WASHINGTON—The possibility of a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine is fading, says former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel C. Kurtzer, but the United States should resuscitate it.
While this would seem not the most propitious time to revive the peace process—with tensions and mistrust between the two peoples at such a height—Kurtzer often points to the very credible polling that persistently shows a majority of both Israelis and Palestinians still favor the two-state solution.
“The idea of a two-state solution—the cornerstone of American policy in the region—is now on life support, and its chances of surviving cannot improve without active diplomacy,” he says.
Kurtzer, a professor of Middle East Policy Studies at Princeton University with a 29-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service, sets forth his recommendations for a “cohesive American policy” in a book titled “Pathways to Peace.” The book includes contributions from 15 highly experienced diplomats and experts on the Middle East.
Although the authors provide a diverse set of perspectives and recommendations, they all agree with the former ambassador that the window of opportunity for a two-state solution is closing, and that achieving an Israel–Palestine peace settlement is in the best interest of the United States.
“Managing the status quo was not a good option for the United States,” Kurtzer said at a Woodrow Wilson Center think-tank discussion on Jan. 9 in Washington, D.C. He says his colleagues agree with him on that point.
“Status quos are not static. … If you don’t work on them, the chances are pretty much assured that they will get worse on their own.”
“The status quo in the West Bank is deceptively calm,” writes Kurtzer, “but below the calm is a growing frustration and anger.”
His book was written in the summer of 2012 and released in November just before heavy missile fire began between Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Israel. While the West Bank is ruled by the Palestinian Authority, the Gaza Strip is under the control of Hamas, which the U.S. State Department has designated as a terrorist organization.
“Israeli settlement activity has accelerated in recent years, and the Israeli government’s active support and funding of settlement infrastructure have skyrocketed.” As more settlers enter the occupied territory, says Kurtzer, prospects for a Palestinian state will be greatly reduced.
It is “delusionary,” says Kurtzer, “to believe Palestinians would accept a state limited to their main population centers.”
On Hamas, Kurtzer says that we don’t need to be quite so inflexible in our conditions for engaging with Hamas. Robert Malley, director of the Middle East and North Africa program of the International Crisis Group, asserts in the book that an “intense internal debate is taking place within Hamas.”
However, there are a plethora of reasons often given to support inaction. He lists them off: “It’s not a resolvable issue; it’s too hard; the parties themselves are uninterested; there is a leadership crisis in the region; it is better not to try than to try and fail.”
But Kurtzer says that he and his colleagues view these as “lame excuses for inaction.”
American View on Final Settlement
Several contributors said it would be a grave mistake to perceive U.S. policy as primarily cajoling reluctant parties to return to the negotiating table and providing assistance when called upon.
The experts try to steer thinking away from incremental approaches, such as resuming negotiations and confidence-building measures. While confidence-building is necessary, used as a “stand-alone, tit-for-tat” strategy, without an overall political framework, will not work, wrote contributors to the book, P.J. Dermer and Steven White, who are Middle East experts and former U.S. military officials.
Instead, the United States must have a much broader view and a good idea of what it wants to see in the final settlement, say the experts in the book. This does not mean the United States would impose its ideas on the parties, but it should have suggested solutions at the ready to move discussions through sticking points.
A crucial component of American policy will be guaranteeing the security of both peoples. The United States must assure Israel of continued security support. Palestine would gain security by the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Force (IDF), which Dermer and White say is sometimes oppressive.
Kurtzer wants to see the United States Security Coordinator (USSC) intensify its work as a presence on the ground working to build cooperation and trust.
Dermer and White both worked with the USSC, and attributed its success to having an American interlocutor often present on the ground. The interlocutor eventually won over a small circle of senior Palestinian and Israeli security officials.
A Viable Palestinian State
For there to be a workable settlement, the Palestinian state that comes into being must be a viable one.
Palestinians have made great progress in infrastructure projects and economic development in recent years under the leadership of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The security situation has also vastly improved since he took power in 2007.
“Over time, the international community, including Israel, came to see that the Palestinians had become more effective in governance, economic development, and, most important to Israel, security,” writes Robert Danin, a former State Department official with over 20 years of Middle East experience.
Kurtzer says an economically viable Palestine is in the interest of the United States and the region. We don’t want it to be a failed state on “Day One,” he says. Kurtzer says the United States and other countries, which have contributed to the Palestinian Authority success, will definitely need to contribute more resources.
Returning to the Roadmap
The American policy needs to broaden its approach, and work from the bottom up, says Kurtzer. This means working steadily on changing Israeli and Palestinian behaviors.
Since 2003, when the “Roadmap” was developed by the Quartet (United States, European Union, Russia, and United Nations), both Israel and the Palestinian Authority were on record agreeing to stop behavior that is most disruptive to peace building.
Danin says Israel committed to freezing all settlement activity, including natural growth; Palestinians were called upon “to end all violence and terrorism … and confront and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.”
Kurtzer wants the United States to get serious about holding both parties accountable to the Roadmap.
A final settlement will involve agreements on borders, security, refugees, and Jerusalem. Much progress has already been made toward resolving these issues, especially the first two.
However, “Middle East peacemaking is not for the faint of heart,” says Aaron David Miller, former State Department negotiator and adviser on Middle Eastern issues to U.S. secretaries of state. It’s hard in part, he says, because a solution requires accommodating to the “political and religious identity and physical security that drives the Israelis and Palestinians.”
A peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians is challenged by “religious, ideological and historical narratives,” says Kurtzer. “Israelis need to think through what it means to be a Jewish state, with not just a Palestinian state on its borders, but a large Palestinian population that’s part of its citizenry.”
Arabs will need to rethink the refugee question that figures prominently in their national narrative. If a Palestinian sovereign state comes into existence, the state of Israel will not likely take in Palestinian refugees, expecting them to go to their sovereign state. Kurtzer says resolving this refugee question is “one of the most critical determinants of success of the peace process.”
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