Thursday, August 1, 2013

Requiem for the Peace Process. By Lee Smith.

Requiem for the Peace Process. By Lee Smith. The Weekly Standard, July 31, 2013.

With the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Middle East diplomacy has entered its mannerist phase.

Israeli-Palestinian Talks: The Perils of Pessimism. By Shlomi Eldar. Al-Monitor, August 1, 2013.


John Kerry says he can get an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement within nine months that would lead to an independent Palestinian state. That’s ambitious to be sure, but Kerry’s optimism raises a key question: With Syria torn by civil war, Egypt in the midst of a meltdown that may lead to another Arab civil war, and the Iranian nuclear program still the region’s major strategic threat, why is the secretary of state pushing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?
Perhaps with everyone else in the region tied down fighting for vital interests or mere survival, John Kerry imagines he has a unique opportunity for a historical breakthrough: For the price of a few land swaps, he’s going to get the Palestinian Authority to declare that the Arab war against Israel, which PA President Mahmoud Abbas will recognize as the Jewish state, is over once and for all—while everyone else in the region is too busy to notice. Years from now, Iran, Hamas, and Saudi Arabia, among others, will be startled to discover what transpired during those momentous nine months of 2013-14, but it will be too late to do anything about it, for Kerry’s comprehensive, just and lasting peace will have already entered history.
Or maybe Kerry is pushing the peace process simply because he is vain. Neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis believe a deal is possible at present but Kerry can sidestep that rather inconvenient detail because this is not about the Israelis or the Palestinians. Nor is it about the vital interests of the United States, which is hemorrhaging prestige throughout the Middle East while American allies are begging the White House to lead on the issues that truly matter. If Kerry cannot see what the rest of the region looks like at present, it’s because he likes what he sees in the mirror. As secretary of state why shouldn’t he, too, get his peace process just like so many shuttling diplomats before him? Kerry, according to the Daily Beast, has been preparing for the role for years now, with “meetings, late-night talks, personal visits, and phone calls with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and other key leaders in the Middle East.” So what if the curtain’s falling, Kerry’s memorized his lines so the show must go on.
The peace process was always as much performance art as it was policy. Regarding the former, it was intended to prove to our Arab allies that Washington is an honest broker that really didn’t favor Israel at their expense. As for the latter, it was meant to show that we are not an honest broker insofar as we back Israel so heavily that the only chance the Arabs have to secure any concessions from Jerusalem must come via Washington. And it is precisely by making a strength out of what the Arabist crowd considers a liability, the strategic relationship with Israel, that the United States distinguished itself as the regional power broker.
Nonetheless, within the history of the peace process one can discern a lengthy epic about American officials who, misunderstanding its strategic purpose and performative function, were captured by the siren song of the Arab moderates. Generations of Arab officials, intellectuals and activists have insisted that a solution to the Arab-Palestinian conflict is the key to a total peace sweeping over the rest of the Middle East. General James Mattis, former commander of U.S. Central Command, recently recalled the tune: “I paid a military security price every day as commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen biased in support of Israel,” Mattis told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer at the Aspen Security Forum. “And that [constrains] all the moderate Arabs who want to be with us, because they can’t come out publicly and support a people who don’t show respect for the Arab Palestinians.”
No doubt Gen. Mattis really did hear from his Arab interlocutors about the importance of the Palestinian issue. Perhaps he even heard it from Jordan’s King Abdullah II who has warned repeatedly over the years, like his father Hussein before him, that the window for peace is closing and we’d better get a deal done now before the Middle East goes up in flames. Astonishingly, in spite of the many decades worth of warnings from the Hashemite monarchs, the Middle East is still here.
As it turns out, what’s usually most important is what Arab moderates don’t typically tell American officials and journalists about the Palestinian issue. For instance, were Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, Hamas would rout the PA in a matter of months and leave King Abdullah with an Islamist group on his Western border in the middle of a three-year-long upheaval in the region that has left a trail of Arab rulers—moderate Arab rulers—in its wake. What keeps Abdullah up at night right now is the recurring nightmare of Kerry sinking his million-to-one shot and getting a deal for a failed Palestinian state.
Of course the Arab moderates marching through Mattis’s office berated the United States over the Palestinians, but what about the information that truly affects U.S. security? Here’s an admonition that might have been useful: “Sure, General, the conflict with Israel is a problem, but what’s really going to bring the house down on everyone’s head, including America’s, is if this 1,400-year-old Sunni-Shiite war goes hot again, especially if it hits the geographical center of the region, say, in Syria.” With Obama having turned his back on the Middle East, it would be salutary if, in lieu of a peace process, American officials used the time-out to re-evaluate what they have been told about the region and in turn relay to American audiences who, since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, have the common good sense to recognize the key issue is not that Americans won’t force Israelis to make peace with Arabs, but that the Arabs can’t make peace with themselves.
The peace process has entered its mannerist phase—it is nothing but a series of empty elegant formalisms. Does Martin Indyk, Kerry’s newly named Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations, really need to add a sequel to his memoirs of the peace process, Innocent Abroad—Again? This is among the most cynical initiatives in the annals of American diplomacy, for Kerry sought a peace process against the wishes of the White House he serves. As the AP reported last month, “Some U.S. officials have scoffed at the notion that Kerry is getting anywhere [on Mideast peace], though they allow that the White House has given him until roughly September to produce a resumption of negotiations.” In other words, the administration gave Kerry a deadline, and if he couldn’t get it done by then he would have to drop his peace process and move on to something else.
Under normal circumstances, if the president of the United States says you have a few months to solve the region’s most famously thorny issue, you’d walk away from the meeting understanding that the president wants you to drop it. The last thing Obama wants is a reprise of the peace process to remind the world that this was one of his first-term failures, and that by repeatedly beating up on Israel he alienated many supporters. Under normal circumstances, the secretary of state would find another venue in which to exercise his diplomatic energies, but not if it’s John Kerry, for the peace process is his destiny.
To get the Palestinian Authority to the table, Kerry needed to sweeten the pot and made Israel release 104 prisoners responsible “for the deaths of 55 civilians, 15 soldiers, one female tourist and dozens of Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel.”  As Elliott Abrams writes: “My question is why the United States asks a friend to do what we would not do—release terrorists . . . Israel has at times undertaken huge prisoner releases, for example letting a thousand men out to get back the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. But that was their own sovereign decision, taken after long national debate. Here, we are pressing them to release prisoners.”
While watching Kerry enjoy his moment in the sun, it’s perhaps useful remembering some of the victims of those crimes, like Adi Moses, whose mother and brother were killed in 1987 when one of the newly liberated prisoners threw a firebomb at the family’s car. Earlier this week, she wrote an article pleading with Israeli authorities, and their American allies, to keep her tormenter in jail.
“I was 8 years old when this happened. While my father was rolling me in the sand to extinguish my burning body, I looked in the direction of our car and watched as my mother burned in front of my eyes. . . . With your decision to release the murderer you spit on the graves of my mother and my brother Tal. You erase this story from the pages of the History of the State of Israel. And in return for what?”

The Forgotten Rachels. By Tom Gross.

The Forgotten Rachels. By Tom Gross. Tom Gross: Mideast Media Analysis, October 22, 2005.

Anti-Israel propaganda sells out on the London stage.

Are We Rome Yet? By John Stossel.

Are We Rome Yet? By John Stossel. Real Clear Politics, July 31, 2013.

600 Lashes for Raif Badawi: Saudi Arabia’s Latest Savagery. By David Keyes.

600 Lashes for Raif Badawi: Saudi Arabia’s Latest Savagery. By David Keyes. The Daily Beast, August 1, 2013.

Three Signs Hamas Is Losing Its Grip on Gaza. By Ehud Yaari.

Three Signs Hamas Is Losing Its Grip on Gaza. By Ehud Yaari. The New Republic, July 31, 2013.

Samuel Huntington on Today’s Global Upheaval. By Robert Kaplan.

Samuel Huntington on Today’s Global Upheaval. By Robert Kaplan. Real Clear World, August 1, 2013. Also at Forbes.


In 1968, Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington published Political Order in Changing Societies. Forty-five years later, the book remains without question the greatest guide to today’s current events. Forget the libraries of books on globalization, Political Order reigns supreme: arguably the most incisive, albeit impolite, work produced by a political scientist in the 20th century. If you want to understand the Arab Spring, the economic and social transition in China, or much else, ignore newspaper opinion pages and read Huntington.
The very first sentences of Political Order have elicited anger from Washington policy elites for decades now — precisely because they are so undeniable. “The most important political distinction among countries,” Huntington writes, “concerns not their form of government but their degree of government.” In other words, strong democracies and strong dictatorships have more in common than strong democracies and weak democracies. Thus, the United States always had more in common with the Soviet Union than with any fragile, tottering democracy in the Third World. This, in turn, is because order usually comes before freedom – for without a reasonable degree of administrative order, freedom can have little value. Huntington quotes the mid-20th century American journalist, Walter Lippmann: “There is no greater necessity for men who live in communities than that they be governed, self-governed if possible, well-governed if they are fortunate, but in any event, governed.”
Institutions, therefore, are more important than democracy. Indeed, Huntington, who died in 2008, asserts that America has little to teach a tumultuous world in transition because Americans are compromised by their own “happy history.” Americans assume a “unity of goodness”: that all good things like democracy, economic development, social justice and so on go together. But for many places with different historical experiences based on different geographies and circumstances that isn’t always the case. Americans, he goes on, essentially imported their political institutions from 17th century England, and so the drama throughout American history was usually how to limit government — how to make it less oppressive. But many countries in the developing world are saddled either with few institutions or illegitimate ones at that: so that they have to build an administrative order from scratch. Quite a few of the countries affected by the Arab Spring are in this category. So American advice is more dubious than supposed, because America’s experience is the opposite of the rest of the world.
Huntington is rightly obsessed with the need for institutions. For the more complex a society is, the more that institutions are required. The so-called public interest is really the interest in institutions. In modern states, loyalty is to institutions. To wit, Americans voluntarily pay taxes to the Internal Revenue Service and lose respect for those who are exposed as tax cheaters.
For without institutions like a judiciary, what and who is there to determine what exactly is right and wrong, and to enforce such distinctions? Societies in the Middle East and China today reflect societies that have reached levels of complexity where their current institutions no longer suffice and must be replaced by different or improved ones. The Arab Spring and the intense political infighting in China are, in truth, institutional crises. The issue is not democracy per se, because weak democracies can spawn ineffective institutional orders. What individual Arabs and Chinese really want is justice. And justice is ultimately the fruit of enlightened administration.
How do you know if a society has effective institutions? Huntington writes that one way is to see how good their militaries are. Because societies that have made war well — Sparta, Rome, Great Britain, America — have also been well-governed. For effective war-making requires deep organizations, which, in turn, requires trust and predictability. The ability to fight in large numbers is by itself a sign of civilization. Arab states whose regimes have fallen — Egypt, Libya, Syria — never had very good state armies. But sub-state armies in the Middle East — Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Mehdi Army in Iraq, the various rebel groups in Syria and militias in Libya — have often fought impressively. Huntington might postulate that this is an indication of new political formations that will eventually replace post-colonial states.
Huntington implies that today’s instability — the riotous formation of new institutional orders — is caused by urbanization and enlightenment. As societies become more urbanized, people come into close contact with strangers beyond their family groups, requiring the intense organization of police forces, sewage, street lighting, traffic and so forth. The main drama of the Middle East and China over the past half-century, remember, has been urbanization, which has affected religion, morals and much else. State autocrats have simply been unable to keep up with dynamic social change.
Huntington is full of uncomfortable, counterintuitive insights. He writes that large numbers of illiterate people in a democracy such as India’s can actually be stabilizing, since illiterates have relatively few demands; but as literacy increase, voters become more demanding, and their participation in democratic groupings like labor unions goes up, leading to instability. An India of more and more literate voters may experience more unrest.
As for corruption, rather than something to be reviled, it can be a sign of modernization, in which new sources of wealth and power are being created even as institutions cannot keep up. Corruption can also be a replacement for revolution. “He who corrupts a system’s police officers is more likely to identify with the system than he who storms the system’s police stations.”
In Huntington’s mind, monarchies, rather than reactionary, can often be more dedicated to real reform than modernizing dictatorships. For the monarch has historical legitimacy, even as he feels the need to prove himself through good works; while the secular dictator sees himself as the vanquisher of colonialism, and thus entitled to the spoils of power. Huntington thus helps a little to explain why monarchs such as those in Morocco, Jordan and Oman have been more humane than dictators such as those in Libya, Syria and Iraq.
As for military dictatorships, Huntington adds several twists. He writes, “In the world of oligarchy, the soldier is a radical; in the middle-class world he is a participant and arbiter; as the mass society looms on the horizon he becomes the conservative guardian of the existing order. Thus, paradoxically but understandably,” he goes on, “the more backward a society is, the more progressive the role of its military…” And so he explains why Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa underwent a plethora of military coups during the middle decades of the Cold War: The officer corps often represented the most enlightened branch of society at the time. Americans see the military as conservative only because of our own particular stage of development as a mass society.
The logic behind much of Huntington’s narrative is that the creation of order — not the mere holding of elections — is progressive. Only once order is established can popular pressure be constructively asserted to make such order less coercive and more institutionally subtle. Precisely because we inhabit an era of immense social change, there will be continual political upheaval, as human populations seek to live under more receptive institutional orders. To better navigate the ensuing crises, American leaders would do well to read Huntington, so as to nuance their often stuffy lectures to foreigners about how to reform.

President Obama: Celebrities Like Kim Kardashian, Kanye West Have Skewed the American Dream. By Nikki Schwab.

President Obama: Celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Kanye West have skewed the American Dream. By Nikki Schwab. Red Alert Politics, July 31, 2013.

Obama says poor relatives keep his kids grounded. By Kevin Liptak. CNN, August 1, 2013.


President Obama made an example of celebrity couple Kim Kardashian and Kanye West when he talked about the American Dream this week.
The president, chatting with journalist David Blum for an Amazon Singles Interview, said that folks his age often didn’t feel short changed when growing up, even if they didn’t have much.
“The reason was because the American dream involved some pretty basic stuff,” Obama said, ticking off a home, a job, education and healthcare. “But I don’t think people went around saying to themselves, ‘I need to have a 10,000 square-foot house.”
But now, the culture has augmented that dream, the president said.
“We weren’t exposed to the things we didn’t have in the same way that kids these days are,” he began. “There was not that window into the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Kids weren’t monitoring every day what Kim Kardashian was wearing, or where Kanye West was going on vacation, and thinking that somehow that was the mark of success.”
The POTUS sat down with Blum during his visit Tuesday to an fulfillment center in Chattanooga, Tenn., where he talked about the middle class. The interview was released via Amazon Kindle on Wednesday.
During the discussion, Obama also noted what job he might have if he hadn’t entered politics.
“I enjoy teaching. I taught for 10 years. Not full-time, but part-time at the University of Chicago Law School,” Obama said. “I could picture myself being a good teacher.”

Kerry’s Big-Bang Mideast Diplomacy. By David Ignatius.

Kerry’s Big-Bang Mideast Diplomacy. By David Ignatius. Real Clear Politics, August 1, 2013. Also at the Washington Post.


How can Secretary of State John Kerry succeed in the “mission impossible” of negotiating an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement when he faces the same intractable issues that have derailed so many previous peacemaking efforts?
Skepticism about Kerry’s project is nearly universal, and it’s understandable when you look at the graveyard of past negotiations. But some interesting dynamics beneath the surface should make observers cautious about premature burial announcements.
What Kerry has done, in effect, is get the two sides to grab hold of a stick of dynamite. If they can’t defuse it within nine months through an agreement, it’s going to blow up: The moderate Palestinian government in the West Bank would collapse; militant Palestinians would take statehood to the United Nations, probably this time with broad European support; an angry Arab League would withdraw its peace initiative. It would be a big mess for everyone.
Tzipi Livni, the chief Israeli negotiator, recalled at a State Department ceremony Tuesday that when she first talked with Kerry about a new round of peace talks five months ago, he told her that “failure is not an option.” By pushing the two sides into an actual negotiation, Kerry has put some teeth into that bromide. If they fail this time, it will cost the parties dearly, probably Israel most of all. That provides harsh leverage for Washington.
Kerry’s second advantage is that he’s ready to be an active broker in this deal rather than a passive listener or mediator. When the two sides reach impasses or get bogged down on side issues, Kerry will seek to break the logjam with U.S. proposals. By putting a nine-month fuse on his dynamite stick, Kerry limits stalling tactics of the sort adopted in the past by both sides.
Choosing Martin Indyk, a former ambassador to Israel, as special envoy to the talks is another useful prod. Indyk remains so well-known in Israel that when he visits, people treat him as if he were the permanent U.S. representative. Pity the regular ambassador.
Through his work at the Brookings Institution and its Saban Center, Indyk has gathered a copious network of personal contacts across the Middle East. He can request favors and call in chits from around the region. Indyk is a longtime friend, so I can’t pretend to be objective about him. But I think many would agree that because of Indyk’s experience and contacts, it will be hard for either side to game him.
The negotiations will also have momentum from a big team of U.S. experts that will be ready to advise both sides on technical issues, such as water and energy. And John Allen, the retired Marine general who was U.S. commander in Afghanistan, will continue to consult with the Israelis about how the United States can help them meet security challenges posed by a Palestinian state.
An intriguing option for Kerry is a settlement that leaves unresolved some especially difficult issues, such as the status and division of Jerusalem. Michael Gordon and Isabel Kersh­ner made this point in the New York Times on Tuesday when they noted that a deal wouldn’t necessarily mean “the end of claims by either side.” They could continue to disagree about who controls the al-Aqsa mosque, say, or the Western Wall. But for Israel to get the benefits of a full cessation of the conflict, it would have to resolve the hardest issues.
Kerry hasn’t yet gotten Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to endorse the U.S. position on the borders of the Palestinian state, despite strenuous efforts. But Kerry has assured the Palestinians that the United States favors the 1967 lines, plus mutually agreed swaps, a formula that should allow most West Bank settlers to remain within Israel.
The borders question is, at bottom, an Israeli political issue. Naftali Bennett, one of Netanyahu’s coalition partners, speaks passionately for the interests of the settlers, who want the issue to go away. But many Israelis agree with the view expressed by Israeli President Shimon Peres, who has said that withdrawal to the 1967 lines, with border swaps, would be acceptable.
One way to think about these negotiations is that they’re a kind of benign trap. Once the prey have been lured inside, it’s difficult for them to escape without either accomplishing the great work of peace or damaging themselves. Kerry would surely dispute that analogy. But unless it’s valid — unless failure really isn’t an option here because it would be so damaging — then the naysayers will probably be right.

Conservative Firebrands Want Scalps, Not Hollow Victories. By Tim Carney.

Conservative firebrands want scalps, not hollow victories. By Timothy P. Carney. Washington Examiner, July 30, 2013.

Needed: A Paradigm Shift in the “Middle East Peace Process.” By Shlomo Avineri.

Needed: a paradigm shift in the “Middle East peace process.” By Shlomo Avineri. Fathom, January 30, 2013. Also here.


Almost twenty years after the signing of the Oslo Agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the time has come for a new paradigm if one thinks seriously of moving ahead in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel’s upcoming election may now further this need for thinking outside the box, as practically all contending parties are still caught in the language of “solving the conflict” that has until now failed to reach its declared goal. For almost two decades all Israeli governments, of the right and left, have tried but failed in this effort.
It is easy to personalise the issues: Netanyahu is not interested in moving forward; Bush did very little to further negotiations; Obama misjudged the difficulties; Abbas has failed to create one legitimate political entity, able to speak on behalf of all Palestinians. All this is true, yet does not go far enough to explain the failure – some deeper and more structural issues are involved.
No, “everybody” does not know the solution
The last time serious negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority took place under the Olmert government no agreement was reached, despite almost two years of continuous meetings by top officials from both sides. When negotiations reached the core issues of the conflict – borders/settlements, Jerusalem, refugees and security – it became clear that the gaps were too wide to overcome. This is significant, as both sides at that time represented the most conceivably moderate positions, and went into negotiations with a sincere commitment to a two-state solution. It was also in the political interests of both sides to reach an agreement. Had an agreement been reached, Olmert would in all probability still be Israel’s Prime Minister, and Mahmoud Abbas would have a trump card in his internal conflict with Hamas.
The disagreements preventing a deal were fundamental ones. On Jerusalem, no formula acceptable to both sides could be found, and hazy ideas about some international involvement in the administration of the Old City and the “Holy Basin” could not be translated into concrete arrangements. For the Palestinians, the “Right of Return” of 1948 refugees and their descendants (Ouda) continues to be a major building block of their national narrative. Even if the Palestinians were ready to negotiate numbers, they insisted on the principle, which to Israeli negotiators meant undermining and delegitimising the Jewish nation-state. And for Israel, the government insisted on some presence in the Jordan Valley and a complete demilitarisation of the future Palestinian state, which was rejected by the Palestinians as emasculating its sovereignty and independence. Moreover, no territorial swaps could address the issue of settlements and borders. As the Palestinians insisted on a full return to the 1967 lines, no Israeli government could conceivably evacuate a quarter of a million settlers.
These fundamental disagreements have not gone away. Even if negotiations between Israel and the PA are resumed, it is inconceivable that what was not acceptable to Olmert would be acceptable to a future Israeli government under Netanyahu. Or that a PA, emboldened by its support at the UN General Assembly, will be more flexible now than it was four years ago. When one recalls that for all the US pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians, President Obama’s special envoy, Senator George Mitchell, was not able in more than three years to even bring Israel and the PA to the negotiating table, it is unrealistic to imagine that negotiations, even if resumed, would end in something else other than failure. This would further exacerbate enmity and hatred on both sides, as did the failure in 2000 of the Camp David conference convened by President Clinton.
It is for these reasons that the reiteration of the conventional mantra about resuming negotiations is an exercise in futility. To maintain, as one sometimes hears in Europe, that “everybody knows” what the ultimate agreement would look like (1967 borders, Jerusalem the capital of two states, etc.) just overlooks the history of the conflict as well as the last twenty years. Since Oslo, which all subsequent peace attempts have been based on, all negotiations have failed. One can blame the Israelis, or the Palestinians or both, but this is immaterial: perhaps the Europeans agree how to solve the conflict, but neither side in the conflict does.
A new paradigm
If this is the case, what can be done? Perhaps a lesson can be learned from how similar conflicts have been addressed.
It is clear that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is both complex and multi-faceted, which is why – in part – a solution remains intractable. For obvious reasons, the territorial aspects have been seen as the major bone of contention between the two parties, but this is only part of the story. The conflict is also between two national movements and two historical narratives; it is about legitimacy and sovereignty; it entails military occupation, settlers and terrorism; it is not a religious conflict as such, but it has religious dimensions, which exacerbate it; and it involves, in one way or another, neighboring countries. Viewed through this prism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is similar to the conflicts in Cyprus, Bosnia, Kosovo and Kashmir. All of them have the same complex ingredients, though the intensity may differ, a divided Nicosia or Mitrovica has less historical and emotional resonance than a divided Jerusalem.
None of these conflicts have been resolved or seem likely to be resolved any time soon. The Annan plan for Cyprus, supported by the UN, US, EU, Russia, even Turkey and Greece, fell flat on its face when one player – the Greek Cypriots – rejected it; the Dayton agreements stopped the killings, ethnic cleansings and rapes in Bosnia, but failed to establish the envisaged multi-ethnic, multi-confessional confederate Bosnia-Herzegovina; Kosovo achieved its independence, but because Serbia has not accepted it yet, the conflict has not been resolved; and the dispute over Kashmir is also not close to being solved either.
Yet in all these cases, the absence of conflict resolution and the failure to reach a comprehensive, final status agreement has not prevented partial, step-by-step measures aimed at confidence-building and de-escalation. Some of these steps have been unilateral (as in the Turkish decision to open the crossings in Nicosia) or negotiated through a third party (as in the recent cross-border arrangements in Kosovo). To use political science jargon, none of these conflicts have been resolved: their aims are more modest: conflict management, conflict attenuation or conflict de-escalation.
At a time when the EU cannot solve Kosovo, it is presumptuous on its part to imagine that it can solve Israel-Palestine. Similarly, at a time when the US cannot make Serbia accept Kosovo’s independence, it is unrealistic to imagine it can push either the Israelis or the Palestinians, supported as they are by all Arab League countries, to make the concessions neither side is willing to make. Playing the blame game does not move the conflict one inch closer to a resolution.
What is needed is a paradigm change – a realisation, difficult as it may be, like in Cyprus, Kosovo and Bosnia that at the moment there is no possibility of reaching a final status agreement. So in the case of Israel-Palestine there are numerous ways to diminish the conflict, to achieve partial agreements and to create a less tense atmosphere, which may eventually help in bridging gaps that at the moment appear unbridgeable. There would be numerous steps that could be taken both by Israel and the PA in this direction, but if the international community continues to insist on a final status solution it will continue to undermine the chances of a less ambitious but more realistic approach to the issues involved.
There is another lesson to be learned from a previous failed attempt to move towards a final status agreement: when at Camp David in 2000 President Clinton failed to reach an agreement between Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Chairman Yasser Arafat, the consequences on both sides were not only frustration, but a heightened level of enmity, hatred and fear. This is a cautionary tale to all those who advocate another attempt at final status negotiations. They should bear in mind that the outcome of such another failure will not mean a return to square one, but may push both sides closer towards the abyss. Another failed attempt could further widen the gaps and deepen suspicion on both sides – there are penalties, both politically and psychologically, in failure.

Almost twenty years after Oslo, even those like myself who supported the process have to admit that while it was a major step forward – mutual acceptance of each side by the other – it failed to achieve its underlying subtext: an agreed two-state solution. Not realising what was envisaged at Oslo has endangered meaningful progress, and the time has come for the international community to lower its sights and attempt to reach attainable goals, not well-meaning but at the moment utopian ones which attempt to resolve the entire conflict.