We seem to have entered that inevitable moment that we all knew was coming one day, when the United States would stop trying to be a low-key and totally ineffective mediator between Israelis and Palestinians, and instead play a more decisive role by offering its own proposals on a permanent peace agreement. Press reports on the reported American approach of proposing a framework agreement offer a range of expectations. Most of them are depressing from the Palestinian perspective, because the American government still sees Israeli security, rather than mutual and equal national sovereignty and rights, as the center-piece of its proposals.
The few leaks available also seem to continue the American official tradition of paying much more attention to core Israeli needs than to Palestinian ones—like demanding some form of clear Arab recognition of the Jewish nature of the Israeli state, rather than demanding any level of Israeli recognition of the crimes committed against Palestinians in 1947-48 that created the Palestinian refugee condition in the first place. Nevertheless, we should withhold judgment and wait until the Americans put their ideas on the table, when we can then assess matters on the basis of facts, rather than leaks and rumors.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s intense pursuit of this issue—this is his tenth visit to the region since assuming office—reflects a deeper motivation that is both striking and somewhat unclear. The best explanation on Kerry’s energy on this issue that I have heard from Americans close to the Obama administration is that the persistence of the Arab-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli conflicts in their present form has become a strategic liability for the United States in the region, because public opinion in the Middle East sees the U.S. as heavily favoring Israel and its colonization of Palestine, rather than being an impartial mediator. This hurts the United States in the region in many ways, including in security realms.
This point also has been made in public by senior American military officials. So the United States is wise to make substantive changes in the two areas that matter most in this respect: Arab-Israeli issues and relations with Iran (the third area, which is American support for Arab autocrats and dictators, has been taken in hand by Arab citizens themselves who have given up on any American or European moves in this respect).
What should we look for to find out if the United States is more serious than it was in previous decades about brokering a just and permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace accord? I would suggest five markers:
- Legitimacy: Does the proposed American framework agreement address the core issues that matter to both sides, or only the superficial or temporary issues that are needed to avert renewed short-term violence by both sides? Legitimacy requires addressing the issues that matter to the protagonists, which was not done sufficiently in the past.
- Legality: Does the proposed American framework reflect and respect existing international law, global conventions, and UN Security Council resolutions? Is it anchored in legal dictates that are globally respected, or only in regional balance-of-power equations or the bizarre domestic policy flows in the United States?
- Equality: Does the proposed American framework give equal weight to the rights, demands and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike? Or does it favor the needs of one side over the other? The United States historically has paid much more attention to Israeli security than to Palestinian national integrity and sovereignty, and a repeat of this approach would only result in renewed failures.
- Compassion: Does the proposed American framework understand and touch the inner human sentiments of both Israelis and Palestinians? Does it really grasp the Israeli need and right to live in peace and be accepted as a normal and legitimate country in the region, and the Palestinian need to end refugeehood and reconstitute a national community that enjoys both integrity and sovereignty? Does Washington feel the pain and humanity of both sides?
- Hearts, Stomachs and Security: Does the proposed American framework give equal weight to the three arenas where a lasting and just peace accord must make a credible mark in order to succeed? These are “hearts” (what it means deep inside to be an Israeli or a Palestinian, see point 4 above); “stomachs” (socio-economic development, opportunity, and prosperity, including tens of billions of dollars in new gains for both sides); and, “security”, the verifiable certitude that your kids can go to school and return home without being bombed, colonized, shot, expelled, placed under siege, or imprisoned, as has happened to both sides.
A genuine peace cannot be bought with money, forced with security guarantees, or achieved with feel-good happy talk of coexistence. It requires all three to converge, which has never happened in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which is why we are here again still trying to make this happen today.
Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon. You can follow him @ramikhouri.
Copyright © 2013 Rami G. Khouri — distributed by Agence Global