Time for a real 'reassessment'

The situation in the region is a chance for a reassessment of US policy.

bush , sharon 88 (photo credit: )
bush , sharon 88
(photo credit: )
The day after the elections this week, America's top Mideast hands - Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams and Assistant Secretary of State David Welch - will arrive to assess the new lay of the landscape. Regardless of the election outcome, the new situation in the region is an opportunity for an overdue reassessment of American policy. In the past, Jerusalem has been wary of American calls for a "reassessment," taken as a code word for more active diplomatic efforts, which in turn were assumed to mean more pressure on Israel. Yet this is precisely the reflex that itself should be reconsidered in light of dramatic changes on the ground. In Israel, our election will clearly be a referendum on unilateralism as a strategy, both as it was carried out in Gaza and as Ehud Olmert has promised its application in Judea and Samaria. Though the degree of endorsement by the electorate is yet to be seen, it seems more than possible that unilateralism will, even in the absence of Ariel Sharon, be ratified as the organizing principle of Israeli policy. Further unilateralism, though by definition a step away from negotiations, is a radical step toward the two-state solution, and therefore can be considered a shift leftward in Israeli political terms. Kadima's strategy is essentially to force statehood on the Palestinians, even in the absence of a peace agreement. Olmert's name for this process, "convergence," is ironically an exact opposite description of what is happening between Israelis and Palestinians: At the moment Israelis are poised to most clearly endorse a two-state paradigm, Palestinians have chosen a leadership that rejects statehood, except as a stage toward escalating the war against Israel's existence. This new situation presents no small challenge for US policy which has, since 1967, been based on producing two states through a land-for-peace trade. Explicitly or not, UN Security Council Resolution 242, the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, the Madrid Conference, Oslo, the 2000 Camp David summit, and the road map have all attempted to steer the parties toward a negotiated peace along the same lines. What, however, should the US make of a situation that is moving closer to two states but, at the same time, further from negotiations? How can a "peace process" be reconstructed around this new reality? This circle cannot be squared by reverting to old habits, namely by pressuring "both sides" (Israel on settlements, the Palestinians on terrorism), or by asking the current American general in residence to draw up the umpteenth "security work plan" for the Palestinians to ignore. The road map, which has become more of a placeholder for a process than operational itself, is ceasing to be even that. How can the US and Europe credibly point to the road map as a living plan while Israelis seem set to embrace more unilateralism and Hamas is running the PA? We have come to a time for Plan B: a plan not built on the main assumption of the old plan, namely that the Arab world had accepted Israel's right to exist. For almost 40 years, the West has been insisting that the Arab war to destroy Israel could be transmogrified into a negotiation over the borders between Israel and a Palestinian state. The problem with the belief that the conflict was over borders, rather than Israel's survival, was that it often painted Israel's resistance to Palestinian statehood as the principal obstacle to peace. Western condemnations of terrorism, in this context, rang hollow because all Palestinian violence was interpreted as "resistance to occupation" and therefore Israel's fault. Thus a process that was supposed to promote peace generally encouraged the Palestinians to continue and even escalate their war against Israel. The alternative is for the West to adapt to the current Israeli-Palestinian divergence by treating each side according to its behavior: recognize that Israel is actively seeking Palestinian statehood while Palestinians are moving away from accepting Israel's right to exist. Plan B is not to pressure "both sides," but to unapologetically support Israel in the face of Arab rejectionism, and to frankly label that rejectionism as the obstacle to peace. Though perhaps less of a "process," such a policy could reward peace and punish terrorism, thereby producing more of the former and less of the latter for Israelis and Palestinians alike.