Time for a Sensible International Effort on Israel-Palestine

An American-Russian-French-European peace initiative, with the active participation of the moribund Arab League and expressions of support from Iran, Turkey, and other key players, is achievable and worth attempting.

We should probably pay attention to the recurring reports from Washington, D.C. that the Obama administration is considering, before its term ends, some kind of initiative that would lock in place an internationally agreed framework for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Obama administration seems most interested in keeping alive the two-state solution option for a Palestinian-Israeli permanent peace accord, in view of the gradual disappearance of this option due to the continued Israeli expansion of Zionist colonies and settlements in occupied Palestinian lands across the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The history of the last quarter century of American-mediated Arab-Israeli peace negotiations suggests that we should not take seriously any new American talk about yet another attempt to resolve this dispute, because the United States has consistently failed in its long-running mediating attempts. Successive Republican and Democratic administrations in Washington have repeatedly shown that they lack something crucial—whether skill, endurance, even-handedness, seriousness, or commitment to the international rule of law—that is needed for a successful negotiation.

Also, the public political atmosphere in the United States is not very heartening when it comes to the issue of a credible, balanced American attitude to the rights of Israelis and Palestinians, as evidenced by the presidential candidates either outbidding each other in their commitment to Israel or in ignoring the issue altogether. The few expressions of even-handedness have come from the two main anti-establishment candidates from the left and right, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Their mainstream opponents quickly criticize them for that position, which confirms the apparent impossibility of expecting from official America any reasonable, balanced, and even-handed attitude to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Nevertheless, it seems, the Obama administration appears determined to do something in its last year in office to maintain the hope that a negotiated peace agreement could be reached one day. The two main options, according to recurring news reports, seem to be a UN Security Council resolution or a presidential speech that locks in the two-state framework for a permanent peace accord.

This means Israel would have to withdraw from many of its settlements and colonies and relinquish occupied Arab lands to their rightful owners, so that a viable Palestinian state could be created alongside Israel, broadly within its pre-June 1967 borders.

Two other relevant developments these days—the French initiative for an international peace conference on Palestine-Israel, and the Russian-American cooperation on the Syrian situation—make the UN Security Council option the most appealing one, for several reasons. Shifting the negotiations from American-controlled talks to a UN-anchored framework makes it possible to benefit from the support of many other important countries. It also replaces Israel’s dominance on the ground with the dictates of international law and legitimacy as the reference points for a permanent agreement. Not surprisingly, Israel opposes both these points.

Yet the fact that the United States is considering them reflects Washington’s exasperation with both sides on the lack of progress in making peace. The UN Security Council only makes meaningful decisions when the superpowers agree on an issue, as we have witnessed twice recently in relation to Syria—on destroying Syria’s chemical weapons two years ago, and now on the Syrian ceasefire and Geneva negotiations.

We also witness today growing international recognition that resolving the Palestine-Israel and wider Arab-Israeli conflicts equitably would be a major boost for toning down escalating regional conflicts and security threats across the Middle East. A UN Security Council resolution and an international conference that both aim to achieve a negotiated, fair, and permanent peace would be very sensible steps to take in the coming months. Israel’s opposition to such steps cannot be allowed to determine their fate, as Israeli preferences most often have carried the day in shaping American policies on the issue.

The Obama administration has been more generous than any previous American leadership in providing Israel with military, financial, and diplomatic support, but it also has tried to clarify that American support for the Israeli state is matched by American opposition to that state’s colonizing settlements in occupied Arab lands. Broad international support for this same position—supporting Israel’s security but opposing its colonial settlements expansion—would be useful for pushing all parties towards a permanent negotiated peace agreement.

An American-Russian-French-European initiative to this end, with the active participation of the moribund Arab League and expressions of support from Iran, Turkey, and other key players, is achievable and worth attempting. The Arab parties and Israel would eventually have to negotiate directly, but providing them with a context of international legitimacy and support via a UN Security Council resolution on the core principles of a permanent peace agreement, would be a very constructive step. It should be supported by the partisans of Israel and Palestine.

Rami G. Khouri is published twice weekly in the Daily Star. He was founding director and now senior policy fellow of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. On Twitter: @RamiKhouri.

Copyright ©2016 Rami G. Khouri — distributed by Agence Global