Mideast peace deal… and they lived unhappily ever after
The internal discussion within the U.S. Department of State, for many years, has been one of “Return On Diplomacy Invested”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to strike a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians should not be viewed as the final destination of his shuttle diplomacy efforts, rather as the first step toward resolving decades of the systematic weakening of the Palestinian people. The two overarching factors the U.S. should be concerned with are; firstly, whether a peace deal will lead to the fulfillment of Palestinian aspirations and secondly, whether the Islamic and Arab worlds accept the peace process as a just and fair resolution.
U.S. anxiety over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
The internal discussion within the U.S. Department of State, for many years, has been one of “Return On Diplomacy Invested;” will the diplomacy capital expended on shepherding the Israelis and Palestinians toward a permanent peace agreement yield any dividend? The discouraging track record of many consecutive administrations have been evident in the U.S. losing face at major junctures throughout its involvement as it brought the conflicting parties closer together around a shared vision for peace only to find the chasm of contentious disagreement growing even wider. Alas, diplomacy is not for the faint of heart.
President Obama launched a public relations blitz as soon as he took office, confirming his interest in the Middle East conflict by naming former Senator George Mitchell as a peace envoy in one of his first acts as president. He didn’t stop there, he gave his first interview as America’s chief diplomat to Al Arabiya News Channel, refuting claims of America’s hostility toward Islam and Muslims while promising a balanced approached to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Allocating $20 million in financial aid to Gaza within the first two weeks of his presidency rounded up his Mideast trifecta. This gave the impression that his administration is made the Israeli-Palestinian peace deal a priority. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Obama had the Clinton peace process lesson fresh in his mind. Clinton believed that he was able to get enough concessions from the conflicting parties at Camp David II to allow both sides to strike a final deal. But, as we all know, it never materialized. Obama got the moral of the story all-wrong. The lesson is not that striking an agreement is an impossibility, but that U.S. foreign policy priority must be to facilitate an agreement founded on amicability and mutually beneficial dynamics.
To address the issue of justice, individual Palestinians will need to receive a sincere apology and monetary compensations. Obviously this will not right the wrong that has befallen them, but it’s the next best thingWalid Jawad
Nevertheless, American decision makers pose the question: will a peace agreement over the Palestinian question resolve the conflict? What does it look like and how do we get there? These questions constitute a naive and shortsighted approach to an entrenched complex conflict that predates America’s involvement and is beyond the political four year cycle American administrations are capable of working within. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, and will remain, a work in progress. Yes, Kerry and Obama are imagining a historic photo-op moment when they will preside over the signing of permanent peace agreement; warm handshakes, smiles, victory/peace signs. But if the theatrics of the agreement is what they are looking for then they shouldn’t even start because it’s the wrong end goal. In fact, getting to that photo-op will signal the beginning of a second phase of American’s involvement, which will require an ongoing engagement to ensure the survival of the peace that both parties agreed to.
Damned if you ignore the conflict, damned if you resolve it
When, and if, a peace agreement is achieved, we can be assured that many people will not be satisfied with it no matter how realistic or fair it can be - after all compromise is the only way to bring the two parties to an agreement. Calls for “justice” will ring out. No one can publicly oppose the right of anyone seeking justice even if that justice is a vengeful one. This “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation can be remedied by a dual pronged approach; a tangible one for the Palestinians and a framing/contextual one for the Muslim/Arab world.
To address the issue of justice, individual Palestinians will need to receive a sincere apology and monetary compensations. Obviously this will not right the wrong that has befallen them, but it’s the next best thing. So, if not in adherence to the letter of the principle of “an eye for an eye” it will be in the spirit of fairness, which will take the people of the region much further than a limited justice can ever take them. Despite that, individual fairness is not enough. Palestinians, as a people, will need economic prosperity, collective dignity and national sovereignty. None of these elements should be exclusively shouldered by the U.S., never mind that the U.S. has the most to gain from a peaceful Middle East. If that is not enough of a motivator, the administrator needs to keep in mind that the U.S. has been offering blood and treasure as sacrifice to the gods of ethnic and religious violence in the greater Mideast for decades and thus will need to lead the effort to peaceful coexistence. Furthermore, The U.S. is the sole actor capable of moderating peace talks between the primary (Israelis and Palestinians) and secondary (Arab countries and Islamic world) parties. Although parties to the conflict might not agree with U.S. tactics toward resolving the strife, they’re willing to extend the trust necessary for it to moderate the process.
What is good for the Palestinians is not necessarily good for the Muslim/Arab worlds
Once the U.S. is able to crack the peace agreement code and usher in an era of fairness to the Palestinians it will need to alleviate the concerns of the Arab and Islamic worlds. The prevailing narrative emphasizes freeing al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and ending the occupation of Muslim lands. The puzzle of al-Aqsa Mosque will need a creative and courageous approach by all parties concerned. But for Muslims to be satisfied, they will need al-Aqsa, at a minimum, to be under Muslim administration and Arab control. There is no amount of creativity that will alter the significance of Al-Aqsa as the third holiest place in Islam. Al-Aqsa, and Jerusalem by extension, is a thorny issue that might never be resolved in the traditional sense - a fluid and dynamic approach turning all parties involved into stakeholders instead of observers might be the answer, as long as it satisfies Muslim desire for access to their holy site.
Increasing trade activities between Palestine and Israel will change the nature of the relationship between the two as well as between Israel and countries in the region. After all, for the landlocked West Bank to be a viable and prosperous part of the soon to be Palestinian state it will need to have unfettered access through Israeli borders as a trade destination and as a thoroughfare to Gaza and its port. In affect, a prosperous Palestine benefiting from Israel as trade partner and a regional stakeholder holds the key to a lasting peace and Muslim acceptance of that peace.
The implication for American procrastination in nudging the conflicting parties toward a permanent peace agreement is a continued strengthening of Islamist political and jihadist grassroots efforts, which wins over new impressionable recruits enlisting as god’s soldiers for the war on Islam in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt etc. Palestine is the focal issue fueling the narrative of twisted jihadist leaders wherever they operate. The U.S. must become cognizant of the implications, scope, and limitation of a narrow final agreement between Israelis and Palestinians; it is not a be-all and end-all to peace. A big picture approach and a commitment to a long-term American engagement that goes beyond the signing of a peace agreement is paramount.
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at U.S. Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj