Structuring a Peace Process
I am a big fan of Laura Rozen’s work over at The Cable blog on foreignpolicy.com. She posted a piece late Monday, “Getting to Yes on Middle East Peace Talks,” which offers a brief but fascinating peek into the art and science of mediating protracted conflicts — a topic I have written about here and here. I was particularly struck by the comments by both insiders and outside observers on how the substantive questions interplay with the issues of structuring and sequencing the overall process and identifying the appropriate parties (and, of course, the location of the yet-to-be-announced peace conference):
Aaron David Miller, a veteran Middle East peace negotiator for six secretaries of state, said Sunday that the Obama administration is planning to produce, “in late September or October,” either a conference or an announcement of a plan for a peace process — Madrid Plus, as he called it — involving at least three components:
- A relaunch of Israel-Syrian and Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, as well as a track for resuming formal multilateral relations between Israel and other Arab states
- An agreement with the Netanyahu government on a settlement freeze that goes further than any other Israeli government has ever gone, and one that would “grandfather in a large number of discreet units and quiet understandings on Jerusalem”
- The resumption by Arab states — with or without the Saudis, but including the Bahrainis, other Gulf states, Tunisians, and Moroccans — of liaison offices or interest sections with Israel.
“And they are going to wrap the whole thing in an event — a conference or an announcement,” Miller, now with the Woodrow Wilson Center, said. It’s not clear if or where such an international conference or talks launch would take place. Western diplomats have told The Cable that both Russia and France are keen to host such a conference.
Some officials and Middle East hands have suggested that an announcement of the administration’s plan for how to proceed in the Middle East could come around the time of the U.N. General Assembly opening session in New York later next month, along with several Middle East and Iran related announcements.
Miller is effusive about the scope and significance of the prospective settlement freeze agreement the Obama and Netanyahu governments may be poised to strike, which he described as unprecedented.
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But Miller remains pessimistic about the outcome of prospective negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. “Can they reach a conflict-ending agreement right now? That’s a bridge too far,” Miller said, citing the gaps between Israeli and Palestinian positions on the issues of borders, Jerusalem, security, and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to ancestral homes in Israel. He also said negotiations will be hampered by the lack of a really representative Palestinian government.
“That is the point,” agreed Cohen, the director of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development and author of a new book, Beyond America’s Grasp: A Century of Failed Diplomacy in the Middle East. The United States is “acting as if there is a strong state” among the Arab states, he said. “But there is no leader who can make a decision who can carry the day. [Similarly], there is no strong leader in Palestine who can make a decision.”
“Essentially there is an impasse that can only be broken if the U.S. proceeds to publish a ‘peace plan’ or coerce the two sides into some dialogue,” a former senior Israeli official told The Cable. “So now the U.S. has to craft a policy that is comprehensive in scope (i.e., incorporates the Arab League Plan and the Syrian track) but one that is balanced between Israel and the Palestinians. The big carrot [on the Obama side]: ‘Let’s deal together with Iran.’ The big stick: ‘If you’re not on board, we’re out to lunch for 1-2 years. Otherwise, [there are] more pressing things to do.’”
In the meantime, no big news out of the Mitchell/Netanyahu meeting in London today, apart from announcing the need for “meaningful talks” and that officials will meet with Mitchell in Washington next week. So the ball is moving, but it’s unclear whether Mitchell is gaining yardage. It is, I think, a very good thing from the U.S. perspective that other news stories are crowding out Mitchell’s diplomacy. It gives all the parties some breathing room and keeps the day-to-day pre-negotiations about the later talks off the president’s public agenda.