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.