national conversations on the meaning and desirability of resolving the conflict through acceptance of a viable two state peace agreement it is unlikely that they will be able to see beyond the history of the occupation, the violence, the threats, the fear and the lives that have been lost or changed forever through this continuing war of attrition. The United States must see beyond its own hegemony to fully enfranchise the international community in the active promotion of a lasting peace for these two ancient peoples and all of us.