Letters

Man Without a Plan

Man Without a Plan

Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of Aaron David Miller’s cri de coeur is its silence about the future ("The False Religion of Mideast Peace," May/June 2010). The situation is not static, and if there is no peace process, there will be no two-state solution. As two former Israeli prime ministers, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, have warned, if there is no two-state solution, then Israel will be an apartheid state and it will face growing international censure and an internal struggle for Palestinian political rights. When that happens, Olmert noted in 2007, "the state of Israel is finished."

Reading Miller’s essay, I could not help but think of Britain. The British did a masterful job of screwing things up in Palestine between 1919 and 1947, and then they decided the whole business was "too hard" and washed their hands of the matter. Miller is understandably unhappy with the track record of U.S. peacemaking efforts, and he is in effect throwing up his hands as well. I can understand his reaction and even sympathize with his feelings, but it’s not going to make things any better. In fact, the situation is likely to get worse, and history will judge the United States harshly for its contribution to that. Advising President Barack Obama to stand aside now is irresponsible because the United States is a central player in this conflict so long as the "special relationship" continues. Standing aside now also guarantees a worse outcome for all concerned.

So here’s the question I’d really like Miller to address: If it becomes clear that "two states for two peoples" is no longer an option, what exactly does he think U.S. policy should be?

Stephen M. Walt
Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Affairs, Harvard University
Contributing editor, Foreign Policy
Cambridge, Mass.

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Aaron David Miller’s piece is as typically passionate and insightful as many of his other contributions, and as a fellow negotiator and a former Egyptian ambassador to the United States, I share much of his frustration.

But though I don’t envisage comprehensive peace with the present set of players in the region, I believe in the possibility of peace between Arabs and Israelis and in the commitment to its pursuit.

Regrettably, I don’t see permanent-status negotiations starting and concluding successfully in the near future. However, in the absence of any real possibility for progress, it is imperative to consolidate our gains and preserve the fundamentals that govern the peace process. As such, I would suggest that the U.N. Security Council adopt two resolutions as soon as possible.

The first resolution would be short and straightforward, emphasizing that Arab-Israeli peace is a strategic international goal and that Israeli building in East Jerusalem is illegitimate and rejected by the international community.

The second resolution would recognize the creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza, and as a consequence preserve the possibility of a two-state solution for future negotiations. On that basis it would further allow the Palestinians to negotiate with Israel the arrangements that might bring the realization of peace.

Needless to say, these suggestions would not solve the conflict, but they do preserve the fundamentals and prevent the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from becoming irresolvable.

Nabil Fahmy
Dean, School of Global Affairs and Public Policy
American University in Cairo
Cairo, Egypt

Aaron David Miller replies:

Stephen Walt and Nabil Fahmy lament the absence of a compelling "how can we fix it" section in my article. Having spent the past 20 years or so looking for those fixes unsuccessfully, I understand their frustration.

But that’s precisely the reason I wrote the piece. Official Washington lives in an in-box. Doing before thinking is of course never a good idea; in fact, it’s how the United States gets itself into trouble. I’ve lost count of the number of "next steps in the peace process" memos I wrote even when I knew that there were no next steps that would work.

It’s quintessentially American to want to fix things and make them better. An unresolved Arab-Israeli problem or a world without a peace process and hope for a negotiated solution isn’t a good thing, though I’d argue we’ve been in such a world for the last 10 years or so.

My piece wasn’t designed to try to create a solution where there is none. I’ve been down that road too many times. Instead, the piece was written as a cautionary tale designed to get people to think before they act.

So what to do? Plunge ahead anyway with the big-bang solution on the assumption that trying and failing is better than not trying at all? Or try to make some headway where you can: identify one issue, like borders, where the gaps are the narrowest, and if your approach is successful, you can address both settlements and security; build Palestinian institutions; get the Israelis to ease up on checkpoints; and expand the Palestinian security presence into the West Bank?

It’s not sexy. But it’s a lot smarter than what I suspect might be coming: yet another U.S. plan or policy statement on the big issues that will raise expectations and hopes without the capacity to actually succeed. We all remember what happened after the Camp David talks fell apart in 2000: a decade of chaos and stagnation. Another failure by overreaching could well bury the peace process for good.