Start-up nation or Challenger Two?
There are only two times I recall watching a live event on television when I was in school. The first is the launch of the space shuttle Challenger, and the second is the signing of the Oslo Accords. In a national tragedy, the Challenger blew up 73 seconds into its flight. And, as the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Accords on the White House lawn just passed, it is entirely possible the Oslo process may blow up, too.
Yet, with some forward-thinking and a more inclusive process, we can kickstart—not hamper—the Israel-Palestine peace process.
Much has been written about the successes and failures of the peace process. The most telling trend is the Greek chorus of pundits, experts, politicians and academics declaring that the Oslo process should now be considered dead.
Not surprisingly, The New York Times Op-Ed page serves as the perfect microcosm for this debate: while University of Pennsylvania Prof. Ian Lustick advocates a one-state solution and Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon seeks to directly include Egypt and Jordan in the peace process with the Palestinians, others just throw their hands in the air. At the same time, Secretary of State John Kerry and Special Envoy Martin Indyk press ahead with the current round of negotiations that from all appearances has created nothing but resentment on each side, a hundred or so freed terrorists and absurd press leaks.
President Clinton said at the signing of Oslo twenty years ago: “Therefore, let us resolve that this new mutual recognition will be a continuing process in which the parties transform the very way they see and understand each other.” Of course, that challenge has remained uncompleted. Palestinian incitement continues in the classroom and on the street. Suicide bombers are revered and false history is widespread. The Israelis are not innocent of this, too—but in Palestine, not only is incitement more widespread, but the threats and actions that come as a result bear more devastating consequences.
Yet, Prime Ministers Rabin; Peres; Barak; Sharon; and Olmert have taken extraordinary steps in the last twenty years that no one would have expected. Who would have seriously thought the Israelis would leave southern Lebanon or pull out of areas of the West Bank or unilaterally leave Gaza—not to mention achieve lasting peace with Egypt and Jordan? Most importantly was Prime Minister Netanyahu’s declaration that the Palestinians should have a state of their own.
But today, the steps that Oslo laid out need to be reevaluated. Israel has been touted as the “Start-Up Nation” because of the creativity and innovation of the population. The country has been responsible for, everything from the Iron Dome missile defense system to instant messaging and grape tomatoes. These same people should be able to approach the seemingly intractable problem facing them with new creative solutions, particularly, if the partner on the other side of the table is not particularly reliable.
The final status will not be reached unilaterally, and as much as the “Quartet” may wish it, and peace cannot be imposed by an outside party. MK Danon was not wrong in suggesting that Egypt and Jordan should be involved in the negotiations but while we’re at it, the entire Arab League should be in the game as well. The delegitimization of Israel will continue if the Arab League does not wholeheartedly recognize Israel. The signing of the Oslo Accords brought with it the recognition of Israel by some 36 countries who previously refused to. Another confidence building measure would be for the American government to finally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the embassy there.
What next steps are possible? As nice as just giving Gaza and the West Bank back to Egypt and Jordan sounds, it’s not an option. Neither country wants it and the Palestinians would never agree. However, pushing Egypt and Jordan to take over less sensitive aspects of security over the territories should be considered. Doing so would enforce the regional importance of a lasting peace; strengthen the existing peace treaties with both countries and allow the Israelis to pull troops from more areas of the West Bank. Security on their borders should be just as important to Egypt and Jordan as it is to Israel
Further, building economic opportunities for Palestinans should be at the forefront of the Israeli mind. Companies like SodaStream, LivePerson, Cisco and Intel are already taking advantage of Palestinian labor. Jobs and security are inextricably linked, just as poverty and extremism are linked.
As the final border line is generally known, Israel should, at the very least, stop building in areas that can be assumed will be evacuated in a final status. Palestinians will not return en masse to Israel, and their leadership knows this – Arafat knew it too. However, the general population still harbors that illusion. It’s time to start introducing some kind of compensation scheme for the Palestinians who have legitimate claims who actual would want to return (as opposed to the vast majority, which polling has show will not look to return). These are all confidence-building measures that will improve Israel’s image and can be accomplished unilaterally.
The entire world knows this ends with, as President Obama has said, two states for two peoples living in peace and security in two states next to each other. It’s time to rethink how we get there.