Savir's Corner: An American September

US should develop new operative peace initiative to prevent deterioration in September, convene regional peace conference in Washington.

September 1, 2011 21:15
Obama speaks in a prime-time address

Obama White House speech 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Jim Watson/Pool)


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The Middle East is at a critical crossroads. We are witnessing two dichotomies:

• Most Arab countries are undergoing a rebellion of the young generation for freedom in which three dictators have already been toppled. In all these societies there is a tension between young (mostly secular) students, leading a revolution for democratic rule, and the more organized religious, sometimes fundamentalist, forces, anti-Western in orientation and striving for their religiouspolitical share of power.

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• Both groups have their eyes set on a second regional dichotomy – between a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and deterioration towards violent confrontation, provoked by mutual unilateralism (The Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN versus Israeli settlement expansion).

The ways in which these dichotomies will play out are intertwined, as a process towards a more democratic Middle East will be conducive to a peaceful region on the one hand, and a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can strengthen the moderate and pro-democratic forces in the Arab world, on the other. The real “doomsday” danger lies in the combination of a violent confrontation on the Palestinian front, and the resulting strengthening of the fundamentalists from Hamas through Hezbollah to the Muslim Brotherhood. This must be prevented, in a process in which Israel, Palestine and the United States each play a crucial role.

With regards to Israel, it is due time for a courageous peace-initiative by our government, calling for immediate direct negotiations on all permanent-status issues, including borders based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed land swaps and security arrangements.

As for the Palestinians, nothing positive will come from a unilateral move at the United Nations in favor of statehood, definitely not a state. The key to that well-deserved state lies in negotiations with Israel and in a nation-building process emanating from Ramallah, not from New York. Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) too can serve his people best with a Palestinian peace-initiative leading towards a two-nation-state solution. As most probably mutual distrust and lack of political courage will prevent such “Made in the Region” initiatives from happening, there remains an important role for the Obama administration, vis-àvis both the Arab Spring and the Israeli- Palestinian relationship.

Already in his speech in Cairo in June 2009, President Obama outlined a respectful view of the Muslim and Arab world, including a vision of improved relations with the United States in the aftermath of 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition, during the Tahrir Square revolution, Obama sided with the young people’s revolt against Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship, despite his record as an American ally. The challenge to the United States is that while it stays out of internal Arab affairs, it needs to back the forces of progress, politically, morally and economically.

In the Palestinian-Israeli context, Obama voiced an important policy speech in May 2011, outlining process and vision and leading to a two-state solution, based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps, an independent Palestine and a secure Israel, resolving all permanent-status issues.

It is the task of the administration today, given the overall analysis of where the Middle East could move towards, to translate the speech into an operative policy. Based on talks with wellinformed sources in Washington, I believe it is possible, and definitely necessary, that a comprehensive American initiative for the Middle East be launched. Such an initiative could be constructed of the following components:

• The United States as an administration and a country needs to reach out to the young generation in the Arab world, a generation that has effected democratic change. This should be done in the sense of creating a new alliance – if until Tahrir the pro-Western dictators were the allies of the United States, after January 25 the new allies are the educated, pro-democratic young. They are perhaps less “pro- Western” in policy terms but are closer to Western values.

The position of the United States in the region needs to be legitimized by the people, as previously it was not. Part of that effort must include direct dialogue between a young, open-minded American president and the young of the Middle East, as well as a dialogue between the American “Facebook generation” and their Arab peers.

• The change in the Arab world must be assisted economically as well. The United States should amend its aid policy towards the region – with more investment- related aid, geared towards creating more modern and technologically advanced economies; assistance for educational opportunities and methods, that will help form the young into a progressive workforce capable of constantly advancing those modern economies. This should include training in the fields of science and technology, social entrepreneurship etc.

In the aftermath of the Cairo speech, such an aid and investment tool was created, “Partners for a New Beginning.” PNB fosters public-private partnerships. It is chaired by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, who fully understands the region and its needs. Major American companies are involved in this venture. This aid should be accompanied by the more traditional aid to infrastructure industries such as tourism, water, renewable energy etc.

Based on this new alliance and its traditional alliance with Israel, the United States should develop a new operative peace initiative in order to prevent deterioration in September. Following Obama’s Washington speech, the United States should convene a regional peace conference in Washington with the participation of Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Maghreb countries, intended to pursue two tracks: • Israeli-Palestinian direct negotiations on all permanent-status issues, based on the Obama principles that include a Palestinian state with borders based on the 1967 lines with mutual land swaps and security measures; a recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and the end to the conflict and all mutual claims.

• A regional track aimed at creating normal, peaceful and diplomatic relations between all Arab countries and Israel; economic cooperation and development (with investments from all the economic powers of the world); regional security and anti-terrorism mechanisms and a new alliance between the young generation in the whole region – a sort of “Middle East Partnership for New Beginnings.” A partnership that takes into account the fundamental changes in Arab and Israeli societies, in which the young are taking a new lead.

Such an American September initiative adapted to the new realities in the Middle East can still turn September around, from “doomsday” to new opportunities and partnerships.

Israel and its neighbors have everything to gain from it.

Uri Savir is the president of the Peres Center for Peace, and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.

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