Ask James Baker

 By Yossi Beilin, Haaretz

25.3.11
via Haaretz (click for orginal)
 
The silence that characterizes the Israeli-Palestinian political process is deafening in its totality. Each side is firmly entrenched in its positions and resolutely convinced that it is right. The Palestinian leadership has presented its requirements for a two-state solution, but is not ready to return to the negotiating table as long as Israel continues to build settlements in the West Bank. For its part, Israel's current leadership is not willing to present its peace plan and demands a return to the negotiating table without preconditions, not even a partial building freeze.
 
The Obama administration is in disarray as it confronts the situation in the greater Middle East: It is committed to leaving Iraq and Afghanistan, friendly regimes are collapsing, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be a reason, or pretext, for anger at the United States, making it difficult for moderate Arab leaders to fill the vacuum vis-a-vis Iran that will be created after an American withdrawal from the region.
 
 
The right approach, in my view, would be to accept Israel's position on negotiations without preconditions and the Palestinian view regarding the need for each side to present its comprehensive vision for a solution, with the intention of achieving peace based on the 1949 armistice lines between Israel and Jordan, and in the spirit of the Clinton parameters of 2000, and the informal Geneva Initiative of 2003. But such a solution is unrealistic right now.
 
Netanyahu's government is not ready to pay even the minimal price demanded by the pragmatic Palestinian leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad. The Palestinian leadership is not able to coerce Hamas into accepting its authority and thus cannot include Gaza in any perceivable solution. Thus, even if the two sides were able to sign a permanent agreement, as I hope, it could only be implemented in the West Bank.
 
A practical way to get out of the current deadlock is for the U.S. to plan an international peace conference for this coming October 30, which will mark the 20th anniversary of the Madrid Conference, and dedicate the time until then to preparing a detailed and agreed-upon invitation to the gathering. As was the case with Madrid, no decision would be made during this conference. Conclusive and parallel negotiations would take place immediately after between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, Syria and Lebanon, as well as multilateral negotiations in which Arab states, Israel and other countries from around the world would convene to deal with issues like water, the environment, refugee rehabilitation, arms control, and economic operations in the Middle East.
 
My advice to the Obama administration would be to consult with former Secretary of State James Baker, who achieved the unbelievable two decades ago when he brought together for the first time the Israeli leadership with the Palestinian and Syrian leadership. (During the Geneva Conference convened by Henry Kissinger after the Yom Kippur War in December 1973, the Palestinians were not invited and the Syrians refused to participate. ) Baker's greatest contribution was to assure the involved parties that there would be no surprises during the event, and no votes taken - only speeches in the conference hall and press conferences outside of the meetings.