(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)
The Obama administration’s attempt to resolve the Israeli- Palestinian conflict once again has failed. This should have surprised no one. The administration should take a break after the recent kidnappings, but don’t count on it.
Israel remains the only nation in the Middle East susceptible to American pressure.
The administration’s belief that Israel is the intransigent party, and that a breakthrough in this conflict will open up possibilities for engagement throughout the Middle East, will motivate it to try again soon. Failures created by America’s dysfunctional foreign policy in the region (where American influence is almost non-existent) will motivate the administration to return sooner than later to the Israelis and Palestinians.
So what went wrong this time? There is a litany of reasons why these particular negotiations failed. But among them is the fact that these negotiations followed the well-worn pattern of ignoring the fundamental reasons for the conflict. Some make excuses such as “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a weak leader,” but this is a symptom of the disease, not a cause.
The important question to ask is: “Will this president and those that follow learn the lessons of the past, or will they repeat the same mistakes?” Entering negotiations that are doomed to failure gives the Palestinian people false hope, while the Israelis endure the inevitable subsequent terrorism. America, for its part, suffers another black eye in the international community, which undermines American foreign policy interests and influence throughout the world.
With this in mind and acknowledging that American pressure on Israel will return sooner rather than later, here is a checklist for the next American president to consider with regard to initiating another round of negotiations: • Understand the Arab and Muslim World. The Arab and much of the Muslim world think and negotiate in profoundly different ways than the West.
This is not meant to be condescending, but is merely a statement of fact.
Whether it is ignorance of the Iranian concept of taddiyah, whereby deceiving your enemy in negotiations is religiously sanctioned, or the assumption that Arabs will follow economic interests over tribal allegiances, lack of understanding of the Arab and Muslim world will lead to failure.
- Brush up on history. Remember that most of the Arab World was artificially created less than 100 years ago.
Treating the borders of Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Saudi Arabia as sacrosanct will not only thwart a resolution of Middle East conflicts, but also will make almost impossible territorial resolutions with these countries and with the Kurds.
- Don’t equate elections with democracy.
Unless the rule of law, tolerance, pluralism, freedom of speech and freedom of the press precede an election, you must remain skeptical about the results of elections in the Middle East.
- Remember the issues run deep.
Realize that even if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved, it will actually make a relatively small impact on the Arab and Muslim worlds. Sunnis and Shi’ites will still fight for regional hegemony, and Iran will still want a nuclear weapon in pursuit of that goal. The chaos and slaughter in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq will not diminish, while the Saudis will still be just as misogynistic and intolerant as ever.
- Understand that border adjustments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are a final-status issue. They are not the essence of the conflict. Until one stops treating the conflict as simply a land dispute, there is almost no chance of resolution. At a deeper level, conflict resolution must address whether the Palestinian Arabs can overcome the concept of Dar al-Islam, the Islamic belief that no land once controlled by Muslims can revert to infidel hands, i.e. Jews, Hindus or Christians.
- Know your enemies and your friends. Understand that Israel is an irreplaceable ally. Remaining neutral in negotiations will be interpreted by the world as American abandonment of an ally.
- See (and treat) the UN for what it is.
Realize that the UN needs to be marginalized in any Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty because of its inherent anti-Semitic agenda. America should treat the UN as simply a humanitarian organization.
- Be realistic. Understand that the Middle East is an area in flux, which we cannot control, but must not abandon.
- Recognize your predecessors’ mistakes.
Accept that many American demands and pressures on Israel in the past were misguided and dangerous, e.g., pressuring Israel to withdraw from Golan and trust in the Syrian regime.
- Put the “Arab Winter” in proper perspective. The Arab Winter did not weaken Israel’s traditional enemies to the point that Israel can now take more risks for peace.
So, before America re-enters the negotiations, it must extract agreement from both parties that: • Israel has legitimate internationally recognized land rights over the Green Line. If this fundamental fact is not clearly acknowledged at the outset, the conflict will never be resolved, and Israel will always be considered a thief if it retains any territory over the Green Line in a land swap.
- We must redefine “Palestinian refugees” (or else the Palestinian Right of Return will never end).
- They will agree to an end-of-conflict agreement with resolution of all outstanding issues that cannot be challenged in the future.
- Consequences will be incurred by any party that transgresses any final resolution.
- Any final agreement must contains specifics. For example, we must define a “demilitarized West Bank” and “incitement.”
- They will accept UN Resolution 181 calling for an “Arab State” and a “Jewish State.”
Critics will charge that the Palestinians cannot accept so many preconditions.
They are probably right. But until they and the Arab World can accept Israel’s right to exist, America should avoid being drawn into premature peace negotiations. The US should put its energies and efforts into encouraging the Palestinians and nascent Arab governments to respect the rule of law, accept freedom of speech and of the press, and end the endemic anti-Semitism that infects the region. Only then will negotiations truly bear fruit and lead to an equitable settlement for both parties.
The author is founder and director MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™.