Jun 6th 2015

It’s Time For A New Strategy

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

Given the impasse between Israel and the Palestinians in the peace negotiations, the formation of a new right-wing Israeli government will make it further difficult for the two sides to come to terms on their own to reach a peace agreement. Leaving them to their own devices is inherently dangerous, which explains why the Obama administration might make one last-ditch effort to resume the peace process following the conclusion of the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. I do not believe, however, that the resumption of bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations with US mediation alone will succeed any more than the two previous efforts.

What is needed is a new strategy and a new venue to create a new political dynamic that will compel the Israelis and Palestinians to deal with one another. Being that the French are planning to submit a new framework for peace to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) –which requires the US’s full support to pass it – the Obama administration can shape the resolution to make it consistent with its overall policy of a two-state solution. At the same time, this will prevent the Palestinian Authority (PA) from submitting their own resolution seeking an end to the Israeli occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state within a specified period of time, which can further complicate the conflict.

Contrary to common wisdom, the turmoil sweeping the Middle East, the convergence of multiple conflicts, and future uncertainties have created new compelling circumstances that support the resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Whereas the regional violent conflicts – particularly in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen – distract attention from the currently less violent Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the relative quiet cannot be taken for granted. As the Palestinians’ frustration continues to grow, so does the risk of a new violent flare-up, which must be avoided. Preventing such an outbreak would allow for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating channels to remain open and for the Arab states to focus on the present danger posed by ISIS and Iran’s regional ambitions.

Why the conditions are ripe for the resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations

More than ever before, the Arab states are eager to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; they see Israel as a natural ally against their common enemy—Iran and ISIS. In fact, Israel and the leading Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, are tacitly exchanging intelligence and coordinating plans to face the growing danger posed by ISIS and Iran.

President Obama may well be more inclined at this particular juncture in his presidency to breathe new life into the peace process. He has little political capital to lose—any success, however partial, will be to his credit, and another failure will be left to his successor to deal with.

The EU is more eager than ever before to play a larger role in settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which they view as another flash point that adds more fuel to the fire engulfing the region.

Europe is already suffering from Islamic radicalization and views the resolution to the conflict as one of the central components to protecting its massive interests in the region and significantly reducing radicalization.

Finally, a solution now would prevent the creation of additional facts on the ground, including the expansion of Israeli settlements, and narrow the opening for ISIS to instigate unrest in the territories, making it ever more difficult for Israel to extricate itself and end the occupation.

Provisions for a framework for peace

Unlike previous peace efforts by the US, the Obama administration together with two major allies, France and Britain, can join hands and introduce a UNSC resolution that will be based on the following provisions:

Limit the peace negotiations to two years to reach an agreement based on a two-state solution, while US and EU representatives act as facilitators to ensure continuity and progress;

Provide a framework for the negotiations, based on prior agreements between the two sides on specific conflicting issues in 2000 at Camp David, and in 2009-2010, and 2013-2014 under the Obama administration, so they do not start from scratch;

Maintain constant pressure on both sides to prevent either from playing for time by establishing a timeline to negotiate certain issues such as borders, to ensure that a full agreement can, in fact, be reached within the period provided;

State clearly that there will be consequences if they fail to reach an agreement, which may include sanctions, providing no automatic political cover for Israel by the US at UN agencies, exerting financial pressure on the Palestinians, blocking any unilateral efforts by the PA to end the Israeli occupation, etc.;

Insist that both sides engage in positive public narratives about the prospect for peace in an effort to change public perceptions and instill hope about the real possibility for reaching a lasting agreement;

Delink the various conflicting issues—for example, once an agreement is reached on the parameters of security along the Jordan Valley, it should no longer be linked to other issues over which there is still no agreement;

Use the Arab Peace Initiative (API) as an overall umbrella for the negotiations, thereby allowing the Arab states to lend significant psychological and practical support to the peace negotiations, while clearly signaling an end to the Israeli-Arab conflict, which a vast majority of Israelis seek.

The Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Egypt, are in a position to exert political and material pressure on Hamas to adopt the API, which will provide common denominators with Israel about the principle idea of a two-state solution.

The US and the EU can use their leverage on Israel to also embrace the API, particularly since the majority of Israelis, including former top security officials, strongly advocate the adoption of the API.

Overcoming obstacles that have impeded progress in the past

For the renewed peace efforts to succeed, it will be necessary to address the psychological dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its impact on every conflicting issue. In this regard, it will be essential that both sides begin a systematic effort to reconcile, in particular, their historic and religious narratives.

Indeed, as long as their historic and religious claims to the same land remain set in stone, little progress can be made. The current young generation of Israelis and Palestinians need to see each other from a different lens and accept the fact that their coexistence is irrevocable, and therefore must choose to either live in constant ruinous hostilities, or in peace and prosperity.

Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians should be allowed to use their internal political factionalism as an excuse for why they cannot make certain concessions. This has been the practice by both sides in the past.

The UNSC resolution must call on both sides to stop their mutual public acrimony and criticism while the negotiations are in progress. This is particularly important because such negative statements lower public expectations instead of fostering hope for reaching a breakthrough.

Moreover, it will be necessary to engage the public by sharing elements of the progress being made, so that the public begins to envision the new horizon of peace and its far-reaching benefits.

In addition, the public would develop a vested interest in the process and lend its support to the negotiations, which of necessity requires both sides to make major concessions to reach an agreement.

Both sides must undertake any and all measures to prevent acts of violence that some extremists on either side might commit to torpedo the whole peace process, and embrace the late Yitzhak Rabin’s mantra: “fight terrorism as if there is no peace process; pursue peace as if there is no terrorism.”

Finally, irrespective of the negotiations, both sides should unilaterally undertake some confidence building measures to promote mutual trust in each other’s ultimate intentions. For example, Israel could release some Palestinian prisoners and stop the expansion of certain settlements, while the Palestinians could introduce a new curriculum in schools that recognizes Israel, and speak publicly about the prospect of living side-by-side Israel in peace, amity, and with good neighborly relations.

After nearly seven decades of conflict, peace between Israel and the Palestinians remains elusive. The longer the conflict persists, the more intractable it will become. Those Israelis and Palestinians who wish to have it all are dangerously misguided and will ultimately condemn any prospect for peaceful coexistence.

The new international effort to resume the peace negotiations must not lose sight of the popular demand of the majority on both sides to live in peace, because on their own, they will not come to terms with one another.

The regional turmoil must not forestall the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; on the contrary, it should serve as the catalyst that could end one of the longest conflicts in modern history.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Dec 13th 2019
EXTRACT: "In previous British elections, to say that trust was the main issue would have meant simply that trust is the trump card – whichever leader or party could secure most trust would win. Now, the emerging question about trust is whether it even matters anymore."
Dec 5th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe must fend for itself for the first time since the end of World War II. Yet after so many years of strategic dependence the US, Europe is unprepared – not just materially but psychologically – for today’s harsh geopolitical realities. Nowhere is this truer than in Germany."
Nov 23rd 2019
Extdact: "The kind of gratitude expressed by Vindman and my grandfather is not something that would naturally occur to a person who can take his or her nationality for granted, or whose nationality is beyond questioning by others. Some who have never felt the sharp end of discrimination might even find it mildly offensive. Why should anyone be grateful for belonging to a particular nation? Pride, perhaps, but gratitude? In fact, patriotism based on gratitude might be the strongest form there is."
Nov 20th 2019
Extract: "Moody’s, one of the big three credit rating agencies, is not upbeat about the prospects for the world’s debt in 2020 – to put it mildly. If we were to try to capture the agency’s view of where we are heading on a palette of colours, we would be pointing at black – pitch black."
Nov 17th 2019
Extract: "Digital money is already a key battleground in finance, with technology firms, payment processing companies, and banks all vying to become the gateway into the burgeoning platform-based economy. The prizes that await the winners could be huge. In China, Alipay and WeChat Pay already control more than 90% of all mobile payments. And in the last three years, the four largest listed payment firms – Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and PayPal – have increased in value by more than the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google)."
Nov 14th 2019
Extract: "Trump, who understands almost nothing about governing, made a major mistake in attacking career public officials from the outset of his presidency. He underestimated – or just couldn’t fathom – the honor of people who could earn more in the private sector but believe in public service. And he made matters worse for himself as well as for the government by creating a shadow group – headed by the strangely out-of-control Rudy Giuliani, once a much-admired mayor of New York City, and now a freelance troublemaker serving as Trump’s personal attorney – to impose the president’s Ukraine policy over that of “the bureaucrats.” "
Nov 4th 2019
Extract: "Trump displays repeated and persistent behaviours consistent with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These behaviours include craving for adulation, lack of empathy, aggression and vindictiveness towards opponents, addiction to lying, and blatant disregard for rules and conventions, among others." The concern is that leaders with these two disorders may be incapable of putting the interests of the country ahead of their own personal interests. Their compulsive lying may make rational action impossible and their impulsiveness may make them incapable of the forethought and planning necessary to lead the country. They lack empathy and are often motivated by rage and revenge, and could make quick decisions that could have profoundly dangerous consequences for democracy.
Oct 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "......let’s see what happens when we have less money for all the things we want to do as a country and as individuals. Promises and predictions regarding Brexit will soon be tested against reality. When they are, I wouldn’t want to be one of Johnson’s Brexiteers."
Oct 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Were Israel to be attacked with the same precision and sophistication as the strike on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East would be plunged into war on a scale beyond anything it has experienced so far. Sadly (but happily for Russian President Vladimir Putin), that is the reality of a world in which the US has abandoned any pretense of global leadership."
Oct 20th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe also stands to lose from Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds. If, in the ongoing chaos, the thousands of ISIS prisoners held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces escape – as some already have – America’s estranged European allies will suffer. Yet Trump is unconcerned. “Well, they are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go,” he remarked casually at a press conference. “They want to go back to their homes." "
Oct 15th 2019
EXTRACT: "Assuming the House ultimately votes to impeach Trump, the fact remains that there are far fewer votes in the Senate than will be needed to convict him and remove him from office. But the willingness of Congress – including the Senate – to continue tolerating his dangerous conduct in office, including threats to US national security, is now truly in question."
Oct 7th 2019
EXTRACT: "The problem didn't start with the election of Donald Trump. Nor did it begin with the Democrats launching an impeachment inquiry against Trump. This is a developing crisis that has been growing like a cancer within our polity for at least the past 25 years. Its main symptoms are a lack of civility in our political discourse, a "take no prisoners" mindset, and a denial of the very legitimacy of "the other side." Trump didn't create this crisis; he was the result of it.   When Newt Gingrich took the helm of Congress in 1995, unlike previous Republican leaders, he embarked on a campaign not only to obstruct the efforts of then President Clinton, but to destroy him. Congress launched a series of investigations accusing Clinton of everything from corruption to obstruction of justice – with hints of even more nefarious plots to assassinate those who might pose a problem to his presidency.  "
Oct 4th 2019
EXTRACT: "As the story spreads, it grows darker. Meanwhile, Trump is trying to learn the identity of the whistleblower (who is protected by law), which could expose that person to great danger. And he is accusing some people – including Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee – of treason. My sense is that Trump fears the tough, focused Schiff. Trump has ominously noted that traitors used to be shot or hanged. And he hasn’t helped himself with members of either party by declaring, in one of his hundreds of febrile tweets, that forcing him from office could lead to a “civil war.” Trump has taken the United States somewhere it’s never been before. His presidency may not survive it."
Sep 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "But regardless of whether the Ukraine scandal remains front-page news, it will haunt the US intelligence community, which has been Trump’s bête noire since the day he took office. Trump has relentlessly attacked US intelligence agencies, cozied up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and divulged secrets to foreign officials, potentially burning high-value sources. This behavior had already raised serious concerns about whether Trump can be trusted to receive sensitive intelligence at all. Now, intelligence leaders must ask themselves how far they are willing to go in toeing the White House line."
Sep 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "As Lobaczewski pointed out, pathological leaders tend to attract other people with psychological disorders. At the same time, empathetic and fair-minded people gradually fall away. They are either ostracised or step aside voluntarily, appalled by the growing pathology around them.......As a result, over time pathocracies become more entrenched and extreme. You can see this process in the Nazi takeover of the German government in the 1930s, when Germany moved from democracy to pathocracy in less than two years.......In the US, there has clearly been a movement towards pathocracy under Trump. As Lobaczewski’s theory predicts, the old guard of more moderate White House officials – the “adults in the room” – has fallen away. The president is now surrounded by individuals who share his authoritarian tendencies and lack of empathy and morality. Fortunately, to some extent, the democratic institutions of the US have managed to provide some push back."
Sep 16th 2019
EXTRACT: "If the Supreme Court does agree with the Divisional Court that the question is political rather than legal, it will take the UK constitution into quite peculiar territory. Prime ministers will be the new kings and queens. They will be free to suspend parliament at will, and for as long as they wish, without any judicial interference. Parliament will meet not out of constitutional necessity but in the service of the government’s interests – namely, to pass its legislation and to maintain appearances, rather than to hold it to account."
Sep 12th 2019
Extract: "The Republican Party has lashed its fate to an increasingly unhinged leader. Though three other presidential hopefuls for 2020 now stand in Trump’s way, none can defeat him. But they can damage his reelection effort, which is why the Republican Party has been scrapping some primaries and caucuses. How well Trump does in November next year may well depend on how his fragile ego withstands the coming months."
Sep 2nd 2019
EXTRACTS: "Most people think of revolutions as sudden earthquakes or volcanic eruptions that come without warning and sweep away an entire political system. But historians, political scientists, and even the odd politician know that the reality is very different: revolutions happen when systems hollow themselves out, or simply rot from within. Revolutionaries can then brush aside established norms of behavior, or even of truth, as trivialities that should not impede the popular will............ Only time will tell whether we are currently witnessing the hollowing out of British democracy. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson may well have crossed some invisible Rubicon by.......... Whatever happens now, British parliamentary democracy may never be the same again. It will certainly never again be the model that so many people around the world once admired."
Aug 29th 2019
EXTRACT: "Events such as prorogations and dissolutions happen when countries face difficult times. Therefore, because of the disastrous effects of Brexit: sterling in freefall; a recession looming on the horizon and Britain’s international standing at its lowest ebb since Suez, it is no surprise that the country is in this position now. The worrying thing is that using the monarchical power of prorogation does not solve problems – it has a history of turning them into frightening and often violent crises. There is a worrying relationship between the use of such powers and a complete breakdown in government."
Aug 28th 2019
EXTRACT: "Reminiscent of Don Quixote, Trump is tilting at windmills. His administration is flailing at antiquated perceptions of the Old China that only compound the problems it claims to be addressing. Financial markets are starting to get a sense that something is awry. So, too, is the Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, the global economy is fraying at the edges. The US has never been an oasis in such treacherous periods. I doubt if this time is any different.