[Published 10 March 2013]
Beware failed negotiators like Dennis Ross when they continue to pontificate on the possibility of the two-state solution.
Formerly the United States chief negotiator for the Arab-Israeli conflict from 1993 to 2001 and a special assistant to the president for the Middle East and South Asia from 2009 to 2011 - Dennis Ross is now a distinguished fellow and counselor to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
In his recent article in the New York Times entitled -“To Achieve Mideast Peace,Suspend Disbelief” - Mr Ross concludes that neither side believes the other side is committed to the two-state solution but that cannot be an argument for doing nothing.
He further states that if the two-state solution is discredited as an outcome - something and someone will fill the void.
Ross speculates that the Islamists of Hamas, with their rejection of two-states, seem primed to fill the void - when he says the conflict will be transformed from a nationalist into a religious one and at that point it may not be possible to resolve.
One can only shake one’s head in amazement that Mr Ross actually believes this is a nationalist conflict and not a religious conflict.
The continuing refusal by the PLO, Hamas and the Arab League to recognise Israel as the Jewish National Home - first decreed with the unanimous consent of the League of Nations in 1922 and incorporated into the United Nations Charter under article 80 in 1945 - indicates that Mr Ross learnt nothing after 8 years in the hot seat as the United States chief negotiator.
Mr Ross asks - so what can be done?
His proposal is one taken right out of fairyland:
"I propose a 14-point agenda for discussions. Twelve of the points — six on the Israeli side and six on the Palestinian side — would be coordinated unilateral moves that each party would be willing to discuss and implement provided that the other side would do its part. The final points would be mutual steps taken concurrently by both sides. The goal would be to chip away at the sources of each side’s disbelief about the other’s commitment to a genuine two-state solution."
In a remarkably contrived display of evenhandedness - 6 discussion points apiece - Mr Ross has gone back to the failed formula of pressing Israel to make concrete commitments in return for PLO commitments that - apart from one - amount to nothing more than sheer hot air.
Israel six-point list is as follows:
1. Only build new housing in settlement blocks and in areas west of the security barrier. This means that Israel would build only in about 8 percent of the West Bank and no longer in the remaining 92 percent.
2. Offer compensation to any Jews to relocate to Israel or the designated blocks.
3. Consent to begin construction of housing within Israel or the designated blocks for all those settlers ready to relocate.
4. In “Area C,” which represents 60.1 percent of the West Bank’s territory and in which Israel retains civil and security responsibility, Palestinians would be permitted economic access, activity and ownership.
5. In “Area B,” which covers 21.7 percent of the West Bank and in which Palestinians have responsibility for civil affairs and for law and order — but not for dealing with terrorism — the presence of Palestinian police and security forces, and their duties, would be allowed to increase.
6. In “Area A,” which accounts for 18.2 percent of the West Bank’s territory and in which the Palestinians have civil and security responsibility, the I.D.F. could specify clear security criteria, which, if met by the Palestinian Authority, would end the incursions.
Mr Ross lists the following six agenda items for the Palestinian side to commit to:
1. Be willing to speak of two states for two peoples and to acknowledge there are two national movements and two national identities.
2. Pledge to put Israel on Palestinian maps
3. Make clear the commitment to building the state of Palestine, without encroaching on Israel, with a particular focus on the rule of law.
4. Commit to ending incitement; stop glorifying as martyrs those who kill Israelis; stop blaming Israel for every evil; stop denying the Jewish connection to Jerusalem.
5. Prepare the Palestinian public for peace.
6. Build permanent housing in refugee camps and allow those families who wish to move out of the camps to be permitted to do so
Apart from the last item on the agenda - and since the PLO has shown itself incapable of bringing about these changes of attitude during the last 20 years of failed negotiations - there is little point in including them.
Perhaps it is time for Mr Ross and others in the international community to consider the principle of reciprocity in negotiations.
To induce Israel to accept Mr Ross’s six point agenda - he needs to propose something far more concrete on the Arab side - something along the lines of the following:
1. The Arab League is to nominate two more of its members to recognise Israel and open embassies between their respective countries.
2. The Arab League and the PLO agree to recognise Israel in its final agreed-upon designated borders as the reconstituted Jewish National Home in accordance with international law
3. Offer compensation to Arabs willing to relocate from Area C to Area A or Area B
4. Consent to begin construction of housing in Area A and Area B to house those Arabs willing to relocate from Area C
5. Hold free and fair elections in the West Bank and Gaza within twelve months irrespective of the state of the negotiations
6. Build permanent housing in existing refugee camps
In the words of Mr Ross:
"These 12 points represent an agenda for discussion that could lead to coordinated actions and change the dynamic between Israelis and Palestinians — and maybe, by restoring hope, show that the government of Mr. Abbas still offers a pathway for Palestinian national aspirations.
These points could, for once, create a virtuous cycle. Such progress is vital if there is to be any hope that the two sides will actually address the core issues of the conflict.
We don’t need more dead ends. It is time to show Israelis and Palestinians that something is possible other than stalemate. Otherwise disbelief and failure will become a self-fulfilling prophecy."
Mr Ross - despite your best efforts - your proposal does nothing to reverse the generally held belief that the two-state solution is terminal and has been dead and buried for more than eighteen months.
To propose that your 12 point agenda can suspend that belief by proposing yet another talkfest based on vague intangible commitments by the Arabs is quite frankly unbelievable.