Amb. Daniel Kurtzer on Reviving the Peace...

Amb. Daniel Kurtzer on Reviving the Peace Process

Interview by Dr. Steven L. Speigel, via the Israel Policy Forum

via The Israel Policy Forum (to read the full interview, click here)

Former Ambassador to Israel from the United States, Daniel C. Kurtzer, discusses how he thinks the peace process can be revivied. Kurtzer says that the Obama administration needs to propose a grand strategy much like the Clinton parameters or the Geneva Initiative, in order to pressure both sides to the negotiating table.
You have a four-point program in your National Interest piece. Could you tell us about your four-point program?
I have been arguing this for a couple of years. I started the argument almost three years ago when I testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. My problem with the approach that we have followed over the last few years is that we have chosen tactics rather than strategy. Therefore, what I would like to see us do is plan an across-the-board strategy. Element number one is to come up with “Obama Parameters.” We know from the Clinton Parameters that he tried to capture approximately where the parties might start to negotiate. In other words, it wasn’t the outcome plan, but it was a going-in idea where you start negotiations. And we now know from the negotiations that have taken place over the last decade about where the tolerance points are for the two sides to start negotiations. President Obama could put them out – not as a plan for the outcome of negotiations – but rather where the parties should start and he should tell the parties when he puts them out.
Can you give a specific example of how the “Obama Parameters” might differ from the Clinton Parameters?
For example, on the question of Jerusalem, one of the most sensitive and emotional issues. If you remember, Clinton talked about dividing the Old City into different areas of sovereignty. Since 2001, when those parameters came out, there have been a lot of studies done by non-governmental institutions, including one I am associated with done by a number of Canadians, which is called the Jerusalem Old City Initiative. We also have what Olmert negotiated in 2007-2008 with Abbas, which rather than a division of sovereignty in the Old City it was a question of differing sovereignty and coming up with an agreed plan for governing Jerusalem. This would divide the area outside the Old City, but not divide the Old City itself, which is only one square kilometer. This might be one of the places where, instead of coming out with a sovereignty parameter of Jerusalem, the Obama administration might suggest these different creative ways of dealing with a question like Jerusalem.
Let’s go on to a second element.
The second element to the strategy is to make good on what Abbas has been talking about: this includes Palestinian institution and security strategy. They have done a good job, and with no question they are much better off now than they were a couple of years ago. However, they can do better. Especially in areas where progress has not yet been made. For example, this includes both the education system and incitement. There needs to be reform of Palestinian textbooks, public discourse and media so that you answer the argument on whether or not there is an education for peace underway or an education for continued conflict.
The third element is a throwback to the “Roadmap.” The Roadmap in 2003/2004 called for a series of actions by each side in parallel that would be mutually reinforcing. The Roadmap today is dormant, but has good ideas in it. In the context of negotiations rather than in the absence of negotiations we might be able to get some movement in Roadmap obligations. Obama tried a settlement freeze, but he tried it in the abstract and in the absence of negotiations. However, I think he would have a better chance if the parties were negotiating on the basis of parameters.
The fourth element of the strategy is to pick up on the Arab Peace Initiative. The Arabs changed their policy—they are now focused on what happens to the 1967 problem. Which is the problem of the occupied territories, they are no longer calling Israel’s existence into question. Also, nobody is using the Arab Peace Initiative. One way to use it is to revive some multilateral engagement between Israel and the Arabs even in advance of a negotiated outcome on the bilateral issues. Questions of health, water and environment still need to be dealt with and these questions transcend boundaries. If we could show that process starting again it would lend a great deal of support and a safety net for the larger process.
This is a highly admirable approach, but is it a viable one? In the United States the idea of supporting Palestinian institutions is not controversial. But the president tried to do something like a parameter on borders and got assailed last May. What has changed that would make this approach work?
It is not what has changed; it is what needs to change. Up until May of 2011 the president was putting forward tactics, and tactics don’t work in this process. In May, he began to put forward something that approached a larger strategy, but he walked away from it at the first sign of Israeli and Arab pushback. What needs to change is a willingness of the United States to stand behind what it stands for. Is this something that is important to the United States? I didn’t determine that, the President of the United States said when he entered office that this is important to the United States. This is a ‘national interest of our country.’ He took the trouble on the first full day of his administration to appoint George Mitchell as his envoy. If it is important, and that importance has not diminished over the last three years, than we ought to act as though it is important and it means you put forward a good idea. And the President’s idea in May was a good idea—and then you work it. You don’t take ‘no’ for an answer and you pushback when one or both of the parties push at you. And you modify as you need to modify. However, you don’t just walk away as we did.
Former Ambassador to Israel, Daniel C. Kurtzer