Seven Questions: A Detour on the Road Map
The factional fighting in the Palestinian territories is over—at least for the time being. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice now has the tough job of revitalizing a peace process that has been stalled for seven years. FP spoke with Aaron David Miller, an adviser to six secretaries of state on Arab-Israeli negotiations, on Condi's difficult road ahead.
Pool/AFP/Getty ImagesKumbaya moment? Warring Palestinian factions have put aside their guns. Now what?
Pool/AFP/Getty ImagesKumbaya moment? Warring Palestinian factions have put aside their guns. Now what?
FOREIGN POLICY: Why were the Palestinians fighting each other?
Aaron Miller: For the first time since Palestinians returned to the West Bank and Gaza under the guise of the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian politics are real, but now divisive and violent. When Arafat was in charge, he kept a tight rein on meaningful politics using money and guns, and through participating in a reasonably successful [peace] process between 1994 and the second Intifada at the end of the Clinton administration. As a historically legitimate figure, Arafat could co-opt, preempt, and not only threaten, but act, if he got the sense that Hamas was directly threatening the interests of the Palestinian Authority.
With Arafats death, the emergence of [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as] Abu Mazen, the peace process going south, Iranian support, Hezbollahs successes, and Hamass electoral success, Hamas is doing well. It is now better organized, less corrupt. It has managed to attract a significant amount of the Palestinian public, either by ministering to its needs better than the dysfunctional Palestinian Authority could or through resistance against the Israelis. You have a real clash between two different visions of Palestinian society for the first time.
The Palestinian Authoritys legitimacy was all tied to the successful pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian peace process brokered by the Americans. Now that that has collapsed, Hamas perceives an opening. And theyve done remarkably well, given their own dysfunction, the lack of international support, their identification with Iran, and the boycott that has essentially been imposed on them politically and economically.
FP: Lets talk about the Mecca agreement that was recently brokered by the Saudis between Hamas and Abu Mazen. Some analysts are saying that Saudi Arabia, out of fear of Irans influence, has essentially taken control of the Palestinian Authority. Is that your impression?
AM: No. I think that the Saudis, understanding the emotional and political dangers inherent in a civil war between factions in Gazaagainst the backdrop of Iraq, which concerns them greatlywanted to end the most severe violence by effecting a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. The purpose of this agreement was not to set the stage for negotiations with Israel. Its purpose was local: Abu Mazen had to find a way to end the factional violence. And both sides could not leave Saudi Arabia, given the Saudis importance and financial leverage, without an agreement.
It was not done, as the Americans and the Israelis hoped, to create a basis on which Hamas could meet the three conditions of the Quartet: Recognize Israels right to exist, abandon violence, and accept all agreements previously signed by the Palestinian Authority. So Mecca, I think, disappointed the administration and clearly frustrated the Israelis.
FP: Do you think the Mecca agreement, by empowering Hamas, torpedoed U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rices recent three-way meeting with Olmert and Abbas?
AM: I dont think it torpedoed it. Even if you didnt have a Hamas problem, the secretarys mission was excruciatingly difficult. Youve got several problems that will continue to impede the prospects of a serious break.
Number one, youve got weak leaders. Both Abu Mazen and Ehud Olmert are prisoners of their constituencies. Arab-Israeli peacemaking is difficult enough when you have strong leadership. It took Begin and Sadat five years to complete an Israeli-Egyptian agreement, and this was basically territory for peace, with very little emotional, religious, or even security consequences in comparison to the Golan or the West Bank.
Second, the gaps betweens Israelis and Palestinians on the issues that Condoleezza Rice wanted to make progress onJerusalem, borders, and refugeesare enormous, and those gaps have only increased since the last time we wrestled with these issues nearly seven years ago at Camp David with Arafat, Barak, and Clinton.
Finally, you do have the emergence of non-state actors functioning in non-state environmentsHamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanonthat have demonstrated not only a capacity to undermine central authority, but to defeat or create tremendous problems for far superior military powers.
These three factors make her mission excruciatingly difficult.
FP: So what, if anything, came out of Rices meeting that was positive?
AM: The situation today is more difficult than it was a month ago. Factional fighting has ended between Palestinians, even though political maneuvering has not, and you have a commitment on the part of Israel and the Palestinians to enter into discussions. The secretary may have launched a secret back channel with American participation so that the two sides, with our help, will begin to meet quietly. But theres one basic reality you cant escape: Hamas has emerged as a genuine and legitimate part of the Palestinian national establishment, and efforts to either beat it in the streets or isolate and boycott it economically have not succeeded in the course of a year.
It took us, when we were doing these negotiations, almost 20 years to induce the secular manifestation of Palestinian nationalism, the PLO and Fatah, into the negotiating process. The question now is how long will it take to induce the religious manifestation of Palestinian nationalismHamasinto a process. Given the political realities for the American administration and for Olmert, its a stretch to believe that either of them is going to be engaged in any sort of discussion or negotiation with Hamas anytime soon.
FP: Do you think that the Saudis are hoping that the United States will be willing to deal with Hamas?
AM: I think its a hope, but a misplaced one. The administration has maintained moral clarity and consistency on the issue of groups that espouse violence and terror. It wont deal with their state sponsors, with Iran and Syria. It wont deal with Hezbollah; its not going to deal with Islamic Jihad; its not going to deal with Hamas. We are prevented by statute from supporting Hamas with assistance. Politically, its a real stretch to imagine the administration in some sort of back-channel dialogue. For Olmert, who has been weakened by last summers Lebanon war, the chances that hell be able to induce Hamas into a process are pretty slim.
FP: What should Condoleezza Rice do now?
AM: What we need is not a two-day strategy, but a two-year strategy. The administration must make a judgment as to whether or not they consider Israeli-Palestinian peace to be a top priority. If they do, then I think much can be done, but that would involve a different kind of effort than the secretary has launched. What you really need are essentially three road maps:
First, an Israeli-Palestinian road map in which the United States would try to broker a ceasefire, channel aid to the Palestinian Authority, and create some sort of political dialogue, probably involving Israel transferring security responsibility from West Bank areas to the Palestinians.
Second, an Arab state road map in which the United States would bring together key Arab states (probably at the foreign minister level) and the Israeli foreign minister. As the peace process went forward, the Arabs would state what it is theyre prepared to do for the Palestinians in terms of financial assistance and for the Israelis in terms of political and diplomatic contacts.
Third, a U.S. road map in which wed lay out probably no more than two pieces of paper containing the basic parameterscall them the Bush parametersthat would guide the permanent status negotiations. We wouldnt force a negotiation, and the last thing we need is another Camp David summit, because it would fail. But we would essentially reaffirm the desirability and feasibility of final status negotiations.
FP: The Mecca agreement sounds promising, but it seems like the world is tuning out the Arab-Israeli conflict. Do you think thats true?
AM: I do. I think we all have gotten inured to the level of violence. In relationship to other terrible situations in the world, including Darfur, and what happens in Baghdad every single day, the Arab-Israeli conflict looks relatively stable. So, I think there has been a loss of interest, a loss of hope, and a sense that this will kind of keep. The Arabs and the Israelis, perversely, have found a way to keep it manageable, as cruel as that may sound, in a way that other crises in this world have not been.
But I happen to be someone who believes that we need to pursue it aggressively because it is one of the few issuesI would argue the only issuein the entire international system in which three very important things come together for us.
Number one, it is in our national interest to see this conflict managed and resolved. Number two, it is in our moral interest. It really is the right thing for us to do. And number three, we have a demonstrated capacity, when were serious, to make a bad situation better. I cant think of any other issue on which these three factors come together.
Aaron David Miller is currently at the Woodrow Wilson Center, where he’s writing a book on America and the Arab-Israeli negotiations. Between 1988 and 2003, he served as an adviser to six secretaries of state on Arab-Israeli negotiations.
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