Four experts with experience in government, diplomacy, and national security affairs examined the regional and internal factors affecting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
On May 15, the Middle East Program hosted a meeting, “Getting to a Two State Solution: A Regional Perspective” with Ghaith al-Omari, Executive Director of the American Task Force on Palestine; Marwan Muasher, Vice President for Studies at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and Gilead Sher, Head of the Institute for National Security Studies’ Center for Negotiations in Tel Aviv and former Israeli Chief Peace Negotiator. Jane Harman, Director, President, and CEO of the Wilson Center, provided opening remarks. Aaron David Miller, Vice President of New Initiatives and Distinguished Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, moderated the event.
Harman presented four positive developments and opportunities for a renewed peace process: Secretary of State John Kerry’s personal involvement in the issue and long relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; President Barack Obama’s recent trip to Israel; the Arab League initiative; and the new regional Arab leadership. In Miller’s introduction, he discussed the “peace process fatigue” in recent years and asked the panel to describe how the regional situation would impact the peace process and what the requirements are for the Israelis, Palestinians, and the world to come to the negotiation table.
Al-Omari argued that regional developments shifted the attention to other issues in the Middle East and relegated the Israeli-Palestinian standoff to the margins of policymakers’ agendas. Yet, new regional alliances with Qatar, Turkey, Egypt, and Hamas on one side, and Jordan, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia on the other, result in a more competitive and fractured environment in which the Palestinians have not positioned themselves. Al-Omari argued that U.S. efforts should focus on changing the Palestinians’ cost-benefit calculus and provide them with political incentives to participate—and remain—in negotiations with the Israelis.
Sher noted that a binding Israeli-Palestinian agreement that would have negotiated guarantees is the only way peace can be reached. He stated that because “from Israel’s perspective, a two state solution is imperative as the current status quo is untenable,” the peace process’s goal should be to establish a permanent status. In the transitional stage, priority should be given to security and unilateral steps by both the Israelis and the Palestinians. At the unilateral level, Israel could declare its intention not to claim sovereignty on territories outside the “security fence,” conduct a national state planning on settlements, and engage in a national dialogue over the future Israeli state’s identity.
Muasher argued that efforts should be made now before it becomes impossible to reach a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He said that while U.S. leadership understands the importance of the issue, he doubted that “it has the will to do what it takes” given the level of effort required. He noted that the United States should ensure the Arab states that this peace process seeks a final agreement and present parameters specific enough to impact the reality on the ground as a basis for negotiations. He warned that any agreement giving sovereignty over East Jerusalem to Israel would be a “non-starter for the Arabs.”
To conclude, Miller noted that while President Obama understands the issue’s centrality, the fear of failure is driving his administration’s actions. This peace process, Miller argued, is on Secretary Kerry’s agenda, and it will not succeed unless concrete political horizons are set to avoid the failure of the Oslo negotiations 20 years ago.
By Valérie Guillamo, Middle East Program
- Vice President for Studies, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former Ambassador of Jordan to the United States
- Head of the Center for Negotiations, the Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv and former Israeli Chief Peace Negotiator
- Vice President for New Initiatives and Distinguished Scholar