To achieve Mideast peace, Obama must make a bold Mideast trip
More than three decades ago, Israeli statesman Moshe Dayan, speaking about an Egyptian town that controlled Israel's only outlet to the Red Sea, declared that he would rather have Sharm el-Sheikh without peace than peace without Sharm el-Sheikh. Had his views prevailed, Israel and Egypt would still be in a state of war. Today, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, with his pronouncements about the eternal and undivided capital of Israel, is conveying an updated version of Dayan's credo -- that he would rather have all of Jerusalem without peace than peace without all of Jerusalem.
This is unfortunate, because a comprehensive peace agreement is in the interest of all parties. It is in the U.S. national interest because the occupation of the West Bank and the enforced isolation of the Gaza Strip increases Muslim resentment toward the United States, making it harder for the Obama administration to pursue its diplomatic and military objectives in the region. Peace is in the interest of Israel; its own defense minister, Ehud Barak, recently said that the absence of a two-state solution is the greatest threat to Israel's future, greater even than an Iranian bomb. And an agreement is in the interest of the Palestinians, who deserve to live in peace and with the dignity of statehood.
However, a routine unveiling of a U.S. peace proposal, as is reportedly under consideration, will not suffice. Only a bold and dramatic gesture in a historically significant setting can generate the political and psychological momentum needed for a major breakthrough. Anwar Sadat's courageous journey to Jerusalem three decades ago accomplished just that, paving the way for the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt.
Similarly, President Obama should travel to the Knesset in Jerusalem and the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah to call upon both sides to negotiate a final status agreement based on a specific framework for peace. He should do so in the company of Arab leaders and members of the Quartet, the diplomatic grouping of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations that is involved in the peace process. A subsequent speech by Obama in Jerusalem's Old City, addressed to all the people in the region and evocative of his Cairo speech to the Muslim world in June 2009, could be the culminating event in this journey for peace.
Such an effort would play to Obama's strengths: He personalizes politics and seeks to exploit rhetoric and dramatic settings to shatter impasses, project a compelling vision of the future and infuse confidence in his audience.
The basic outlines of a durable and comprehensive peace plan that Obama could propose are known to all:
First, a solution to the refugee problem involving compensation and resettlement in the Palestinian state but not in Israel. This is a bitter pill for the Palestinians, but Israel cannot be expected to commit political suicide for the sake of peace.
Second, genuine sharing of Jerusalem as the capital of each state, and some international arrangement for the Old City. This is a bitter pill for the Israelis, for it means accepting that the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem will become the capital of Palestine.
Third, a territorial settlement based on the 1967 borders, with mutual and equal adjustments to allow the incorporation of the largest West Bank settlements into Israel.
And fourth, a demilitarized Palestinian state with U.S. or NATO troops along the Jordan River to provide Israel greater security.
Most of these parameters have been endorsed in the Arab peace plan of 2002 and by the Quartet. And the essential elements have also been embraced by Barak and another former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert.
For the Israelis, who are skeptical about the willingness of the Palestinians and Arabs to make peace with them, such a bold initiative by Obama would provide a dramatic demonstration of the prospects for real peace, making it easier for Israel's political leadership to make the necessary compromises.