As U.S. President Barack Obama approaches the beginning of his second term, experts caution that his Administration must radically rethink its strategy to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal or risk seeing its stated goal of a two-state solution slip away.
Such was the conclusion of a Washington symposium organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. A panel of Middle East experts agreed that the recent escalation in Gaza was just a precursor of tectonic shifts Obama will have to confront in the months and years ahead.
Lack of policy
Among the speakers at the symposium was former U.S. ambassador to both Israel and Egypt, Daniel Kurtzer. He argued that over the past thirty years the U.S. has never had a formulated policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“We got off on the cheap with respect to our Arab-Israeli conflict policy; we did not have a policy. We had an approach, we had tactics, we had responses to specific ideas, but we had no policy. We do not know where we are heading and we don’t know what the U.S. believes should be an outcome in the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
Kurtzer urged the Obama Administration to determine first what it believes the outcome should be of a negotiated solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. He suggested it be broken down into multiple elements.
“The first element of the American policy is to have a very firm idea of what we are talking about with regard to the borders of the two states that we would like to have created. It doesn’t mean we have to draw these borders – that would be a subject for negotiations – but we have to have a very keen sense of the direction of the thinking of both sides on this issue, and we ought to make it happen.”
“Security arrangements are going to be complex, many overlaps, quite intrusive in many respects – local, regional and international guarantees, you name it. We are going to have to provide additional, probably large measures of additional U.S. assistance particularly to the state of Israel.”
Viability of a Palestinian state
“There is already a lot that has been done on the Palestinian institutions and economic capacity building; [Yet] it is not enough. There is a lot more for us to do, to make sure that the Palestinian state that is going to be created is not going to be a failed state.”
Change of behavior
“Israel and the Palestinians agreed almost ten years ago on the roadmap to change their behavior, to stop settlement activities, to stop violence, to stop incitement. Now if you extract those behaviors from a larger policy and translate them into what is called confidence-building measures, we saw over the past few years that doesn’t work, because there are no incentives politically for either side to take the hard decisions to change behavior when they see nothing else is happening. In the context of a large policy, these behaviors must change.”
Listen to more of Amb. Kurtzer’s presentation (4:17):
Egyptian-American Mohamed Elshinnawi is a senior reporter at VOA. He covered the Middle East peace process from Camp David in 1978 through the 1993 Oslo Agreements to Syrian-Israeli talks in 2000. He interviewed Arab heads of state, prime ministers, foreign ministers and as well as ranking U.S. officials, including members of Congress. He hosted "Dialogue with the West," a live TV show which, broadcast via satellite from Washington, reached 35 million Arabs. He is fluent in Arabic and English.