Slain Israeli Prime Minister Rabin with former US President Bill Clinton and former PLO President Yasser Arafat after signing the Oslo Accords at the White House on September 13, 1993. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It has been a long time, as everyone knows, since the September 13, 1993 Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, otherwise known as the Oslo Agreement.
There were Rabin and Arafat and Clinton and Peres and Abbas and countless others creating an interdependent future to be entered, explored and charted by two peoples. There was also a hostile opposition that included politicians on both sides and many others who did not believe in giving birth to the Palestinian Authority and arming it as a means to enact peace or in coming to terms with the Israeli government to negotiate any sharing of Palestinian land.
One blinks with tired eyes after watching a generation come and go and the streets of Jerusalem remain red as a result of a conflict that continues in lieu of the achievement of any meaningful let alone final-status peace agreement. Now the Middle East has changed, Europe has changed, the United States has changed and the whole world has changed and unfortunately it is easy to say not for the better. So how do we get from Oslo to peace? The contours of a negotiated settlement have been mapped out by politicians and pundits and gamed by academics and played thousands of times by NGOs and forlorn leaders on all sides of this battle of the past, the future and a history of victimhood on both sides that continues to curse peace until someone figures out how to magically lift the veil and let in the lambs’ share of fresh air.
I think one has to breathe it, see it, live it, learn to love it and become a part of it for peace to actually replace the perennial war of attrition facing two ancient peoples. And a large part of the problem is that that has to happen millions of times to individual Israelis and Palestinians to make it possible to achieve an agreement that is good for both and full of serious concessions that really don’t matter as much as peace, freedom and security.
How do we get to step one? Must we move multiple steps simultaneously to make progress? Do we need to do it all in a time-frame short enough to hold the attention of both sides, but somehow long enough to take step after step, actually moving together to engineer and walk into a shared future that captivates both Palestinians and Israelis alike? The structure cannot weigh down the process, but must be big enough and bold enough to carry two warring parties beyond “the situation” to a new and better result.
Creating a structure that is self perpetuating by its very nature, as well as building the coalition of nations and interests that support it is an essential first step (that has been tried many times with limited success). Building a unique international as well as regional and local coalition of champions for Middle East peace is one of a number of necessary precursors to the establishment of a formal negotiating process.
What will make this particular coalition unique and give it the opportunity to be victorious after so many attempts and so many failures? It must be broader, stronger and capable of withstanding all the organized and disorganized efforts to defeat the peace process by nations and non-state actors throughout the Middle East and beyond. Sunni states led by Saudi Arabia must play a critical role in encouraging the peace process as must European countries, the Russians and vital others. It will be up to the United States and its allies to establish a self-reinforcing coalition providing all the carrots and sticks in a crazy-quilt of deals that maximizes regional stability from which the principals can meet and make tangible progress toward peace for a change.
Another critical piece is to harness the power of a group of international political and business leaders to sponsor an independent National Dialogue for Peace Program that gains the formal endorsement of both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
This program will proceed separately from the political process bringing Israelis and Palestinians together beyond the wall and anti-normalization to respectfully share their stories and listen to each other. In time this National Dialogue will involve enough Palestinians and Israelis to make a difference on the ground and in the orientation of the politics of both peoples. In time it will establish a new joint Israeli-Palestinian movement for peace that will help to change the willingness of both governments to realistically consider and promote the potential of peace.
When they start talking about establishing borders, the security of the Jordan Rift Valley, the division of Jerusalem and a substantial accommodation for the refugees it is necessary to already have basic understandings if not agreements in place so that negotiations can and do proceed. This means that a lot of preliminary work has to be done on the ground to release some of the pressure and make real time for the peace process to begin, advance and achieve real goals that spell out the terms for a lasting two-state solution.
We are looking at a preliminary process that will take two years to accomplish, lowering incitement, eliminating as far as possible provocation by the two governments, their militaries and their citizens. The dialogue will not attain this goal, but will over time generate new help from locals all over the territory to advance peace, (something that has been largely absent from the formulation of policy for a long time).
Is it enough? How will one Israeli, Palestinian and American administration pass off the actions/responsibilities positively to the next? Is that even possible? It is better for everyone to put out this fire and proceed together in a region that is fraught with warfare on all sides seemingly at all times. Is that enough to motivate divergent national interests from different political orientations to learn to play well enough together for long enough to negotiate and realize a functional peace agreement? No one truly knows. But there is no viable alternative (at least no good one), to healing the wounds between Israelis and Palestinians and pushing them forward beyond a century of warfare to finally sharing the benefits of their promised land in peace with two states of their own.The author is president of ICMEP, the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace, an NGO in suburban Philadelphia.
He can be reached at email@example.com.