Washington — Once seen as heresy, proposals for bypassing the Middle East peace process — or even jettisoning a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — are increasingly making their way into mainstream discourse while the peace process itself remains mired in a deep freeze.
The spectrum of ideas now being voiced in prominent and respected political quarters range from unilateral steps to be taken by either side, to abandoning the two-decades-old peace process altogether.
Many of these concepts have been around for years. But the long impasse in the peace process and lack of real negotiations is moving them slowly but steadily into the arena where mainstream activists and prominent politicians conduct their debates.
“These are cries of desperation by people who really want peace,” said Robert Danin, who headed the Jerusalem office of the Middle East Quartet, a multinational group tasked with keeping the peace process alive. Now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Danin believes that those calling for drastic measures need to be patient. “Even if the status quo is flawed, it doesn’t mean we just need to do something,” he said.
But for some, the nonexistent peace talks — long suspended over conflicting Israeli and Palestinian demands and preconditions — underscore the notion that the time is now ripe for bolder actions beyond just tweaking the existing process, which dates back to the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords.
“By maintaining what everyone sees as a failed process, we will only increase the conviction that it is futile,” said Robert Malley, program director for Middle East and North Africa at the widely respected International Crisis Group. Malley, who was a special assistant to President Clinton on Arab-Israeli affairs, sees a “groundswell of voices that say we need to change strategy.”
A member of the Clinton peace team at the failed 2000 Camp David summit between Israel and the Palestinians, Malley is co-author of a high-profile ICG report, released May 7, that attempts to address what he sees as a “collective addiction” to a peace process that has failed in its actual mission of bringing about peace.
In its detailed research paper, the ICG, which counts Israeli President Shimon Peres among its senior advisers, critiques the Middle East peace process more aggressively than any mainstream institution in recent memory. “The peace process has become low-intensity management of the conflict masquerading as the only path to a solution,” the report states.
Among other options, the ICG proposes a new, broader approach that would incorporate key elements left out of the current process. Instead of focusing solely on establishing two states to address the problem of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza following the 1967 Six Day War, the report suggests putting on the table Arab acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state, as Israel’s current government demands, and resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue, a key Palestinian concern.
In line with this, the ICG report calls for reaching beyond the peace process’s longtime constituencies to draw in nationalist Orthodox Israeli settlers and members of the Palestinian refugee diaspora.
The ICG report also urges the Palestinians to consider the pros and cons of adopting strategies beyond diplomacy within the Oslo framework; among these, popular non-violent resistance and application for admission to international bodies.
The paper pointedly suggests expanding the peace process’s sponsors beyond the so-called Quartet — consisting of the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union — which the international community has tasked with moving the two sides towards a final resolution of their conflict.
“Can it be done? I don’t know,” Malley told the Forward in a May 11 interview. “A lot will depend on whether we can break with the current model.”