Jul 26th 2013

Enough Talking About Talks

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

Secretary of State John Kerry is to be highly commended for his tireless efforts to persuade the Israelis and Palestinians to resume peace negotiations soon in Washington. Although the prospect of success of these negotiations is very slim, if there is any opportunity for a breakthrough, it will ultimately depend not only on major concessions both sides must make, but also on other critical elements, without which the prospect of success stands at zero.

I am not entirely sanguine that either the Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas or Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu are ready, willing or able to make peace.

Netanyahu is an ideologue who does not really believe in a two-state solution, or at any rate, not one that would be established in most of the West Bank. From his perspective, Israel’s historic and biblical claim to the entire “land of Israel,” which includes the West Bank, is a given, if not divinely ordained, leaving little room for significant territorial compromises.

Conversely, Abbas is politically weak; his public support is limited and he is challenged by Hamas, which inhibits him from taking any step that would add to the prevailing perception of his weakness. At heart he wishes for peace, but his circumstances prevent him from taking the necessary bold steps required to reach an agreement.

Short of a change in Israeli and Palestinian leadership, if there is even small chance of forging peace with the current leaders, the US must take a number of critical steps concurrently with the peace negotiations once they resume.

Only by adopting these measures will it clearly demonstrate how serious Netanyahu and Abbas are about reaching an agreement while helping the US to determine early on the real prospect of achieving that goal.

These steps are critically important to engender public support from the start and help maintain the momentum, as the negotiations will inadvertently face a number of obstacles.

First, there exists profound distrust between the two sides which cannot be mitigated at the negotiating table. Israeli and Palestinian leaders must make every effort to change public perceptions about each other by simultaneously taking constructive measures to cultivate trust parallel to the negotiations on substantive issues.

All pronouncements by public officials must support the peace efforts and no longer portray each other as the eternal enemy. If Netanyahu and Abbas believe in a two-state solution, as they profess they do, they must portray it as the only viable outcome from the inevitability of coexistence.

The Palestinian leadership must openly advocate that the purpose of these negotiations is to bring an end only to the occupation of Palestinian land (the West Bank with some land swaps) which does not include any part of Israel.

The Israeli and Palestinian media can certainly play a pivotal role if they are regularly briefed by both sides about the progress in the negotiations, which can help generate increased public support.

Moreover, Israeli and Palestinian schools should change their attitude toward each other. The Palestinians, in particular, must demonstrably start modifying their textbooks to reflect Israel’s existence.

Changing public perceptions must not be held prisoner to reaching an agreement first, because whether it happens now or later it remains indispensable to reaching a peace agreement.

Actions on these fronts by Israelis and Palestinians must be visible and convincing in order to nurture trust. The Obama administration needs to insist that both sides engage in such public discourse and that failing to do so will only attest to their lack of commitment to reaching an agreement.

Second, Hamas must sooner than later be engaged in the negotiating process, initially through back channels by Western powers to seek some input from Hamas’ leadership.

To be sure, unless Hamas’ leadership feels that they have stakes in the negotiations, they will not hesitate to torpedo the whole negotiating process. Firing even a few rockets at Israel will cause some casualties and deliberately invite Israeli retaliation that could kill scores of Palestinians.

Such a scenario could easily bring the negotiations to an immediate halt because neither side can continue with the negotiations as if nothing happened.

This is not to suggest that Hamas enjoys veto power to reject Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but no keen observer can argue that a peace agreement between them is possible and can endure without Hamas’ involvement.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt in particular are in a strong position to persuade Hamas to adopt the Arab Peace Initiative, which requires Hamas to abandon violence to resolve their conflict with Israel, and become legitimate partners in the negotiating process.

The US should encourage Abbas to reopen negotiations with Hamas’ leaders to agree on general elections and subsequently form a government that represents the majority of the Palestinians.

Given their loss of Syrian support, their weakened position with the new Egyptian government, and the substantially reduced financial aid from Iran along with their diminishing popularity and the painful realization that Israel is here to stay, Hamas may well be inclined to cooperate at this juncture.

Third, enlisting key Arab states, in particular Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, not only to lend public support to the peace talks but also as observers, would provide political cover for Mahmoud Abbas to make significant concessions.

The right of return of the Palestinian refugees, for example, will be nearly impossible to resolve (as Israel resolutely rejects the return of any significant number of refugees) without explicit support of the key Arab states. Their presence will make such a concession appear as coming from the collective Arab body.

Moreover, considering the Iranian threats, most Arab states are eager to put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict behind as long as it meets key provisions of the Arab Peace Initiative.

Fourth, the US must insist on starting the negotiations with the most conflicting issue by focusing on borders first.

An agreement on borders would resolve 70-80 percent of the settlements problems, address Israel’s major security concerns, and give the Palestinians every reason to believe that a Palestinian state is in the offing.

Finally, both Israelis and Palestinians must believe that the US is serious and committed to resolving the conflict. Neither side will take risks by making any major concessions unless they know the US is fully behind them.

The US must also be prepared to advance its own ideas and prepare to use its leverage—economic and political—to narrow the gap between them.

Finally, both Israelis and Palestinians must also believe that President Obama will use the power of his office to exact the needed concessions to reach an agreement by resorting to coercive measures if necessary.

The agreement to release dozens of long-held Palestinian prisoners—a most sensitive issue for the Palestinians—the appointment of Martin Indyk, a skilled and respected diplomat, and insisting on continuing negotiations for at least six months, adds credibility and perceptibly improves the prospect of the US’ efforts to mediate a peace agreement.

The idea of submitting any peace agreement to public referendums in Israel and Palestine is both necessary and desirable, especially if they pass with an impressive majority.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders can garner such a majority only if they demonstrate a resolute commitment to peace and create the environment from day one of the negotiations to that end.




     

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "The facts are clear: the wealthiest 0.54%, about 40 million people, are responsible for 14% of lifestyle-related greenhouse gas emissions, while the bottom 50% of income earners, almost 4 billion people, only emit around 10%. The world’s top 10% income earners are responsible for at least 25% and up to 43% of our environmental impact. Most people living in developed countries would fit into this category, meaning you don’t have to consider yourself rich in order to be globally affluent. Even many poorer people in wealthy countries have a disproportionately large and unsustainable resource footprint compared to the global average."
Jun 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "To be sure, the American Dream was always more aspiration than reality. Economic, social, and intergenerational mobility have always fallen short of what the myth of the self-made man or woman would lead one to expect. But with social mobility now declining as inequality rises, today’s young people are right to be angry."
Jun 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "There is only one way to repair America’s reputation, regain the trust of allies, and ensure that the US can act as an effective counterweight to China: address the root causes of the cracks that Trump’s disastrous presidency has exposed and widened. This is in line with the vision advanced in 2011 by two military strategists, Captain Wayne Porter and Colonel Mark Mykleby, using the pseudonym “Mr. Y.” Porter and Mykleby argued that national security depends not only on the capacity to respond to threats from foreign powers, but also – and perhaps more important – on the “application of credible influence and strength.” That influence, in turn, depends on America’s success in providing a “pathway of promise” for US citizens – and a model for the world."
Jun 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "The most critical question then is not how far Trump will go to promote his treasonous agenda, but for how long Republican leaders will silently accept and subserviently enable Trump to destroy the basic moral tenets and values on which this Union was founded, and which they swore to uphold and protect...............Of course, shame on us if we continue to be surprised by Republicans’ continuing silence, because as we all know, even when presented with overwhelming evidence that Trump committed crimes against the American people, Trump’s Republican stooges in the Senate exonerated him following impeachment almost unanimously...................The Republican leadership, to be sure, has made its bed. It has committed moral suicide. History will judge them harshly for their treason and betrayal of the nation, including all of those who have lived and died throughout our history to foster and protect our safety, integrity, and freedom."
Jun 9th 2020
EXTRACT: " Governments can do nothing about the quotidian offenses of living as a black person in America – the empty taxis that refuse to stop, being mistaken for employees in supermarkets, the myriad intentional and unintentional insults. Many now in the streets won’t be satisfied unless the result of this national spasm is improved schools, health care, and job opportunities for minorities – a fair shake for black people. What will happen when America once again falls short of honoring its professed values?."
Jun 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "It should be apparent to most observers of international relations that the Chinese government wants the world to play by its own set of rules. Beijing appears to believe that China’s rise and its assumption of global leadership positions are an inevitable extension of earlier periods in its history, when it was the world’s most powerful country. This is often at odds with the global norms that have been established – with China’s participation, it is worth adding – since the 1940s. While this is clearly the Chinese century, few outside of China would agree that Beijing’s global leadership is either inevitable or necessarily desired – certainly not on the Chinese government’s terms."
Jun 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "Many Americans are clearly horrified by their president’s crass and incendiary words. But will their disapproval be offset by anxiety about violent social unrest? Will age-old racial prejudices, often unspoken, or even acknowledged, still make them vote for the false security of a coarse white bully?  Much will depend on how hot this summer gets. If people think rationally in November, it is hard to imagine that enough of them would vote to keep this appalling administration in power for another four years. But fear is reason’s worst enemy."
Jun 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "For starters, many Americans have accepted that they live in a winner-takes-all society of deepening inequality. While the wealth and incomes of those at the very top continue to grow, tens of millions of Americans struggle to afford health care, childcare, and other basic goods. This story has been told many times over. But what often goes unremarked is that the responsibility for managing the social costs of this system has been offloaded onto the police."
May 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "Obamagate is the latest conspiracy theory to be pushed by US president, Donald Trump. It started on the morning of May 10, when Trump retweeted the word “OBAMAGATE!” By the next day, the Obamagate hashtag had accrued over two million tweets and another four million by the end of the week. Trump has repeatedly reused the slogan on his Twitter feed since and it has been promoted by right-wing influencers including Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and many others....You are not alone if you’re confused by what Obamagate actually is or why Trump is tweeting about it."
May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "Not all aspects of our near and medium-term future can be foreseen at this juncture of the Covid-19 pandemic, but we now know enough to make some hypotheses about what is likely to change, based on what has already changed. The future is sure to look very different than it did before this decade began, regardless of whether a vaccine is found. If a vaccine is found, it is unlikely to be tested, approved, manufactured, and efficiently distributed to the world’s population of nearly 8 billion people for years. Bearing in mind that there is no vaccine for any coronavirus, what is likelier is that the world will be living with Covid-19 as a part of our ecosystem for many years to come – possibly permanently. That means that our new normal is probably already here."
May 21st 2020
EXTRACT: "LONDON – The new Franco-German proposal for a €500 billion ($547 billion) European recovery fund could turn out to be the most important historic consequence of the coronavirus. It is even conceivable that the deal struck between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron might one day be remembered as the European Union’s “Hamiltonian moment,” comparable to the 1790 agreement between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson on public borrowing, which helped to turn the United States, a confederation with little central government, into a genuine political federation."
May 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "In April 2011, Donald Trump, then considering a run for the presidency the following year, said that he had sent investigators to Hawaii to check out rumors that President Barack Obama wasn’t born there, but in Kenya, which would disqualify him for the presidency. His investigators, Trump declared, “cannot believe what they’re finding.” I can find no record of Trump being challenged on this outlandish claim at the time. In the fall of 2016, Trump, now the Republican presidential nominee, was convinced by his staff that he had to abandon this “birther” nonsense. He did so reluctantly, charging – also with no evidence – that such rumors had actually been initiated by his opponent, Hillary Clinton. There, in a nutshell, is Trump’s modus operandi: he’s not just a liar but a fabulist, seemingly unconcerned with whether his fictions will be exposed. If they are, the world simply moves on as he invents fresh distractions."
May 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "Li, a doctor, was purportedly silenced and chastised by Chinese officials for warning on December 30, 2019, about a new virus in the Wuhan hospital where he worked. When it became evident that he was on to something serious – so serious, in fact, that it ultimately killed him – the Chinese government changed its tune and celebrated Li’s bravery. If only that had happened sooner, the argument goes, the world would have avoided this horrific pandemic.................... But that’s not what happened."
May 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Jana Winter and Hunter Walker at Yahoo News broke the story that 11 Secret Service agents have tested positive for the coronavirus. Likely some of them served in the West Wing. This week it was revealed at that a US military valet who brought Trump food came down with the virus, sending Trump into a “lava level” rage. Two aides to Vice President Mike Pence have tested positive. Some observers are afraid that the virus is circulating in the West Wing itself."
May 6th 2020
EXTRACT: "There has been much debate around the world about the source of the COVID-19 pandemic, ranging from a laboratory to Wuhan’s seafood market to some other form of animal-to-human transmission. While there is no proof (yet) that the virus may have been inadvertently released from one of the two biological research laboratories located at Wuhan, there is evidence that viral release has occurred in the past, and a host of additional data that point to a laboratory connection. "
May 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "A better bet is that nothing will be the same. Wealth will be destroyed on a catastrophic scale, and policymakers will need to find a way to ensure that, at least in some cases, creditors take part of the hit, a process that will play out over years of negotiation and litigation. For bankruptcy lawyers and lobbyists, it will be a bonanza, part of which will come from pressing taxpayers to honor bailout guarantees. Such a scenario would be an unholy mess."
Apr 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "We need the twenty-first century’s two superpowers, America and China, to set the example, by burying their rivalry and uniting all of humankind around a collective response to the current crisis, and to those that await us. As COVID-19 has taught us, the old international system can no longer guarantee humankind’s safety and security. We cannot afford to be taught that lesson twice."
Apr 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "It should come as no surprise that Trump has abused his power in orchestrating the federal response to the pandemic. For example, he made sure that Colorado received 100 much-needed ventilators, and made sure that Colorado voters knew it, in order to help re-elect troubled incumbent Republican senator Cory Gardner.  More alarming, Trump effectively threatened to wage germ warfare against US Postal Service workers by denying them congressionally approved virus-mitigation aid unless the USPS quadrupled rates on packages. Trump’s actual target was Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post."
Apr 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "These ten risks, already looming large before COVID-19 struck, now threaten to fuel a perfect storm that sweeps the entire global economy into a decade of despair. By the 2030s, technology and more competent political leadership may be able to reduce, resolve, or minimize many of these problems, giving rise to a more inclusive, cooperative, and stable international order. But any happy ending assumes that we find a way to survive the coming Greater Depression."
Apr 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the US Federal Reserve will buy unlimited quantities of Treasury bonds, the Bank of England will purchase £200 billion ($250 billion) of gilts, and the European Central Bank up to €750 billion ($815 billion) of eurozone bonds. Almost certainly, central banks will end up providing monetary finance to fund fiscal deficits. The only question is whether they should make that explicit."