An alternate path to Mideast peace

Galit Lev-Harir is a frequent contributor to the Light. Galit lived in Israel for nine years. She and her husband, Elie Harir, are members of Congregation B’nai Amoona. 

By Galit Lev-Harir

I recently finished reading Dennis Ross’ book “Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama.” Ross, a career diplomat, painstakingly exposes the fallacy of two ongoing assumptions that are prevalent among many members of various U.S. administrations and the State Department.

The first is that the Palestinian issue is the fulcrum of regional politics. The second is that too close an association with Israel will harm United States interests in the Middle East. Time and again, Ross demonstrates that this is not the case; rather, Arab countries care more about their national interests than they do about America’s relationship with Israel.

Ross, one of the keynote speakers at the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival in November, and recent speaker at the St. Louis Speaker Series,  served under several administrations dating back to President Jimmy Carter. He was President Bill Clinton’s Middle East envoy and was an adviser to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In his book, Ross recounts his participation in multiple peacemaking negotiations, including the January 2001 Taba Summit, when then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat a Palestinian state on 97 percent of the West Bank and Gaza, and Arafat subsequently refused. 

Ross writes that Arafat and later Mahmoud Abbas repeatedly made it clear to him that they would never accept Israel’s characterization as a Jewish State and that they would never drop their insistence that the descendants of Palestinian refugees be allowed to “return” to their ancestors’ homes within the 1948 borders. 

What can Israel and the United States do in light of the refusal of the Palestinian leadership to accept a permanent end to the conflict? The current situation, in which Israel must exercise control over a large and hostile Palestinian population, cannot be continued indefinitely. It is to Israel’s advantage to find a situation that extricates it from the daily lives of Palestinians without endangering its security.

Ross would have his readers believe that continued direct negotiations with the Palestinians is the only avenue worthy of pursuit. However, that reminds me of the often-repeated, popular definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

If the United States truly wants to promote a permanent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we need to try something new. A window of opportunity exists because Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia all share common interests in fighting ISIS and other radical groups and diminishing Iran’s influence in the region. Additionally, Israel enjoys an unprecedented level of security cooperation with Egypt, much more under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi than previously existed under Hosni Mubarak. 

If these four countries were to present a joint peace proposal, and to receive U.S. support for such a proposal, it could then be presented to the Palestinians and they could be pressured to accept it, with international assurances.

Unfortunately, President Barack Obama’s administration has undermined its credibility with Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia by signing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the Iran nuclear deal.  

However, Ross demonstrates that every American president enters office determined to pursue a path that is different from that of his predecessor. 

Let us hope the same will be true of Obama’s successor.