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Time is Ripe For A US-Led Coalition for Mideast Peace

David Matz, The Bloston Globe

First, Yasser Arafat's death, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan, and war fatigue have eroded rigid political alliances on both sides. Political uncertainty is not bound to translate into flexibility at the negotiating table, but it creates an opening that must be explored.
Second, there now exists a broad consensus on what a reasonable settlement of the conflict should look like. The June 2003 Geneva Accords are an agreement about almost all the major issues regarding future Israeli-Palestinian arrangements. The agreement was negotiated by Israelis and Palestinians who did not represent their governments, but the substance of their agreement grew from earlier, official negotiations at Camp David and Taba.
Third, the Geneva Accords have the support of substantial majorities of Israelis and Palestinians, albeit with important caveats. Israelis have yet to reach consensus on a division of Jerusalem. Palestinians have yet to give up on the right to return to the State of Israel.
However, neither Israelis nor Palestinians have ever been given the opportunity to answer the question: Would you accept a real peace agreement supported by both governments and a worldwide coalition, even though it contains a provision you deeply oppose?
The conciliatory gestures from both sides in recent weeks are encouraging, but they should not obscure the one central reality that has plagued all previous peace processes: On both sides there are well organized, well funded, and highly zealous populations (nationalist and religious) who deeply oppose a negotiated two-state solution. There are rejectionists on each side who want their own state to extend from the Mediterranean to the Jordan. The great danger is that the Israeli government will not be able to close settlements, and that the Palestinian government will not be able to control terrorists.
What can the United States do? Alone, not enough. But as the leader of an international coalition, plenty. The coalition would include the United Nations, the European Union, the Russians, Japanese, Chinese, Saudis, Jordanians, and Egyptians. It would bring the pressure of world opinion to bear on the parties, and it would make available a range of resources that would help the parties block the terrorists and rein in the settlers.
This coalition would make a public commitment to the long-term security of Israel, the creation of an economically and politically viable Palestinian state, and the contents of the Geneva Accords as representing the outline of a final agreement.
The coalition would have the capacity to offer the parties trade opportunities, economic development packages, diplomatic recognition, and defense arrangements. This would also present a long-overdue opportunity to expand the dialogue with Iran, a primary source of terrorist support, and to Syria, a secondary source, about the choices before them - to join the peace effort and reap its benefits or face the consequences of defying the global coalition.
By identifying in advance the main outlines of a final agreement, the coalition can overcome the major flaw in the Oslo approach: With no idea of what a "final status" agreement would look like, the parties were vulnerable to extremists, violent and not, who trumpeted the fears of how negotiations could go wrong, and who tried to trap their own governments into taking only extreme negotiation-blocking positions.
There will be many opponents to this approach, in the United States, in the region, and elsewhere, whose arguments will largely be variations on the idea that if one party to the conflict will just yield, peace will result. But leaning on one side alone only strengthens the other side and thus undermines any possibility of negotiation. Because terror and settlements are so interdependent, the coalition will increase its likelihood of success if these problems are addressed at the same time.
An offer to form a genuine international coalition might come as something of a shock to some European capitals, but it also might strengthen the US hand in building a coalition for work in Iraq, and it might send a signal that the United States is serious about seeking a viable Palestinian state and an Israeli-Palestinian peace.