No More Mr. Nice Guy
The 10th round of the peace talks may prove to be the last one before the parties adjourn despairing, unless the US projects itself forcefully as a full partner and advances some concrete steps toward a solution.
In his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State Warren Christopher correctly suggested that the Arabs and Israelis "must do their part" and that the US "cannot travel this road toward Middle East peace alone." The problem is that for the parties to do their part they need to be "pushed" by the US in a specific direction.
The tenuous political conditions that exist in Israel, Syria and among the Palestinians prevent their leadership from making any major concessions without showing a clear and immediate gain in return. They look to the US to secure concessions from each other.
It can be argued that the US should continue to gently court each of the parties to make the necessary concessions for peace. This approach, however, has produced very limited progress over the 20 months since the Madrid peace conference. In fact, Israel and the Arab states have never been able to negotiate any agreement on their own without US persuasion, pressure or inducement.
The US must project itself forcefully in the peace process, break the stalemate in a number of critical issues, and be creative in charting a more stable course for continuing progress.
First, Washington should bring pressure to bear on the Palestinians to give up on their demand to grant legislative powers to the Palestinian council which is to be elected. Israel, on the other hand, should be induced to accept a direct connection between Palestinian self-rule and the ultimate disposition of territories at the conclusion of a transitional period.
The US should also pressure Syria to spell out the real meaning of "full peace" in order to facilitate Israeli territorial concessions on the Golan Heights.
Second, Mr. Christopher's advice to the parties to "engage in public diplomacy to make their constituencies aware of the talks' importance" is certainly a requirement for peace. What better way to achieve that other than by shifting the negotiations to the Middle East where they belong?
The US should persuade or pressure the Arab states to conduct the negotiations alternately in their respective capitals as well as in Jerusalem. The Arab and the Israeli public should understand and see for themselves that the negotiations, as Mr. Christopher has testified, do not exist in a vacuum and that their governments are engaged in a process that would lead to real peace if certain sacrifices are made.
Third, to become a full partner in the peace process, the US must be engaged in all stages of the negotiations on a full-time basis. Since neither the president nor his secretary of state can afford such demands on their time, a special envoy should be appointed with a mandate to speak on behalf of the president. The envoy should remain in the Middle East exerting subtle but consistent pressure on all sides to induce a continuous give and take bringing the parties closer together.
Fourth, as soon as tangible progress has been made and a declaration of principles, defining the general parameters for peace, has been signed by the parties, President Clinton might then consider: (a) beginning a dialogue with the PLO, and (b) hosting a summit meeting of the heads of state of Israel, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and of the Palestinians. Such a meeting could have far-reaching ramifications on the region's public acceptance of the evolving new Middle East reality.
The negotiations have reached a very delicate stage. It would be an illusion to think that Israeli and Arab leaders could reach an agreement on their own without constant American pressure and direct involvement.
The Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty would not have been possible without president Carter's tenacity and patience. Above all, his willingness to remain persistently and personally engaged and to use America's weight in each and every step of the discourse ultimately produced the final agreements. The current peace negotiations require no less if the 10th round is not to be the last.