Israelis, Palestinians and the international community should reconsider the basic pillars of the Middle East Process, which in its current form will not yield a durable agreement.
The Emperor Has No Clothes: Palestinians and the End of the Peace Process , the latest report by the International Crisis Group, examines the shortcomings of the process born in 1993 in Oslo, surveys attempts to circumvent them and suggests alternatives to what is widely recognised as a futile process.
Breaking with the past will not be easy. Few believe in the peace process, but many see utility in it. It helps Washington manage its relations with the Arab world and compensate for close ties to Israel. By means of the Quartet, Europeans, Russians and the UN Secretary-General enjoy a seat at a prestigious diplomatic table. Peace talks deflect international criticism and pressure from Israel. Even the Palestinians, though they suffer most from the status quo, stand to lose if the comatose process finally were pronounced dead: the Palestinian Authority might collapse and with it the economic and political benefits it generates as well as the assistance it attracts.
“The end result is that the peace process, for all its shortcomings, over time has become a collective addiction that serves all manner of needs, but a peace agreement is not the main one”, says Robert Blecher, Crisis Group’s Arab-Israeli Project Director. “Some fear that declaring the process dead would create a vacuum and risk violence. But that overstates the credibility that the current process has. Maintaining the illusion that it may yet yield success makes serious talks even more elusive”.
Israelis, Palestinians and the international community should take advantage of the current lull in peacemaking – the result of frustration in Ramallah, the Arab uprisings, the U.S. presidential campaign, and concern with Iran’s nuclear program – to rethink the approach to achieving a two-state settlement. Three adjustments are necessary to create incentives for progress and raise the disincentives of the status quo. First, incorporating new issues – particularly those emanating from the 1948 War, Israel’s establishment and the Palestinians’ displacement – and including new constituencies, such as settlers, the Israeli Right (both national and religious), Islamists, the Palestinian diaspora and the Arab minority in Israel. Secondly, rethinking Palestinian strategy to alter the balance of power. Thirdly, putting in place a truly international mediating structure. As difficult as it is to imagine a solution that addresses these issues, it is harder still to imagine one that does not.
“The inescapable truth is that all actors are now engaged in a game of make-believe: that a resumption of talks in the current context can lead to success; that an agreement can be reached within a short timeframe; that the Quartet is an effective mediator; that the Palestinian leadership is serious about reconciliation, or the UN, or popular resistance, or disbanding the PA”, says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program Director. “The first step in breaking an injurious addiction is to recognise it as such – to acknowledge, at long last, that the emperor has no clothes”.