All Writings
September 9, 2001

Change The Dynamic Of The Conflict

With the Israeli-Palestinian conflict spinning out of control, the usual efforts to resume substantive talks, including cease fires, cooling-off periods and confidence-building measures will no longer work. A new and dramatic element must now be introduced into the conflict to change its dynamic and produce a new negotiating structure, with the objective of reaching a final agreement.

To think that if both sides completely cease acts of violence against each other will lead to fruitful political talk is utter illusion. Any agreement on cessation of hostilities, even if achieved, will meet the same fate as previous agreements because neither Prime Minister Sharon nor Chairman Arafat are in a position to deliver the fundamental political concessions required to make peace. Sharon is ideologically committed to retain most of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and maintain the integrity of the united city of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, both of which are non-starters for the Palestinians. And Arafat still insists on repatriation of the Palestinian refugees to Israel proper while establishing sovereignty over the entire West Bank and Gaza, both of which are non-starters for Sharon. Since neither believes in the other's good intentions, each sees no point in making major concessions to end the impasse, actions that would, in any case, be political suicide for both.

The presence of NATO troops in the West Bank and Gaza to separate the two combatants, as recently suggested by the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, will not work. Neither will the creation of a military buffer along the 1967 line, currently advocated by the Israeli military, nor will continued Israeli occupation, however benevolent or harsh, as time has shown. None of these options will produce a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace unless both sides first accept the only formula that lends itself to coexistence with dignity–the plan offered by former President Clinton and based largely on United Nations Resolution 242. This plan calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state on most of the West Bank and Gaza, while giving the Palestinians control over the Arab section in east Jerusalem and providing compensation for the Palestinian refugees. It represents the red line for both sides beyond which no Israeli or Palestinian leader can budge and survive. The nature of Israel and Palestinian demographic interdisbursement in Jerusalem, the West Bank, in Israel proper and Gaza makes any other solution simply unworkable.

The answer to the escalating violence can no longer be found through the gradual relinquishing of territories and mutual security accommodations. If and when Israel's foreign minister Peres meets with Arafat, and even if they subsequently agree on a formula to end the violence, it will still be short lived. Even though Arafat, by his refusal to accept former Prime Minister Barak's proposals at Camp David has further contributed to the Palestinian plight and the deteriorating conditions in the territories to the point of despair, an end to the occupation offers the only solution. It must be the objective of all future talks allowing Israel to walk the moral high ground to defend itself with all its might. Only in this context will an agreement on ending of hostilities hold.

It is most disheartening to realize that the current level of violence is apparently tolerable to both sides and may remain so for sometime. Neither side, it seems, has reached the point of exhaustion. For this reason the Israelis and the Palestinians will not come to their senses unless something far more dramatic occurs to shake them to their very foundation. This type of event can take one of the following forms:
1) A disastrous, accidental or deliberate incident perpetrated by one side on the other that will claim thousands of lives. Its magnitude will change the dynamic of the conflict and force both sides to look for a workable solution, including a plea for outside intervention in order to prevent an even greater disaster. Regardless of who inflicts such a tragedy, both sides will suffer from its consequences. The United States may then have to step in to salvage the situation before it escalates into full-fledged civil war.
2) The involuntary resignation or sudden departure of Arafat from the political scene. This development could usher in a more moderate leadership, unwedded to past positions and bold enough to take new stands consistent with the basic formula enunciated by former President Clinton at Camp David. Under such a scenario, should the new Palestinian leadership demonstrate a genuine desire to end the violence, it can count on the Israeli public to pressure Sharon to make the necessary concessions for peace or force him out through new elections as they did to former Prime Minister Natanyahu.
3) An unambiguous clearly stated readiness by the United States to exert all the pressure necessary on both sides to accept a solution along the lines of former President Clinton's plan. This position will not please either side, but it offers the only viable framework for peace, a first and last resort. Indeed, regardless of how much more human loss and socio-economic hardship both sides sustain and how many years of suffering they endure, the fundamentals of a resolution to the conflict established in the Clinton formula will not change.

If no such dramatic element is introduced into the conflict, leave it the Israelis and the Palestinians to slug it out for some time to come. Once they reach a point of exhaustion, they may come running to United States for help. Is it possible that President Bush is prudently or cynically waiting for such an eventuality to insure that once we intervene the outcome is successful?