The Middle East Channel

Plan B for the Middle East

RAMALLAH and WASHINGTON–When asked at a recent press conference what his strategy in the Middle East will be if the current round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks founder, President Obama stated that the United States will remain engaged.Though this is encouraging to everyone who lived through the unconscionable violence that filled the vacuum following the collapse ...

AFP/Getty images
AFP/Getty images

RAMALLAH and WASHINGTON–When asked at a recent press conference what his strategy in the Middle East will be if the current round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks founder, President Obama stated that the United States will remain engaged.Though this is encouraging to everyone who lived through the unconscionable violence that filled the vacuum following the collapse of the Oslo Peace Process and the disengagement of the Bush administration, it is nonetheless insufficient if the goal is to produce a two-state solution.

While a firmly non-violent Palestinian leadership and an aversion among the majority of the people toward renewed fighting indicate that a repeat of the second intifada is unlikely, a collapse of the two-state paradigm is not. Beyond the surface-level discrediting of the moderate Palestinian leadership which will ensue if negotiations fail, granting Hamas yet another "I told you so" moment, the dynamics within moderate Palestinian political circles may themselves take a significant turn away from an ideology that, at least in theory, backs a two-state solution.

Around the West Bank, billboards now encourage what many here already proclaim is their new goal: a single democratic state for Arabs and Jews in the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Since such a state will have a majority Arab population, it means the end of the Jewish state of Israel. To forestall such a reality, which represents a sub-optimal American outcome and stands no chance of materializing peacefully, the Obama administration must have a contingency plan in place that it can move to implement in the case peace talks breakdown.

Such a plan should be based on the following principles: in consultation with the Quartet, the US should undertake dual bi-lateral negotiations with Israel and the Palestinians separately. The negotiations would aim to reach separate agreements between the US-Quartet and the respective parties on the core issues: permanent borders, security, Jerusalem and refugees. The parameters of each agreement will likely resemble those proposed by President Clinton following the 2000 Camp David summit.

The US-Quartet agreements with the parties will serve as the basis for separate UN Security Council resolutions, sponsored by the US, which together establish a Palestinian State and permanent borders for the State of Israel, and determine the status of Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees.

Key to the Dual Bilateral strategy is that neither side can exercise a veto over the other side’s legitimate rights and thus allow for the deadly stalemate to continue ad infinitum. The establishment of a Palestinian state would not require Israeli approval. International recognition of Israel as the Jewish national homeland and as a Jewish state would not require Palestinian approval.

With successful, dual bi-lateral negotiations, the US and the Quartet will be able to bypass the mutual lack of trust between the parties and present a complete package to both peoples. With tangible incentives offered to each side, Israelis and Palestinians will each have much to gain by accepting the framework, and much to lose by rejecting it. Implementing the resulting UN Security Council resolution will take a number of years. However, the endgame will be predetermined and all ensuing negotiations and activities will focus on implementing the accord.

While this Plan B does not guarantee peace, it presents a positive horizon to Israelis and Palestinians that each can then work toward constructively. The remarkable progress under Prime Minister Fayyad in building Palestinian institutions can evolve into a sustainable and prosperous state. And the Israeli people can finally get about the (potentially more contentious) business of reconciling the identity of Israel.

Everyone hopes for the breakthrough that produces a final status agreement between Palestinians and Israelis. But the lessons of history and the trends of tomorrow demand that realistic and progressive alternative measures finally be put on the table.

Rafael D. Frankel is a former Middle East correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor and a Ph.D. candidate at Georgetown University.

Mickey Bergman is the Director of Middle East Programs at the Aspen Institute. He is the Founder and President of Solel Strategic Group and a former officer in the Israeli Defense Forces.

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