What is required is to summon the will of Israeli and Palestinian leaders, led by a determined American president, to forge the various elements into a conclusion that all parties have already publicly accepted in principle. Indeed, a broad-based Israeli group has just announced its ‘Israeli Peace Initiative’ that endorses these elements, and there is strong support from the leaders of Europe, especially Germany, France and the UK.
Thus the time has come for Mr Obama to lay out his view of the parameters of a fair and viable peace agreement. Four issues should be highlighted.
First, territory and borders should be addressed. Two states, based on the lines of June 4 1967 with minor, reciprocal, and agreed-upon modifications as expressed in a 1:1 land swap is needed, to take into account areas heavily populated by Israelis in the West Bank.
Next, there has to be a solution to the refugee problem that is consistent with the two-state solution that does not entail a general right of return to Israel and addresses the Palestinian refugees’ sense of injustice, while also providing them with meaningful financial compensation as well as resettlement assistance.
Third, Jerusalem has to be made the undivided capital of both Israel and Palestine, with Jewish neighbourhoods under Israeli sovereignty and Arab neighbourhoods under Palestinian sovereignty. There should be a special regime for the Old City, providing each side control of its respective holy places and unimpeded access by each community to them.
Last, on the issue of security, Mr Obama must push for a non-militarised Palestinian state, together with security mechanisms that address Israeli concerns while respecting Palestinian sovereignty, and a US-led multinational force to ensure a peaceful transitional security period.
These parameters would serve as a basis for substantive and productive discussion by the parties to move the peace negotiations to a positive resolution. They would achieve priority US national security and foreign policy objectives with respect to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Also, they would fulfill the repeated urgings of the international community, including the Arab League and the Quartet (the UN, the US, the European Union, and Russia), that the US exercise determined and effective leadership as the chief facilitator of the Middle East peace process. The parameters should be part of a comprehensive and ambitious strategy designed to move the parties forward to a lasting agreement.
Of course, success is not guaranteed. By its very nature, no issue that requires a president’s direct involvement is. But many issues of importance to US national security interests depend on achieving lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.
The nature of the new Middle East cannot be known until the festering sore of the occupied territories is removed. Iran’s hegemonic ambitions, including its support for Hezbollah and Hamas, cannot be blunted as long as it is seen in the region as the champion of the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians.
Syria and Lebanon will remain arenas of direct concern to Israel as long as there is no regional peace agreement. Relations with Saudi Arabia, already tested by the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, likely would be strengthened if King Abdullah saw the US as moving in a serious manner to resolve the Palestinian issue.
There is no issue in the Middle East more deserving of the president’s engagement, both for US interests globally and for the stability of a vital region undergoing historic change. In June 2010, Mr Obama spoke eloquently in Cairo about justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings. It is now time to use his office and prestige to bring peace to the Holy Land, uniting Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs in a lasting peace.
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