As I argued in the previous post (#13), the US approach to a Middle East peace is essentially flawed because it is one-sided and doesn’t effectively address the core obstacles that have bedeviled diplomacy for decades. Perhaps a more effective way to proceed is to start with small but important common issues, build mutual confidence, and go from there. Yuli Edelstein, the speaker of Israel’s Parliament and a member of Netanyahu’s party, said last December: “The main thing we should aspire to is to increase the cooperation . . . in such areas as employment, the economy, agriculture, water sources. . . . These are things that could ultimately lead to some sort of understanding, to a different atmosphere that will make it possible to hold negotiations on other issues” (www.nytimes.com/2013/12/07/world/middleeast/kerry-invoking-mandela-says-peace-in-mideast-is-possible.html?ref=world). It’s called peace building.
I think he’s onto something, because in my understanding of how adversaries find common ground, the least productive approach is to start with the toughest issues, whereas the most productive approach is to build trust with win-win agreements—joint efforts on projects of mutual benefit.
There is no lack of such projects in the Middle East. For example, improving water quality and access to water is one of many environmental projects that Palestinians and Israelis would both benefit from (for a specific example, see www.nytimes.com/2013/10/10/opinion/in-a-polluted-stream-a-pathway-to-peace.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss). Joint economic development projects, local banks, school construction and joint curricular planning, and joint police work are other examples of what might be done.
Ultimately, however, peace building requires a political agreement between the contending parties. In fact, peace plans that are truly neutral and speak to the human interest have been on the table for some time. Jimmy Carter’s Geneva Initiative (the text is in his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid; also see www.cartercenter.org/news/documents/doc1556.html) and Tikkun magazine’s Geneva Accord (www.tikkun.org/article.php/JanFeb2004TOC) are among them. These plans call for sharing of authority over Jerusalem, with assured access to all religions; mutual recognition by Israel and the new Palestinian state of each other’s sovereignty and right to exist; compensation to Palestinian refugees; and a land-for-peace formula that would swap arable land annexed by Israel for an equal amount of land Israelis have settled, allowing for creation of a contiguous Palestinian state (how the formula can be implemented is shown by David Makovsky at www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/09/12/opinion/mapping-mideast-peace.html?emc=eta1).
What is lacking to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace is not a fair and viable plan, nor support of Israeli and Palestinian publics, but the political will to carry it out. “Political leaders are the obstacles to peace,” Carter has said. In my view, the fundamental issue—beyond the four longstanding obstacles described previously—is acceptance by both parties’ leaders of each other’s pain, historical grievances, and right to the land. That acceptance did occur once, at Oslo in back-channel talks in 1993; but it has never been accepted by decision makers in Tel Aviv and the Palestinian Authority. Until we recover the Oslo spirit, no peace effort, however well intentioned, will succeed.