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Ahead of the Curve: Roadmap Revival?

February 15, 2007 Topic: Great Powers Tags: SuperpowerTwo-state SolutionIraq War

Ahead of the Curve: Roadmap Revival?

Mini Teaser: The way forward is to concentrate on solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which, because the many problems of the region are so interlinked, can create, in turn, momentum for dealing with the other regional disputes that feed it.

by Author(s): Nikolas K. GvosdevRay TakeyhJohn C. Hulsman

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Jerusalem on Monday in the wake of the Mecca accord and the formation of a Palestinian unity government. Is progress possible?

Writing in the February 15 Financial Times (full text available here), National Interest editor Nikolas Gvosdev and TNI contributing editor Ray Takeyh argued:

The Mecca accords between Fatah and Hamas did nothing to advance the peace process. Meanwhile, Cairo is not willing or even capable of imposing a solution on the Palestinian government barring significant territorial concessions from Israel. . . .

To extricate itself from its predicament, America must make some difficult decisions, beginning with Iraq. The surge of American troops with their commitment to disarm the Shia militias will not just exacerbate the existing sectarian conflict in that country but further estrange the Shia majority-without any corresponding shift in the attitudes of the Sunni minority toward the US. . . .

As Washington wrestles with the means of stabilising Iraq, it must look beyond retrogressive shibboleths for a new way of approaching Shia actors and states that can no longer be contained or easily submerged under Sunni power. It must accept that the result of political reform-in places such as Iraq, the Gulf emirates and Lebanon-will be the empowerment of governments much less interested in pursuing America's strategic agenda. It may be too much to expect new allies for the US, but neutrality is far better than active opposition.

TNI contributing editor John Huslman, writing in the November/December 2006 issue, contended that now is the time to push for a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement:

Existing U.S. and Israeli strategies are rooted in denying the centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute to the problems that plague the Middle East. This approach has failed. The way forward is to concentrate on solving the ongoing, seemingly never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which, because the many problems of the region are so interlinked, can create, in turn, momentum for dealing with the other regional disputes that feed it.

As is too often the case, the Washington establishment is confusing caution with wisdom, urging the United States to be tentative, just when circumstances demand that it should be bold about the peace process. An August 29, 2006 editorial in the Washington Post is emblematic of this fallacy. While acknowledging that both Hizballah and Hamas are "chastened" following this summer's conflict (as is Israel): The article urges that no big steps be undertaken. The silver lining of the ghastliness of the present situation, on the contrary, is precisely that sensible people, whatever their views of the conflict, are beginning to reassess some of the intellectual shibboleths that have helped produce the diplomatic futility of the past decade. . . .

Therefore, the clear outlines of a comprehensive and final agreement need to be first laid down by Washington, then secretly negotiated between local parties in detail over a period of time so they become stakeholders in the process. Only when all concessions and benefits are worked out simultaneously does any agreement stand a real chance of sticking. This is an entirely different modus operandi from what has been attempted throughout the Bush Administration, and most of the Clinton Administration too. But this appalling record alone should be the impetus for the rest of us to think anew.

We all know the broad parameters of any real and lasting settlement between Israel and the Palestinians: two states with secure borders recognized as final by the whole of the region, as well as by the United States, UN, EU and NATO; security guarantees for both parties; using the 1967 borders as the basis for the territorial settlement, leading to a real, undivided Palestinian state on the West Bank; certain limited land swaps, in particular relating to the three largest Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank; a secure Palestinian transit corridor link between the West Bank and Gaza. Along with these parameters, the Palestinians also get to plant a symbolic flag in East Jerusalem, while Ramallah remains the true capital, and give up their right of return, except for symbolic cases, in return for generous compensation.

These practical, non-millennial goals must obviously form the basis of any settlement. They derive from Yitzhak Rabin's belief in land for peace, of turning the vast majority of the West Bank (and Gaza) over to a Palestinian state in exchange for peace not only with the Palestinians but with all of Israel's neighbors. As with all good deals, it will entirely satisfy no one. However, one can sincerely hope that there is enough there for everyone to entice realists in both camps to make the bold sacrifices necessary for peace. . . .

Taken from "Grasping the Nettle", available to National Interest subscribers here. To subscribe to The National Interest for access to the complete archives, click here.

Ambassador Dennis Ross, writing in the Fall 2005 issue, assessed the status of the Roadmap and the prospects for peace post-disengagement and post-Arafat:

Abu Mazen certainly needs outside help to succeed. However, what Israel, the United States and the international community do cannot be a substitute for what Abu Mazen and the Palestinians must do for themselves. Abu Mazen must become more decisive combating corruption, bringing the young guard of Fatah into leadership positions, supporting primaries in Fatah to foster the overhaul of a revolutionary party that seems at best irrelevant to the needs of Palestinians, and demonstrating that he is producing something tangible for the Palestinian public--something that will also require much more public outreach to explain what he has done and intends to do.

Making disengagement work from the Palestinian perspective is essential. The Israeli decision to leave Gaza presents the Palestinians with an opportunity and a problem. If Palestinians can show that they can govern themselves and fulfill their obligations responsibly, including on security, they will prove to the world and the Israeli public that the Gaza model is sound and should also be applied to the West Bank. If they fall into a pattern of generalized chaos or chaos in certain bounds, without fulfilling their obligations internally or externally, who in the international community--other than apologists for them--will press for responding to Palestinian aspirations in the West Bank? Palestinians must organize themselves well enough to prove they are ready for statehood, and Gaza will offer a demonstration either that Palestinians are ready or that they are not.

For his part, Ariel Sharon made a historic decision to withdraw from Gaza and a small part of the West Bank. He split his Likud Party in the process and also saw his government dissolve. He put together a national unity government with the Labor Party to implement the policy of disengagement from Gaza, but he knows that the government is unlikely to survive long after disengagement. He, too, has an interest in seeing his policy vindicated--namely, that Gaza become a functioning reality for the Palestinian Authority and not what some have dubbed "Hamasistan." Given his domestic challenges, Sharon has focused on carrying out the disengagement and overcoming the calls from the right wing (including right-wing rabbis) for civil disobedience, for soldiers not to carry out their orders and for Likud to unseat him as head of the party. Sharon's problems, not Abu Mazen's needs or making more concessions to the Palestinians, represent his preoccupations. . . .

Presently, the roadmap is a piece of paper that largely exists as slogans. Because the United States negotiated the roadmap with the European Union, the Russians and the United Nations--but not with the two parties who had to carry it out--there is not one obligation in it that is understood in the same way by the Israelis and the Palestinians. Instead, each interprets their obligations minimally and the other's maximally. But each has accepted the roadmap as a politically accepted framework.

It is time to seize on that, and for the United States to announce that it will turn the roadmap into a real plan by negotiating common understandings with the two sides on every obligation, on the sequence and on the meaning of the phases in it. This negotiation will not be easy or done quickly; indeed, it will take the kind of grinding diplomacy that the Bush Administration has avoided in the Middle East. Unfortunately, it is the only kind that can produce real understandings.

Essay Types: Essay