So Nobel Peace Prize laureate President Barack Obama has a debt to make good on. He has stated that his focus will be Middle East peace. At the same time, his special envoy, George Mitchell, has stated that efforts for peace will continue, but at a "ramped-down level."
Is it actually possible to ramp down the process? What exactly does that mean? What exactly has been achieved in the last nine months? The Middle East has been likened to a car with only two gears - forward and reverse. There is no status quo and there is no standing in place. If we are not moving forward, we are moving backward. The events of the last few weeks have clearly demonstrated that the forces of those who would like the car to go into reverse are quite powerful. While it seems evident that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians desire or have energy for another round of violence, the slope of the decline is extreme and very slippery.
Events, particularly those surrounding Jerusalem, have their own internal energy that, as we have seen in the past, can easily get out of control. In this region, we should make sure not to let the genie out of the bottle - and Jerusalem is the ultimate genie. Both the Israeli and Palestinian governments should be extremely cautious in their handling of Jerusalem. The second intifada was launched because of a misinterpretation of the direction of Ariel Sharon's provocative visit to the Temple Mount close to a decade ago. Sharon's target was then-prime minister Ehud Barak, not the Palestinians.
THE PALESTINIANS today do not understand that Israel is not planning to destroy al-Aksa Mosque or to take over the Temple Mount, despite the desire to do so by some right-wing and religious fanatics.
Because of the sensitivity of the situation in Jerusalem, Israel should unilaterally freeze its excavations in the area of the mosques for a limited time. The Israel Antiquities Authority should invite Palestinian experts, religious leaders and PA officials to see the excavations area firsthand. Israel should also invite PA President Mahmoud Abbas to Jerusalem, to pray in al-Aksa Mosque, to see the Western Wall and the excavations around the mount.
Abbas should then declare his recognition of the fact that the Temple Mount was the location of the Holy Temple (which is even mentioned in the Koran). Abbas need not worry that his recognition would grant Israel and the Jewish people the green light to rebuild the Temple in place of the mosques. There is no such intention, there are no such plans and the Chief Rabbinate has once again stated that Jews should not go onto the Temple Mount as a matter of Halacha.
According to Jewish law, the Temple will be rebuilt only when the messiah comes, so Abbas should be able to rest assured that until the messiah arrives, the Temple Mount will remain under Muslim control - and when the messiah finally does show up, he will be wise enough to deal with the future of the mount.
The Palestinians should understand that when Yasser Arafat foolishly denied the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, he did great damage to the peace process. Recognizing this fact would facilitate greater understanding.
Assuming that we will not fall into the abyss of another round of violence, Obama's efforts to renew negotiations will continue. Officials will continue to seek the formula for getting back to the negotiating table.
What is the point of all this? We have all been there and done it before.
The American President might be worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize just because of his patience with the scrabbling locals. Israeli-Palestinian peace is an Israeli and a Palestinian interest, first and foremost. The parameters of peace are quite well known. Most Israelis and Palestinians would be willing to accept those parameters on the condition that, unlike in the past, when the formula was based on "land for peace,"the more realistic demand now be "land for long-term security assurances" that must be backed by the international community - and security for all.
MY FRIEND and former Mossad agent, and later senior adviser to then-prime minister Ehud Barak, Pini Median, has devised a new slogan that I think may be quite correct. Let's talk about a "lose-lose" arrangement with the Palestinians, not the "win-win" strategy advanced by Shimon Peres and others. Both sides must feel the pain of the settlement. Both sides must know that the other side accepts the deal reluctantly. In accordance with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's own words (and what could be described as a national ethos) we will not be anyone's frier (sucker). If Israelis thought the Palestinians were getting a good deal, they would automatically think Israel was getting the short end of the stick. And vice versa.
No peace arrangement will be acceptable if one side perceives that the other is coming out the winner. In order to save the honor of both sides, they must both feel the pressure, and they must both be persuaded to accept a deal they both perceive as being lose-lose.
The "win-win" psychology of peacemaking might be appropriate in Europe. We in the Middle East, it seems, will only be really satisfied when we can feel that the other side was forced to accept less than what it demanded.
Netanyahu and Abbas are incapable of reaching this kind of agreement, and perhaps any agreement. Obama and the Quartet must now cease the efforts to bring the sides to the table. They should, instead, spend the next six months drafting the plan and the means for providing long-term security assurances for the State of Israel and for the State of Palestine.
The plan should be as detailed as possible, including all of the main permanent-status issues. Once it is complete and the Quartet has received the international community's commitment for the plan's implementation, including the deployment of troops to the West Bank and Gaza and an international presence in Jerusalem's Old City, the Quartet should only then bring the parties to the table.
The means for implementation will have to be in agreement with the international community, and the issues on the table must not be how to start negotiations, but how to finalize the agreement that reflects the will and the consensus of the international community.
Both sides will recognize that the parameters presented to them reflect the best deal possible.
Both sides will have to make significant concessions on substantive issues.
Both sides will be able to accept, because they'll understand that the other side lost more than they did.
The writer is the co-CEO of IPCRI - Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org).