Alternate Route: “The Oslo accords, which were produced by direct negotiations, have collapsed and have been replaced by a violent interaction that the two sides cannot end by themselves,” Martin Indyk writes in the May/June issue of the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs. “Without some form of effective international intervention, Israelis and Palestinians will continue to die and their circumstances will continue to deteriorate, fueling vast discontent and anger at the United States in the Muslim world and placing Israel’s future well-being in jeopardy.”
And so one of the leading American proponents of the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian agreements unceremoniously declares the peace process defunct.
With the situation in the Middle East “dragging both communities deeper and deeper into the abyss,” the challenge is to the president himself to throw his diplomatic cards on the table.
“Should President Bush decide to seize such a moment of diplomatic ripening and try his hand at Arab-Israeli peacemaking, he would find that a remarkable consensus has formed around his own vision of a two-state solution to the conflict,” Indyk writes.
Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel and assistant secretary of state during the Oslo years, currently heads the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. He pulls no literary punches in offering a frank prognosis of the ideologically inclined administration’s chances at playing peacemaker.
“What Bush would also find,” Indyk writes, “is that he lacks an effective mechanism for translating his vision into reality.”
Indyk warns that the president’s much talked-about “road map” to Middle East peace, which was presented to Jerusalem and Ramallah on Wednesday, is likely to stumble on entrenched Israeli and Palestinian positions.
“Absent a credible Palestinian security apparatus willing and able to crack down on terrorism, a plausible Palestinian political partner to make a deal with Israel, and a flexible government in Israel willing to do its part, the road map’s chances of success are slim,” Indyk concludes.
After going back to the peacemaking drawing board with the American, Israeli and Palestinian members of a workshop group at his think tank, he offers this lubricant to the steel grip of the intifada.
“There is another and possibly more promising way to parlay the bounce from a successful Iraq war into an effective effort to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace, but the United States would have to use a different map and take a steeper but more direct road,” he writes. “The approach would have to be much more ambitious than the one President Bush seems to have in mind, more akin to the major effort his father undertook to create an effective machinery for Arab-Israeli peace negotiations after the last Persian Gulf War. The equivalent effort in today’s circumstances would require the United States to lead an international push to create a trusteeship for Palestine.”
The trusteeship Indyk proposes would backload final status issues, while seeking to preserve the timeline of the road map in carrying out the negotiations within three years. The trusteeship would replace the civil administration of the Palestinian Authority, and maintaining security in the territories would be handed from the Israeli army to an American-led international force comprised of British Commonwealth troops.
Indyk anticipates opposition to such a force by citing the precedent of American troops stationed in Israel during both Gulf wars.
“The notion that Israel cannot accept foreign forces defending its citizens is belied by the fact that in 1991 and again in 2003 Israel welcomed American Patriot antimissile teams to help defend it from an Iraqi attack,” he writes.
The trusteeship would be established in roughly 50%-60% of West Bank territory, backloading discussion on final borders while establishing the principle of full Israeli withdrawal. The seasoned diplomat, though, holds no illusions about the viability of his alternate route to the road map.
“Trusteeship is by no means an ideal, or even an attractive, proposition,” Indyk writes. But “one way or another, sooner or later, the current Israeli-Palestinian stalemate will be broken. When it is, some form of international intervention in the conflict might well become inevitable, because left to their own devices the parties have shown themselves incapable of helping each other climb out of the morass.”