President Obama’s former Middle East adviser Dennis Ross recently wrote that the United States should recognize the distinct possibility that there is no comprehensive, final peace deal in the offing and look for alternatives. He explains that “America’s options must not be narrowed to a choice between a permanent deal or doing nothing.” And he suggest a possible mini-deal:
Mr. Netanyahu would be asked to take two steps. First, he would have to declare that Israel will only build in what it considers to be the state of Israel and that it will no longer build in what it considers to be the future Palestinian state. That would mean building only in certain designated settlement blocs and existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Second, he would have to pledge to open up what is known as Area C — 60 percent of the West Bank’s land — to Palestinian economic activity.
Mr. Abbas would also be asked to take two steps. First, he would have to declare openly that he recognizes there are two national movements, involving the Jewish and Palestinian people, and that they are competing for the same territory — and that the only way to fulfill both aspirations is to have two states. Second, he would be asked to state publicly that before Hamas can become part of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is what Hamas has been seeking in each reconciliation agreement, including the current one, it must accept the P.L.O.’s position on renouncing violence and recognizing Israel’s right to exist. . . . Other possibilities might include Israeli efforts to improve Palestinian access and trade between the West Bank and Gaza, or giving greater responsibilities to Palestinian security forces in parts of the West Bank, provided that Palestinians would reduce incitement in their media and in mosques, and enhance security cooperation with the Israel Defense Forces.
There are a couple of problems here. First, it ignores Palestinian corruption and governance issues. Mahmoud Abbas hangs on beyond his term and no election are in the offing. If we are to prepare for an eventual Palestinian state, the building blocks of that state should be in place (as Israel did before the 1948 declaration of statehood.) Second, a former U.S. official points to Ross’s weird formulation — “existing Jewish neighborhoods.” Are there neighborhoods where Jews can’t live, and how can Arabs but not Jews build in the capital? It would be much simpler to reaffirm the Bush-Sharon agreement that allowed construction to go on provided it didn’t enlarge the footprint (build out) of existing settlements.
It is curious why the administration didn’t go down this road when Ross was there or at any time thereafter. (Isn’t Hillary Clinton the smartest secretary of state ever? If so, she preferred to bang her head against a wall rather than do something constructive.) Maybe the Obama team is uncreative and inflexible when it comes to diplomacy. Or maybe they are only interested in this for a photo-op deal signed on the White House lawn. Whatever is the problem, they will leave the Israeli-Palestinian situation much worse than when they found it, which pretty much describes U.S. policy everywhere on the planet.