For immediate release
OPPORTUNITIES FOR RESOLVING ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT
By Henry A. Kissinger
Three dramatic events have recast the seemingly moribund Middle East diplomacy and opened the way for a major American diplomatic initiative: the re-election of President George W. Bush, the death of Yasser Arafat, and the commitment of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to withdraw from Gaza and to dismantle Jewish settlements there.
Successful diplomacy represents a merger of necessity with opportunity. During President Bush's first term, there were many appeals from both sides of the Atlantic for American initiatives to start a peace process. But the conditions for success did not exist. So long as Arafat was president of the Palestinian Authority, his refusal to renounce terrorism, his encouragement of suicide bombing, and his corrupt and chaotic leadership doomed meaningful negotiation. And Arafat's blighting presence combined with the pressures of jihadism prevented a helpful role from moderate Arab states.
In Israel, Sharon had come to power, more than doubling the seats in parliament of his conservative Likud party, on the basis of a program that rejected the proposal made at Camp David by his predecessor, Ehud Barak, to return more than 90 percent of the West Bank to Palestinian rule. Sharon insisted, as a precondition to any negotiation, on an end to the intifada, which had begun in the final months of the Barak government.
European leaders appealed for a more active American role, but on behalf of an unfulfillable program: return of Israel to the 1967 frontiers; partition of Jerusalem; abandonment of settlements beyond the 1967 line; and some symbolic return of refugees guaranteed by some kind of international force, NATO or the U.N. - all this in return for no tangible quid pro quo other than a formal acceptance of Israel's right to existence, a point generally taken for granted in diplomacy. No Israeli leader - even the most dovish - has ever considered as compatible with Israel's security a return to a ceasefire line of a war that ended over half a century ago. Nor have Palestinian leaders ever unambiguously accepted the legitimacy of Israel in any borders, as reflected in the virulent campaign on that theme in the Palestinian media.
The abandonment of settlements ran counter to the entire history of the Jewish state, while the idea of a security guaranty by outside forces provided no assurances. If Israeli armed forces with their own families at risk are not able to secure Israel's frontiers, no international contingent is apt to achieve that objective. More likely such a contingent will become hostage to terrorist blackmail, as has happened in Iraq, or a screen behind which terrorist groups could plan attacks without fear of pre-emption.
Paradoxically, the Bush administration's refusal to expend American diplomatic capital on a foredoomed enterprise has brought matters to a point where a confluence of interests of all moderate forces might initiate a breakthrough.
No previous president has done so much to earn Israel's trust as George W. Bush. Israel's leaders realize that he will not knowingly risk Israel's security - the psychological precondition for an American initiative. At the same time, the Israeli political scene has been transformed. By offering the return of Gaza to Arab rule and to dismantle the Jewish settlements there, Sharon has opened the possibility of a new approach based on a partition of Palestine between a Jewish and an Arab state substantially reflecting demographic reality. Some reject this interpretation of Sharon's policies, asserting that the surrender of Gaza is only a tactic to solidify Israel's hold on the West Bank. But Sharon surely knows that he will not be able to maintain American support if he undermines President Bush's repeated commitment to bring about a Palestinian state during his presidency. This requires a territorial compromise.
Sharon has acted on this premise. At the price of losing his Likud majority and governing with a minority coalition, he has taken the crucial step of abandoning all settlements in Gaza and four on the West Bank, marking a revolutionary departure in Israeli policy. He has also established a security fence between Israeli and Palestinian territory, defining a dividing line that provides its own security without the need of a shaky international presence. It also permits a distinction between those settlements close to the 1967 line and protected by the security fence - mostly around Jerusalem - and those not essential to Israel's security.
Among the Palestinians, Arafat's death removes a figure who viewed the peace process as, at best, a tactical pause in a struggle to eventually remove what he considered the illegitimate Israeli presence in Palestine. A new Palestinian leadership freed of the Arafat incubus has an opportunity to create a transparent governance, affirm coexistence with Israel, and renounce terrorist tactics, thereby removing major obstacles to an overall agreement.
These obstacles are immense. Gaza is riven by factions. Hamas is a major force for violence; the military units of the Palestinian Authority have been cooperating with the militants. Corruption and lawlessness are endemic. If the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza leads to a collapse of authority, the resulting chaos could destroy all hopes for peace. The Palestinian elections scheduled for January are crucial for conveying a new sense of direction and transferring Arafat's authority to more responsible hands. But the Palestinians cannot take these steps by themselves. To be able to make the difficult decisions that await them, they need the support of friendly Arab states, the West and Israel.
As the European governments adjust to a second Bush administration, they are beginning to recognize that permanent dissociation from the United States is against their fundamental interests. Unable or unwilling to generate either the public support or the conviction to associate themselves with the military effort in Iraq, they understand the importance of making at least some of the American objectives their own (including political and economic reconstruction efforts in Iraq). Competing with America by appealing to radical Arab trends guarantees a stalemate and, by keeping open the Palestinian wound, undermines the position of all moderates threatened by fundamentalists and radical jihads.
The challenge of a new approach to Middle East policy will be to meld divergent strands into a coherent and compatible whole: the policies of Israel; a moderate Palestinian evolution; relations with friendly Arab states; relations with important players such as our European allies, Russia and, ultimately, even China and India; and the Iraq war. In the first Bush administration, these issues were handled individually; the second administration presents an opportunity to develop an integrated strategy for an attempt at bringing about a coalition of moderates for peace. Such a policy needs to be put forward with a strong affirmation of positive purposes, not defensively as a means to ease difficulties.
This presupposes farsighted policies by all concerned. Israel cannot be asked to accept as a neighbor a state dedicated to its eradication. At the same time, it must not insist on postponing the beginning of the peace process until democratization on the West Bank is completed. But it has every right to demand the acceptance of genuine coexistence and the disavowal of the apparatus of terror before it agrees to move tens of thousands of its settlers from the West Bank. The United States, Europe and Israel should undertake some confidence-building measures to encourage the Palestinians towards a stable, terror-free regime by easing the conditions of life on the West Bank and, if asked, extending technical assistance to its governance.
The degree to which the moderate Arab regimes are prepared to abandon sitting on the fence and provide the necessary legitimacy will be inevitably affected by the Iraq war. They are well aware - though they cannot avow it - that the fate of moderate regimes in the region will be decided importantly by the outcome of the American efforts in Iraq. If the military efforts produce results, and if the elections on Jan. 30 lead to enhanced legitimacy, Arab support for a Palestine initiative may well be forthcoming. But if America falters, few Arab leaders will increase their peril by supporting the adjustments in the Palestinian position that a settlement requires.
All parties will have to come to grips with major decisions. Israel must recognize that demographic and technological trends make procrastination increasingly precarious. Palestinian leaders must understand that if they reject compromise, they doom their people to another generation of suffering and frustration. European leaders need to understand that they contribute most effectively to peace by counteracting the illusion that America is the deus ex machina of negotiations that delivers the maximum Arab program without any sacrifice on the Palestinians' part. They should foster the recognition that both sides need to make major concessions.
We have come to the end of the step-by-step process. There are not enough peripheral issues left that might satisfy the parties even partially. Heretofore, road maps have been negotiable only if phrased in language so general and ambiguous as to permit each of the parties to interpret it in the manner most closely approximating their original position. This time a more precise and specific road map should guide the peace process. The existing quartet, key European allies, and Russia should define the principles and outlines of a possible settlement, seek the support of regional powers, and urge it on the parties with some emphasis.
The recent changes in Israel, Palestine and the United States permit some specificity. The territorial dividing line should be defined by a security fence paralleling the 1967 borders along principles discussed at Camp David and Taba. This would return all the West Bank to Palestinian rule except some 5 to 8 percent needed for the strategic defense of Israel. In return, Israel would transfer some of its current territory to the Palestinian state. Israel has made the offer of compensation at Camp David but has identified parts of the Negev - the southern desert - for that purpose. It would be wiser to transfer territory with significant Arab populations from the northern part of Israel. Such a transfer would be symbolically more significant, but would also ease the demographic problem. Israeli settlements located beyond the dividing line would be subject to Palestinian jurisdiction, which would probably imply their abandonment. Finally, such a plan should set forth provisions for the establishment and support of an interim government in Gaza for the time between the withdrawal of Israeli forces and the conclusion of the negotiations. The Palestinian contribution to peace must be a genuine recognition of Israel, transparent institutions, and a dismantling of the terrorist apparatus on Palestinian territory or aimed at Israel from other neighboring states.
We should have no illusions. No plan that preserves Israel will pacify radical Arabs nor those Palestinians who view negotiations as an interim step on the road to the eradication of Israel. A new plan would not gain the gratitude of the parties, since they have to make major sacrifices. Aspects of it will be bitterly resisted in Israel, especially the abandonment of settlements, however much it is implied in existing Israeli policy. It will not solve our dilemmas in Iraq or end hostility to America in the Middle East. Strong American leadership could give moderate leaders in the region the incentive and justification to overcome a policy that dooms the region to another generation of struggle and death. It could provide a vision for the future of the Middle East compatible with the dignity of all parties and our own conscience. It could show a path out of the current impasse that combines our friendship with Israel, concern of the West with the Arab world, and the stake all moderates have in having Islam play a major role in the world not as a scourge but in a manner compatible with its own great traditions.
© 2004 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
Published as main Op Ed on 3 December 2004 in the Washington Post