Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Daniel Kurzter: Looking at Process in the Arab-Israeli Negotiations

Dan Kurtzer, a former US ambassador to Egypt and to Israel, and currently at Princeton, is one of the most level-headed Americans when thinking about Israel/Palestine. When he was ambassador he had to be careful about expressing his opinions. Now he is his own man, and, indeed, a man to watch. On a personal note, he is a former neighbor and fellow synagogue member.

I have reproduced in full his piece in the Lebanese Daily Star that appeared today. At first glance it may appear to be just another exercise in diplomatic non-speak. But a careful reading will show Kurtzer's sensitivity to the "asymmetry" of the power-relations between Israel and the Palestinians, and the need for the US (and others) to take a more proactive stance that they did during the Oslo period. "Letting the parties negotiate the peace without outside interference" -- the mantra of the Israelis, who have everything to fear from such interference -- is heartily rejected here.

The article can be read here

Looking At Process In The Arab-israeli Negotiations

By Daniel Kurtzer

In The Daily Star (Lebanon), Opinion February 5, 2008

With the resumption of the Middle East peace process after Annapolis, the focus has turned to the substantive divide between the parties regarding the core issues of territory and boundaries, security, Jerusalem and refugees. Different ways have been suggested to approach these issues: for example, trying to reach agreement on a declaration of principles; trying to reach a full agreement and then putting it on the shelf until the time is ripe for implementation; or trying for a full agreement and implementation in phases, to begin immediately.

Less attention has been devoted to questions related to the negotiation process - for example, how to structure the negotiations, and what should be the role of the United States and other outside parties. If the past teaches us anything, however, it is that negotiation issues can often be as important as substantive issues in determining the success or failure of the peace process. A study of past negotiations, as we have learned, can be quite revealing and instructive.

Over the past 18 months, I directed a study group of the United States Institute of Peace that assessed US negotiating behavior in the peace process since the end of the Cold War. Our study group - composed of professors William Quandt, Steven Spiegel and Shibley Telhami - interviewed more than 100 current and former officials and analysts from the US and the region. The results will be published in mid-February in a book I have co-authored with Scott Lasensky entitled "Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: American Leadership in the Middle East."

During the period of active negotiations, 1993 to 2000, the US administration failed to exercise its role effectively in several important respects. American officials failed to understand and deal with key asymmetries in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. While the US paid attention to Israeli security requirements, less attention was devoted to Palestinian political requirements. The US did not find a way to compensate for Palestinian political weakness. This was demonstrated by the fact that this was the first time in history a people under occupation was expected both to negotiate its own way out from under occupation while creating a viable, democratic and independent state.

The US also failed to set up a monitoring system to hold the parties accountable for fulfilling their commitments and implementing agreements. American officials dedicated significant attention to keeping the process alive, even though the behavior of the two sides - settlement activity, limitations on mobility, violence and terrorism and governance weakness - weighted the process down and destroyed mutual confidence and trust.

Since 2000, the US has been almost absent from peacemaking altogether. Rhetoric has replaced diplomacy and little has been done to create or exploit opportunities for progress.

If the US is to be more successful in supporting the peace process after Annapolis, several policy initiatives and changes need to be implemented.

First, the American president must make clear that an Arab-Israel peace settlement is a vital US national interest, not a favor Washington is doing for the parties. We must avoid the false dichotomy embodied in the statement that "we cannot want peace more than the parties." The parties need peace, and the US needs there to be peace.

Second, there is a critical need for effective monitoring and for holding the parties accountable with regard to whatever they have committed to do. There must be consequences for bad behavior lest the parties accustom themselves to not carrying out their obligations.

Third, the US can and must carry out diplomacy more effectively and make better use of its "diplomatic toolbox." The US must have a peace team that is experienced and has a deep understanding of the region. More reliance must be put on our representatives in the field who are on the job every day. A special envoy might be necessary, but our study found that, with the right policy, the question of an envoy will sort itself out - better a policy without an envoy than an envoy without a policy.

Fourth, the US needs to do homework, to lock in the gains of previous negotiations and to be ready to do what is necessary - and what has proved beneficial in the past - to assist the parties on substance with creative ideas to bridge differences. The US also has an array of tools, including economic and other incentives, which, if deployed wisely, can make a difference in the negotiating process.

Just as we have done with respect to the US role - that is, analyze weaknesses and failures in an effort to learn lessons from the past - Israelis and Palestinians should consider doing the same. The substantive issues are challenging and require deft and agile diplomacy that benefits from a proper evaluation of what has succeeded or failed in the past.


Anonymous said...

I look forward to the day when we can can say that a former US Ambassador to Palestine worshipped at our mosque.


Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, the deus-ex-machina that thinkers like Alef Bet Yehoshua and Bernard Avishai believe in...the Americans will step in and "force" the two sides to make peace.
For example, Kurtzer talks using about economic sanctions to get the parties to do what Uncle Sam wants. This goes with the assumption that that the two parties can be isolated from the surrounding environment. Let's say that the Palestinian Authority decides to continue to turn a blind eye to ongoing terrorist acitivies that are organized in the territories they control. As a result, the Americans decide to cut economic aid. But is this the end of the story? No, the PA can go running to the EU, or the Saudis or the Gulf States and cry that the Americans are punishing them and that in any even they have no control over terrorits activities, or they can tell the EU that "cutting the aid to us will only strengthen HAMAS and the radicals and you certainly don't want THEM in power...blah, blah" (this is how Mubarak carries out anti-American policies and propangda and yet continues to receive American aid using the Muslim Brotherhood as the bogeyman).
Or, for example, the US, in order to get Israel to bend to its will could order a partial arms embargo. However, how would the Arab/Muslim radicals react to this? Maybe it would increase the chance of war making the Arabs say "see, we can make a move against Israel now since the Americans are cutting them loose", just as happened in 1967 when France did this to Israel.

Regardless of what Kurtzer says, it IS true that the Americans can't want Israeli/Arab peace any more than the parties themselves do. I think it is important to note that the editorial line of a "centrist" newspaper like the Jerusalem Post lately has been taking the line that the Arabs really have no incentive to reach an agreement with Israel because the Arabs see themselves as winning the war of attrition. Even Olmert has stated that "Israel is finished if there is no peace agreement" and this, of course, is exactly what the Arabs want (the Editor of the Post, David Horowitz is a former speech writer for Shimon Peres-showing that a much more realistic view of the intractability of the Arab/Israeli conflict is moving out of the political "right" into other parts of Israeli society).

Jerry Haber said...

bar_kochba, you make a good point. American pressure is only good if you believe that peace with Israel is possible (or desirable). If you believe that the Zionist regime established in 1948 is a bad idea, then wouldn't it be better to simply let it self-destruct, with the help of an Arab war of attrition. That has always beent the position of the rejectionists. Some sort of peace (or reduced hostilities) serves the interest of Israel, and why would an opponent of Israel be interested in that, except tactically.

Moreover, it is not clear that international involvement always helps in the long run. We still don't know what will happen in the former Yugoslavia. Afghanistan is a disaster; Iraq is a mega-disaster. If Israel is "dafuk" then let it die a natural death.

Or so the argument goes.

However, I, unlike Kurtzer, am not focused on the question of peace. I see injustice. And since I hold Israel primarily responsible for the injustice, it should pay -- and pay big. A boycott would not bring it closer to peace -- but it would punish it for its crimes. It may have adverse effects (the rise of the extreme right, etc.), but it may not. Look what happened to the Soviet Union. Hanging tough doesn't always work. But it does make a statement.

Anonymous said...

Regarding having "Israel pay for its crimes" , are you willing yourself personally to pay? For example, would you support an academic boycott of your university or whever it is that you teach, and having your papers or appearances at conferences boycotted? I recall that the late Tanya Rheinhart (sp?) supported academic boycotts, and she finally drew the logical conclusions from this and left the country.
Are you willing to go to Tel Aviv University (a bastion of what you call "Liberal Zionists") and have them turn the place back over to the Arabs of the village of Sheikh Munis who are probably languishing in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip? One of the reason that there is so much hatred of "mitnahalim" there (Jews living in Judea/Samaria) is to transfer the guilt THEY feel for 1948 and to push it off their shoulders to someone else. They want to "feel good about themselves" by having SOMEONE ELSE pay the price.

Jerry Haber said...

I wrote about my position on the boycott last Fall. You may be interested in my post.


I am no longer at Bar Ilan, so I can't boycott myself. I often suffer from self-criticism (usually of my writing a blog rather than doing scholarly work).

I plan to readdress the question soon.

I don't think that hatred of mitnahalim, of which there is an abundance, can be explained at all as guilt-transferrence because most liberal Zionists I know don't feel a whit of guilt about Sheikh Munis, and they have all sorts of justifications for distinguishing the 1948 and 1967 situations. One reason why they hate mitnahalim is because the others are always throwing 1948 in their face and claiming that they are the true Zionists -- indeed, they are the true labor Zionists. It is hard to like somebody who says that they are a better version of you than you are.

But I think we can agree that one of the reasons why the mitnahalim are hated is that they belong to a different tribe than the most liberal Zionists, the dati leumi tribe. As you know, Israel is not so much a country as a collection of tribes (secularists, edot ha-mizrah, russians, ethiopians, religious nationalist, haredim, etc., etc.) who are generally prejudiced against each other. Note that the Tel-Aviv liberals enjoy bashing the religious settlers but not the Jordan valley settlers. But I think the main reason is that the religious settlers basically say to them, "We are now what you were then" and that drives them crazy, because if that is the case, then they are guilty of the same crimes.
Needless to say, the so-called extreme left, of which I am proud to be a member, wimpy Democrat that I am, tends to agree with the right on much of this.