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Post-Annapolis: U.S. Needs a Comprehensive Strategy

By Moran Banai, U.S. editor, Middle East Bulletin, and Mara Rudman, adviser, Middle East Progress, The Middle East Bulletin, 11.04.08

President George W. Bush set a high bar for success at Annapolis by calling for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement by the end of 2008. As Senator George Mitchell, said immediately after the Annapolis conference: “[The administration has] to stay at it. They have to be determined; and that determination has to be communicated by word and action to everybody in the region” if its efforts to achieve that worthy goal are to be credible, and to ensure the situation is stabilized and oriented for meaningful progress by an incoming administration.
Four months after Annapolis, the administration has not applied sufficient determination to the task. The appointments of General Jim Jones and Lieutenant General William Fraser were positives; as were the earlier appointments of Lieutenant General Keith Dayton and Prime Minister Tony Blair by the Quartet. Yet, with all due respect to three stellar U.S. generals and a former British prime minister, we cannot rely on star power alone.
The United States needs a strategic plan, which must include an effective mechanism to keep the president fully engaged. Such a process will let the parties know that their actions (and inactions) are being reported back to the White House and that they will hear from the president if and as necessary. Ideally, such a strategy would have been planned and people appointed to most effectively implement it from the outset, but that does not seem to have been the case here.
A look at the tasks facing each of the U.S. representatives on the ground shows how such a mechanism can best be constructed going forward.
General Jones was appointed as special envoy to the secretary of state for Middle East security. He has been asked to make recommendations on ways to strengthen Palestinian security institutions and capabilities; engage immediate neighbors and other key countries on enhancing Israeli-Palestinian and regional security; and shape U.S. ideas and approaches on a security concept for peace negotiations.
General Fraser, assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary Rice’s chief military adviser, is to monitor the progress of both Israelis and Palestinians on the road map commitments each has made. The most vital of these obligations—Israeli removal of illegal outposts and the freezing of settlement building and expansion, and a concerted Palestinian effort to curb violence, fight terror, and build security forces—are meant to visibly improve the lives of the populations on both sides while also demonstrating the commitments of each party to end the conflict.
The Palestinian ability to control violence also links to General Dayton’s efforts as the U.S. security coordinator helping to train Palestinian forces. Dayton, in place since November 2005, took over from General William Ward with an expanded mission and is currently helping to train the first new battalion of the Palestinian National Security Force, which will be deploying to Jenin, with Israeli consent, at the end of their training.
Finally, while not part of the U.S. team, Quartet Special Envoy Tony Blair is working on Palestinian infrastructure and economy. Success in these areas is critical to tangible progress of the sort that President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad need to be able to deliver to the Palestinian people to show the benefits of a two-state conflict resolution approach. Blair’s team has a deputy slot, sitting empty, designated for an American.
An element missing from this matrix of envoys, suggested by Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, is a senior U.S. official who will work with the negotiators “to let Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas know that even if Secretary Rice and the president are not physically in the region they have a fully empowered person who is going to report to them about whether or not there are serious talks going on.” This envoy should have the ability to proactively make suggestions that might help bridge the gaps that the parties encounter in negotiations.
The strategic plan that encompasses these envoys needs to be developed in Washington. Resources must be allocated and coordinated between players, everyone must be kept on task and the president, secretary of state, and secretary of defense should be regularly apprised of results and challenges so that they can take action accordingly.
For instance, significant improvements on movement and access are needed to allow Palestinian goods to transit the West Bank. At the same time, Prime Minister Blair’s mandate on economic development would benefit from insight into the nature and type of near- and long-term infrastructure projects most worthy of resource investment. It is, thus, squarely in the U.S. interest to appoint the most capable possible U.S. deputy to Blair’s team, and to ensure that General Fraser’s work on settlement freeze, illegal outposts and Palestinian security efforts—all of which tie directly to progress on movement and access—are closely married up with the economic objectives of Blair’s efforts.
Similarly, the institution-building and reform measures that also make up the Blair portfolio are linked to rule of law reform and gaining control over violence—necessary elements that the Palestinians must implement to fulfill their road map obligations. The linkages between issues of security, economics, movement and access, and rule of law are not always those that either side would consider intuitively as win-win rather than zero-sum, yet often they can be reconstructed as such, by a right-minded outside party.
This is precisely the opportunity and the challenge that the road map monitor’s vantage point can provide, properly executed and appropriately resourced and supported. Given the internal political pressures each side faces, the United States can help facilitate solutions that the two might not reach on their own. Thus, Fraser’s mandate should involve not simply monitoring but also proactive work on implementation. As Ghaith al-Omari, a former legal advisor to President Abbas, recently wrote, the United States would be far more effective if it were not just monitoring accomplishments and failures, but rather working with the two parties to finesse solutions acceptable to both sides and head off dangerous moves before they become complicating realities.
Proper monitoring and implementation require proper resources, including staffing, which Fraser, in particular, seems to lack. Fraser, who is in the region only part-time, does not have full-time designated resources at either Embassy Tel Aviv or Consulate Jerusalem. If he is to be able to keep track of what is happening on the ground and help the parties to strategize on mutually supporting actions, he needs a staff there whose time is devoted solely to his efforts.
And where Fraser’s assignment ends and General Dayton’s begins should be clearly defined. The same is true with respect to General Jones, who seems to have a more sweeping advisory role with respect to Secretary Rice, but from whom little has been seen or heard since the initial announcement of his appointment at Annapolis.
Given the depth of U.S. interest and concern, the limited time remaining to ensure the United States has the policy structure in place to effectively implement the president’s Annapolis approach, and the need to ensure that we have our eyes on a wise transition into 2009, regardless of incoming administration, the Congress should also be carrying out its important oversight responsibilities. It should request testimony from a panel of special envoys: Generals Jones, Fraser, and Dayton, to report on the framework within which they are operating, their various roles, the progress they have made, and the challenges they see ahead.
Finally, the White House must address the absence of a U.S. presence at the side of the parties negotiating and the lack of transition planning for such an important and fragile process. It is essential to have someone to report back to Washington and keep a steady drumbeat of support and encouragement for progress, and equally critical to be planning ahead with a constant sense of the import of stability and security in the region and the high priority that the United States must place on maintaining both, for Israelis, Palestinians and for our own interests.