In a speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual conference, then-senator Barack Obama pledged, if elected president, to "work to help Israel achieve the goal of two states, a Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security." But despite Obama's high-soaring rhetoric on the importance of a two-state solution to resolving the conflict, which he has continued to repeat since successfully winning his election campaign, there seems to be little emphasis on what actually is required to proceed toward the end-goal of a Palestinian state. Obama's team is not alone, however: Most approaches to peace have ignored the finer points necessary for its achievement. The necessary yet absent component of any deal must be the acceptance of liberal democratic principles by all parties - no matter how many states solutions (one, two, or three) are in the mix. This should be a necessary precondition which must be accepted by all participating parties in any peace talks, and until this is achieved, the best scenario will continue to be only temporary alleviation of fighting, while, at worst, wars will continue to break out. Israel remains the lone liberal democracy in the Middle East (though Iraq is making progress). Its minorities, including its 1,100,000 Arab citizens, enjoy the same protection under the law as the Jewish majority; its irrepressibly noisy citizens are free to say whatever they wish in politics and in the press; the government is not just elected, but political candidates are selected through elaborate primary systems - not through violence, foreign influence or coercion. Because Israelis have accepted liberal democratic principles both in the way they govern and in their cultural mores, they respect the lives of fellow citizens in a way that increases their readiness for peace. THE NEXT STEP, then, is for the Palestinian people to accept these same general principles. From there, a framework for peace could emerge. At present, Palestinian society is anything but democratic. Though elected, officials rule arbitrarily, without laws and by enforcing order through the power of the gun. They rise to power not through primaries, but through violence. Until this changes, peace will be difficult if not impossible. Consequently, Western diplomatic endeavors must focus on promoting democracy among the Palestinian people. George Mitchell, Tony Blair and Hillary Clinton will repeatedly visit Israel, but they are naive to believe their visits will actually accomplish a peaceable solution. Two-states (or more, as some have suggested) living side-by-side with so much warring history cannot be treated with an even hand - an approach that many quickly ascribed to Mitchell following his appointment to his new position as America's Middle East envoy - until it is clear that both sides are on even ground, both morally and politically. Of course, emphasizing liberal democratic principles requires more than lofty speech and diplomats who will back it up, but a plan of action to be implemented. The solution is difficult, and the process will be take much time, but here is a place to start. All foreign nations (in particular, European Union member states and America) should require that the proper resources are in place before allocating monetary aid to the Palestinians. This will require that they act, without direct foreign intervention, and it will ensure that the change comes from within. Aid should not be granted until - at the very least - the following changes take place:
Israel must be recognized.
All educational materials used in schools must reflect history.
State-run media entities must also be accurate.
The leadership and government-related entities must cease inciting violence.
The recognition by the governing power of inalienable rights.
The Palestinian people affected by the inevitable initial curtailment of aid would, understandably, be outraged; as would many sympathetic citizens in the donor nations, who would criticize their governments. But over time, the blame would hopefully be placed squarely on the actual parties responsible for the withheld aid. Palestinians would be left with no other choice but to depose the powers most directly responsible for preventing the aid from reaching the people - Fatah and Hamas.
This policy may not be so different than the current situation, because at present, little foreign aid reaches the population. In Gaza and the West Bank, the governors have long had a history of embezzling foreign aid, and it is well known that very little of the money actually trickles down to help the people. This is also why foreign nations can use their money to buy the results they want; it should not be allocated to corrupt parties, anyway.
FOR ALL the support that George W. Bush afforded the Israelis - and his was one of the best friendships from an American president - Obama would do well to learn from his predecessor's mistakes. During his second term, Bush wrongly pushed for a two-state solution without ensuring that the proper cultural and political groundwork was in place. The results speak for themselves. Bush failed to achieve peace. He encouraged the Palestinians in Gaza to go to the polls - to participate in the democratic process - before all terrorist entities were eliminated, and Hamas was "democratically" elected to rule Gaza.
Hamas continued its murderous activities by killing off its opposition and by unrelentingly launching Kassam rockets. This shows the danger of having elections without democratic mores. The winning side then proceeds undemocratically. The culmination of this failed policy was the war that finally erupted in Gaza during Bush's last full month as president.
But war, it appears, was inevitable. Both ruling factions, Hamas and Fatah in Gaza and the West Bank respectively, have proven not to be supporters of liberal democratic principles. On the contrary, they are both responsible for scores of terrorist attacks and, perhaps even more detrimentally, harboring sentiments that call (in varying degrees) for destruction of the Jewish state. All this comes, ironically, despite the fact that neither organization recognizes Israel's existence.
Both factions will have to be eliminated, and a new group - or groups - centering on peace-friendly principles must rise. This new group can neither be midwived by Israelis nor Americans; the Palestinian people from within its own ranks must create it. It must be held to account by the people.
One recent example of the lackadaisical approach the Obama administration has taken to emphasizing these important principles came when the president recently said, "Lasting peace requires more than a long cease-fire, and that's why I will sustain an active commitment to seek two states living side by side in peace and security." Obama has tried to place himself as far away from Bush's policies as possible. Fine. Here might be a great place to start: by emphasizing the importance of Palestinians accepting liberal principles, and then by adding incentives for them to liberalize their governing bodies, as a precursor to peace talks.
If the newly sworn-in American president can successfully accomplish this radical goal, he would immediately add even more distance from Bush's policy - and in the best way possible.
The writer is based in Massachusetts and regularly writes on politics, foreign policy and the Middle East at Commentary's blog Contentions.