A review of the major stages along the road to peace will show the share of blame that American policy carries in hampering all attempts aimed at finding an acceptable settlement. The irony is that almost all of these attempts were initiated by the U.S. or through vigorous participation on its part.
A recapitulation of some of these landmark initiatives includes the following:
* The initiative by former Secretary of State William Rogers (1969-1970) for a political settlement of the conflict predicated on an Israeli withdrawal from the territories (or the largest part of them) it occupied in June 1967, in return for an official American commitment guaranteeing Israel's security. This initiative was aborted from within the American political establishment itself, primarily due to the reservations of then-National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger; he argued that an impasse in the peace process was to the advantage of the U.S. Later, he claimed that it was this that drove Sadat to shift from his adherence to the U.S.S.R. and to turn to the U.S. instead.
* The Saunders Document presented by Harold Saunders, then deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern and South Asia Affairs, in the wake of the 1973 October War, and published on November 12, 1975. It referred to the necessity of respecting the legitimate interests and aspirations of the Arab Palestinians in peace negotiations, and affirmed the predominance of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) over the rest of the Palestinian organizations. Again, the official retraction by the American administration came from Kissinger, who asserted America's established position with respect to the Palestinian question and the PLO, that is, its refusal to deal with the PLO before the latter recognized Israel's right to exist and accepted United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Furthermore, any contacts with the PLO could only occur "after consultations and coordination" with the Israeli government.
* President Jimmy Carter's administration's backtracking on the American-Soviet declarations regarding the Middle East (1977), which called for the convening of the Geneva Conference with the participation of Palestinian representatives. The idea was shelved soon after a peremptory Israeli rejection.
* Camp David (2000), where the American administration ended up adopting the Israeli position with respect to sensitive issues like Jerusalem and the refugees. In addition, the American administration has, for all practical purposes, abandoned the Road Map and the Quartet due to Israeli reservations, as well as to the unilateral solution which then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon embarked upon in the Gaza Strip, with the aim of replicating the experience in the West Bank.
The special nature of American-Israeli relations is grounded in several factors which gave rise to reciprocity in influence between the two countries. The U.S. enjoys a position of power which is advantageous to its ally Israel; in turn, Israel's position in the region is important to American interests there. Additionally, the two countries share cultural-ideological ties fed by the messianic culture of the neo-cons. As a consequence, the U.S. cannot be a fair mediator. It is also sure to impede any serious international effort that sets out to achieve progress in the peace process, especially if this were to result in important changes with repercussions on Israel, or in regional changes that would affect the interests and balance of power in the Middle East. And, naturally, the U.S. would not like to see the evolution of a collective international will that can act more independently to modify the dominant American approach in the handling of a political settlement.
American Mediation: A Hindrance, Not a Help
The experience of past years has shown the failure of direct bilateral negotiations, as well as the failure of making any international move contingent on the U.S. abandoning its support for this approach. Direct bilateral negotiations mean the perpetuation of the imposition of facts by the Israeli side, and the denial of the elements of parity which international legitimacy allows to the defeated party in this conflict - a defeated party that, in addition, is rendered impotent through the rejection of international legitimacy by extremist currents. Finally, unilateral American mediation has also failed, especially in finding a solution to the sensitive issues which form the basis of a comprehensive final settlement as defined by the Declaration of Principles (DOP): Jerusalem, refugees, water and borders.
The failure of direct bilateral negotiations or of unilateral American mediation is not confined to American policy per se, but spreads to incorporate all attempts at a wider international involvement, whether through the threat of an American veto in the UN Security Council, or, in the past, through the U.S. blocking calls for a meeting of the signatories to the Fourth Geneva Convention or the Hague Regulations. And worse yet, the U.S. has contributed to the failure of the Quartet and the Road Map - both of which it had espoused - and has stymied all efforts to hold a new international conference, or to expand the European and Russian role within the Quartet in order to break the impasse in the peace process.
Israel Feels the Pinch
Israel's justification for its rejection of international involvement is understandable: It needs the freedom to operate outside the constraints of the agreements of international legitimacy, or international institutions, initiatives and implementation mechanisms. But now, after so many conflicts have flared up in the Middle East, and especially with the intensification of Iran's political and military power in the region and the failure of American policy in Iraq and the region, it would be difficult to ignore or avert the impact these might have on Israel. This is especially true with the setback suffered by American policy and the rising need to fill the vacuum, as it were. This will give a wider margin for international intervention to redraw the map and balances of the new Middle East alongside the U.S. - a U.S. which now finds itself on the threshold of important strategic changes in its concept of security and international relations in the region.
Israel will, without doubt, pursue its traditional strategy regarding its relations with the U.S., i.e., preserving the strategic partnership and advance coordination with the U.S. vis-à-vis its policy in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel will be rushing to preserve and impose its own concept of a solution as the international community moves to fill the vacuum, following the strengthening of its role after the Lebanon War and the government crisis in Palestine. As a result, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has started to revise his unilateral plan in coordination with the American administration, and to give a new impetus to the Road Map, without discarding Israel's reservations in this regard. He has also shown a readiness to resume direct negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), in a preemptive move to block the European initiative (French-Spanish/Italian) on the one hand and the Arab Peace Initiative on the other.
Misgivings on the Palestinian Side
On the Palestinian front, the view regarding international solutions is going through two crises. First, there is the well-tried experience - past and present - of the feeble outcome of international involvement which has been totally controlled by the U.S. and governed by double standards. These, in the eyes of the Palestinians, have hindered the implementation of the legitimate international resolutions. Instead, they have seen intensified settlement activity and land confiscation, the separation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank, the annexation of Jerusalem, the building of the separation wall and the absence of guarantees of returning to the same worn-out game of bilateral talks. This reinforces the logic behind the second problem, which is the rejection of the legitimacy of international resolutions as a basis for the achievement of a final settlement. In this case, the arrival at a permanent settlement does not seem to be the concern of the hour among certain Palestinian elements.
American Mediation: A hindrance, not a help - U.S. President George Bush meets
Arab leaders at a Red Sea summit in 2003. (Paul Morse/White House photo)
The continuation of the status quo effectively means that the Palestinian problem will be entering a new phase of conflict with still more calamitous results than before. This will not be due solely because it is impossible to prevent the Palestinian problem from influencing and being influenced by the rest of the Arab and regional context, and from impacting on certain extremist Islamic movements. It will also result in a new round of violence and direct struggle on the ground between the Israeli occupation and the Palestinians. Regardless of the magnitude and the severity of the violence this struggle might take, what is more important, in my view, is that it will completely undermine whatever possibility is left for a "historic compromise solution" by downsizing it to a Palestinian state with borders according to Israel's conceptualization - a state with temporary borders.
The international community's intervention is needed now more than ever to safeguard the option of a historic compromise solution to the Palestinian question predicated on the following: an independent Palestinian state with full sovereignty over all the lands occupied in 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital; an equitable solution to the refugee question in accordance with Resolution 194; and the withdrawal from occupied Syrian territory and the Sheba'a Farms. The surest framework for this is the Arab Peace Initiative, which has to be confirmed internationally through the Security Council, coupled with implementation mechanisms, which will culminate in a new international conference for peace that could provide a different model for an effective and vital international involvement. As for the continuation of the existing situation and the return to the formula of direct negotiations and American monopoly over the peace process, such a scenario can only have disastrous results and should be avoided at all costs. <