Essay: Doing what is doable

Put an end to 'endism' - the notion that we are within reach of resolving everything in one fell swoop.

0512-arad (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Binyamin Netanyahu's approach to the future of the peace process is likely to be driven by a number of considerations. First is the desire to move forward and achieve tangible progress wherever possible, stagnation being simply not acceptable. Second, progress can be accomplished only within that space that realistically allows for it. To seek progress beyond what is feasible would be an exercise in futility; not to seize opportunities wherever these present themselves would be equally wrong. Third, from Israel's standpoint, progress can only be defined as an advance which leads to peace with security. Anything else is abnormal. Thus, fourth, the critical task is to realistically judge what is the most extensive scope or space for achievable progress. This practical approach stands in contrast to the recent ambitious, indeed blatantly impossible effort to accomplish a final-status agreement within a year, as some had hoped. By all accounts, the political terrain is simply not ripe for closure on a final-status agreement. As the current outcome of this valiant endeavor demonstrates, the negotiators have left unresolved the thorniest issues, the most difficult of which are Jerusalem and refugees. WHEN IT comes to Jerusalem, the very thought of taking a city that is currently united and that should develop and prosper as Israel's capital and a holy place for all three monotheistic religions, and amputating any part of it from the integral whole as a throwback to the long-defunct status quo ante would be a severe failure of imagination as well as contrary to the Israeli and Jewish ethos. As for the refugee issue, not only should there be zero Palestinian return to Israel, but it is also necessary that the principle of fairness be applied when compensation is considered. Just as Arab Palestinians could be compensated, so should Jewish refugees from Arab lands - who are also defined by the United Nations as refugees - as required under Security Council Resolution 242. Worse still, from Israel's standpoint, the effort to arrive at final status as managed by the country's current leadership has mainly yielded Israeli concessions but few if any Palestinian ones. The absence of reciprocity is yet another critical flaw of final-status negotiations. It would therefore be more practical at this juncture to draw the appropriate lessons and put an end to "endism," i.e., to the notion that we are within reach of resolving everything in one fell swoop, thereby ending the conflict in a quick fix. WHAT THEN should be done instead? One can delineate some "spaces" for doable progress. The first, which seems the least politically loaded and the one that may enjoy the widest international support, is the promotion of economic activity and projects that could quickly improve conditions in the Palestinian areas. Such projects have been advanced by Quartet emissary Tony Blair, Netanyahu, Israeli, Palestinian and international officials or entrepreneurs and international institutions. There is a rich agenda of economic initiatives that could, if advanced vigorously by Palestinians and Israelis together, accomplish quick and demonstrably positive results. These would be translatable into job creation, higher revenues and faster economic growth for the Palestinians. While this may not be a substitute for political progress, it will definitely have a positive effect on it. Political dialogue should certainly continue between Palestinians and Israelis throughout, because while final-status issues cannot be resolved at this point, there are a number of other issues, pertaining to civilian or even security areas, which need to be addressed and improved, if only gradually. This would generate a bottom-up process that could prove, over time, more constructive. Institution-building within the Palestinian Authority should be encouraged and the role of the PA's law enforcement and police forces should be further advanced. However, it is only realistic to assume that the burden of responsibility to fight terror would remain in Israeli hands. Indeed, terrorism and extremism remain the most serious obstacles on the road to peace. A challenge shared by both Israelis and moderate Palestinians is to overcome Hamas. Evidently, as long as Gaza is under Hamas control and as long as Hamas exercises influence in the West Bank and in Palestinian politics, these factors seriously undercut any genuine prospect for political progress. THE OTHER space for diplomatic maneuver that could provide for tangible progress seems to lie at the sub-regional and regional level. It has long been advocated by Netanyahu and others that the two countries that made peace with Israel and border on both it and the Palestinian territories - Jordan and Egypt - be more involved. Some of the economic ideas being considered across the spectrum of Israeli politics, from President Shimon Peres to Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, refer to infrastructure projects that clearly require extensive international cooperation. Beyond that, there seems also to be space for a new architecture of multilateral regional frameworks. These could sustain the "economic peace" options, some of which entail extensive regional cooperation reaching to the Gulf. In fact, of all the "baskets" of multilateral negotiations conducted in the 1990s, it now seems that the economics (and water) basket is the most promising. The refugees basket would be the natural venue to discuss the compensation dimension raised above. The regional security basket would be a field for active diplomacy in light of the fact that so many countries within the moderate Arab world, including in the Gulf, confront the threat of a potentially nuclear Iran with all its destabilizing consequences. Indeed, the single most urgent and important area in need of progress is neither the Palestinian nor the Syrian, but that of neutralizing the Iranian threat. This is not only because it is the most potentially dangerous of developments but also because of its projection on the Arab-Israel dispute. The more menacing Iran is, the stronger its surrogates, Hamas and Hizbullah, and the more distant the possibility of peacefully resolving Arab-Israel issues. Only last week the International Atomic Energy Agency revealed that Iran has now produced enough nuclear material to make, with further enrichment, a single atomic bomb. Hence the need to concentrate, first and foremost, on attenuating this threat. Only when this is done will the influence of Iran's proxies subside and the prospects for real and far-reaching progress in resolving the Arab-Israel dispute become significantly better. The writer is director of the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Inter-Disciplinary Center, Herzliya. He was foreign policy adviser to prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and prior to that served for many years in the Mossad, where his last position was director of intelligence.