Quartet on U.S. invitation: negotiations can be completed in one year

Here is what the Quartet said after the U.S. issued invitations to Israel and the Palestinian leadership today, to start direct talks in Washington D.C. on 2 September:

“The representatives of the Quartet reaffirm their strong support for direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians to resolve all final status issues. The Quartet reaffirms its full commitment to its previous statements, including in Trieste on 26 June 2009, in New York on 24 September 2009, and its statement in Moscow on 19 March 2010 which provides that direct, bilateral negotiations that resolve all final status issues should ‘lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties, that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors’. The Quartet expresses its determination to support the parties throughout the negotiations, which can be completed within one year, and the implementation of an agreement”…

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Daniel Levy on Relaunching (or not) Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

Daniel Levy. the original key player (on behalf of Yossi Beilin) on the Israeli team of the Geneva Initiative (a “civil society” effort to outline a peace agreement), is now in Washington D.C. (a senior fellow at the New America and Century Foundations), and he has recently published a new article (posted originally on Haaretz here and also on his own blog here, in which he argued that:

“If history repeats itself, Netanyahu could drag out talks indefinitely. Once negotiating, there is ample opportunity to create diversions, distractions and provocations … The PLO-Fatah leadership, so far at least, has cast itself in the role of skeptical party pooper. Its members know the consequences of another meaningless negotiation process for their national – not to mention party-political – cause. Many outsiders have been surprised, and some impressed, by the determination displayed over the last several months by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in refusing unconditionally to resume talks. Yet that same leadership has not offered an alternative strategy to replace negotiations, nor has it reunified the Palestinian national movement. The PLO-Fatah leaders are viewed by all sides
as the weakest link, hence the full-court press currently being applied to them. Should they succumb, they will no doubt have to justify such a move by clinging to whatever political fig leaf they are offered, but that will not shield them from what are likely to be harsh domestic political consequences … The main wild card in this equation is the
Obama administration. Year One combined early engagement and a strong declarative commitment to Israeli-Palestinian peace with a frustrating lack of new thinking or political daring from the George Mitchell team, while the president was not personally involved and did not take ownership of the issue. The United States may be satisfied with a convenient and showy re-launch of negotiations, followed by the plodding predictability of process over substance. President Obama may, however, take seriously his own admonition that this issue matters to American strategic interests. That would translate into U.S. leadership in shaping a breakthrough, preferably with EU and Quartet support, creating real choices and deploying new incentives and disincentives with the parties, notably Israel. Ultimately, for all the noise and speculation regarding their resumption, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are likely to prove rather inconsequential. Success or failure in achieving de-occupation and two states will depend primarily on the conversation between Obama and Netanyahu, their political calculations, priorities and persistence”.

Daniel Levy: U.S. remains an indispensable player in Middle East

Daniel Levy recently wrote from Washington (in what is, unsurprisingly yet still dissapointingly, a rather American-based view of the world): “When President Obama turns to the Middle East, he will discover a region in which America’s credibility and standing have been painfully sapped. This is a result of not only war, but also of perceived American indifference to legitimate regional grievances, most notably the Palestinian issue … Into this fray will enter an America that is stretched both economically and militarily. It is also an America that has limited the number of actors, including key actors, with whom it is engaging in the region. The Bush administration frequently indulged in self-marginalization … Yet the US remains an indispensable player. The efforts of others at mediation in the absence of American support or follow-up, more often than not, will fall short. This was the experience in Lebanon 2006, and on the issues of Iran, the Israel–Syria peace talks, Palestinian division and elsewhere, and is playing out in Gaza as these words are written. To restabilize the Middle East, achieve a new equilibrium and advance the peace process, America will very much be needed at the table, and often in a leading role. Against this gloomy backdrop, there are at least two pieces of good news for the incoming US president. Firstly, there is an increasing consensus within the US regarding the failures of Bush Middle East policies and the need to chart a new course. Crucially, this includes an acknowledgement that a restabilized Middle East and an effective peace process are important American national security interests … Secondly, the Middle East is ready to look again at an America led by Barack Hussein Obama, and eager to turn a new page. The hope that is manifest in so much of the world, a world that is not anti-American but has been concerned by American policies, has not passed the Middle East by. President Obama is popular and has a new opportunity. It should not be squandered”…

He then makes some suggestions (that, while they are clearly intended to be balanced, still take too much an Israeli-centered view of the world):
1.) “Take a long, hard look at why Annapolis failed to deliver”. YES. It does require a serious policy re-think (but not one limited only to the questions Daniel asks in his piece)…
2.) Find a new vocabulary, if not an entirely new language — that would articulate “genuine and convincing understanding for the Palestinian predicament”: YES.
3a.) Undertake “a round of frank discussions with its allies in the region and beyond. Friends in the Arab world will need to be told that America is now in the business of calming and resolving, rather than exacerbating, regional tensions”: YES.
3b.) But, Daniel writes: “A similar conversation should take place with Israel, its main predicate being that the US is interested in a peace outcome more than a peace process … while making clear that it wants to get this done, to see de-occupation and Palestinian statehood”. YES, so far so good. However, I disagree with Levy’s subsequent insistence here, which actually runs throughout the piece, that the U.S. must “walk in lockstep with Israel on all of its key legitimate concerns (on security, finality of borders and their recognition/legitimacy): NO. What, on ALL Israel’s key security concerns? NO, this is neither fair, nor is it in America’s interest. The U.S. cannot agree, for example, that Israel can dictate and impose all its concerns — including retention of all the settlements it wants; or that the awful checkpoints are necessary for anybody’s security (or even that they have worked so far); or that the awful Wall can stand. [One Israeli media source recently said that it would only take 30 days to completely tear it down — but this appears to be a fantasy.] The U.S. cannot agree that a future Palestinian state should be delayed any longer, or that it should be totally demilitarized, except for a Palestinian security force that acts only as a sub-contractor for Israeli security concerns. Palestinian security concerns must also be addressed, very concretely. And a future Palestinian democracy must not be smothered in an utterly misguided and terribly heavy-handed attempt to address only Israel’s security concerns as presently formulated, meaning a need to be in total control.

Then, Daniel Levy goes on — or veers off — into areas that are probably closer to what Washington policy-makers are musing on, but that might be less immediately productive, such as urging the U.S. to impose its own solution (based on U.S. interests!), and bringing in probably-unchewable issues of Lebanon, Syria and Iran.

Finally, Daniel writes: “The Bush administration connected the Middle East dots in a way that left a very ugly mess. The Obama administration does not have the luxury of a blank page, a clean slate. But it does have a new opportunity, and that is a rare and precious thing that if thoughtfully nurtured can indeed help create a livable equilibrium in this most troubled of regions”.

This analysis can be read in full here .