Skip Navigation
What the U.S. Needs to Do to Move an Arab-Israeli Peace Forward
At Washington panel (from left): Robert Malley, David Makovsky, Steven Spiegel, and Scott Lasensky.

What the U.S. Needs to Do to Move an Arab-Israeli Peace Forward

Steven Spiegel criticizes the Bush administration for pursuing global goals in the Middle East while failing to address the specific issues that leave the region in crisis. He proposes a strategy for disengagement between the Palestinians and Israelis.

Steven Spiegel Email StevenSpiegel

[The Bush administration's goal of promoting democracy in the Middle East undermines its other goals of curbing terrorism and halting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Steven Spiegel, associate director of the Ronald W. Burkle Center for International Relations, told a January 27 panel in Washington, DC, sponsored by the United States Institute of Peace. Spiegel, who is also a professor of Political Science at UCLA, said that the Bush presidency has been "hyper-passive" in the Arab-Israeli conflict, presenting numerous initiatives but then not following through on them. At root, Spiegel said, Washington under George W. Bush has failed to appreciate the degree to which the Arab-Israeli conflict is a key regional issue, not merely a local one, and that the conflict cannot be resolved by pursuit of the U.S. administration's current three regional goals. Spiegel offered a detailed plan for steps that can take advantage of the new opportunity presented by the election of Mahmoud Abbas as president of the Palestinian Authority and Ariel Sharon's decision to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip.

[The full text of Steven Spiegel's paper appears below. The other presenters on the USIP panel were David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group. The panel was organized by Scott Lasensky for the USIP. Further information on this event is available on the USIP website The United States Institute of Peace is a nonpartisan, nonprofit institute funded by the U.S. Congress.]

*    *    *

I. The Bush Administration and the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Israel and the Palestinians. The Bush administration has been unusually creative in offering or backing path-breaking plans, and it has been a distinct failure in implementing its vision. The administration came to power just as the failure of peace negotiations had culminated in Yasser Arafat's rejection of Clinton's parameters for settling the conflict. It is widely agreed that these parameters were a better deal for the Palestinians than Camp David. Whoever was at fault in July, almost no account justifies Arafat's rejection in December. The result was that the Bush administration was not inclined to confront the newly elected Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. Nor was it inclined to deal with Arafat or to take an active role either in returning to diplomacy or in ending violence. The Israelis would be left to their own devices, with American acquiescence.

After initial hesitation post-9/11, these positions only hardened as the impact of the attack on America settled in, as Arafat himself winked at accelerating violence, as the suicide bombing against Israel expanded, and as Arafat was caught buying weapons from Iran in the Karine A affair in early 2002. Through March of that year, the administration did try to take steps to end the violence through Powell trips, a Cheney mission, the Mitchell report, and the Tenet and Zinni missions. None of these worked, and by the spring of 2002, the President had concluded that it was Arafat's fault.

We can ask whether more effort on the part of the administration might have succeeded in convincing Arafat to end the violence. Each of these reports/plans set out a way of moving forward, and in each case Sharon cooperated just enough to avoid blame. But Arafat did not cooperate, in part because by then he was riding the wave of Palestinian optimism generated by early terrorist successes, and in part because, having turned down the Clinton parameters, he was in no mood to take less. Bush and Sharon were offering only the long-term concession of accepting the idea of a Palestinian state, something their predecessors had never done explicitly. Arafat's policy will likely go down in history as simply stupid: To wink at accelerated suicide bombing after the US had just suffered the most violent suicide bombing in history was to ignore reality. To assume that Israeli society would collapse as a consequence of the bombings was a gross error, though even the Israelis themselves were surprised by their own resilience. To think that the Israeli army would not come up eventually with tactics for countering terrorism was to engage in a fantasy of fantasies.

All of the efforts in the first year were certainly difficult, but the administration did not demonstrate the perseverance necessary to produce success, and with every month the prospects of ending the Intifada by non-military means declined. There was little presidential interest and no follow-through. It is hard to understand why a Zinni-type mission was not sent earlier or why Zinni himself was withdrawn at the end of March 2002 after only 4 months on the job. Perhaps he would not have succeeded in any case, although in the past long American missions had had ultimate successes after extended failures (e.g., the experiences of Kissinger and Carter in the 1970s). At the very least, the Bush administration's credibility for staying the course would have been enhanced. With Zinni out and all previous efforts a failure, Israelis and Palestinians both concluded that the US under Bush would not remain involved over the long term.

With the exception of the commitment to a Palestinian state, the initial phase of the administration involved only technical and practical steps for reversing the Intifada, and they all failed. At this point, the administration entered its most creative period. The President made his June 24, 2002 speech, which led both to the Roadmap and the Quartet. The basic concepts were new for American policy. The US declared that it would not pursue a peace process without fundamental political reforms by the Palestinians and without their selecting new leaders. The Quartet (US, EU, UN, Russia) created and legitimated for the first time an international coalition to deal with the issue under American leadership.

Little noticed, but equally essential, the President promised that if the Palestinians took the steps he demanded, Israel would be expected to make territorial concessions. When the Roadmap was released in April 2003, its three stages incorporated these ideas and presented the most comprehensive and original American framework for resolving the dispute ever initiated. An immediate payoff ensued when Arafat was forced to appoint his first Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas.

The problem is that in this second stage the administration simply repeated its original error. Good ideas (Mitchell, Tenet, Zinni) were followed by poor implementation, which were evidenced by the failure to persevere. This time the ideas were grander, and the implementation even weaker. When Bush met with Sharon and Abbas in June 2003 in Aqaba, Jordan, he promised to "ride herd" on both of them until the Roadmap was well along toward implementation. Then he never saddled up, leaving himself primarily to conduct separate meetings in late July with each leader at the White House.

A few days after Bush returned from his August vacation in Texas, Abbas resigned and the short window of opportunity was gone. Neither the US nor Israel had offered Abbas sufficient "goodies" (prisoner release, economic aid, the reduction of checkpoints, etc.) that would have demonstrated to the Palestinian populace that Abbas' more moderate tone could deliver. In this light, it was relatively easy for Arafat to stage what amounted to a countercoup, ridding himself of the troublesome Abu Mazen.

Part of the reason for the poor implementation in 2003 was that instead of relying on the prestigious Mitchell report or on the well-known heavy hitters Tenet and Zinni, the President appointed a little-known State department official, John Wolf, to see to moving the Roadmap forward. Wolf did not have experience in Arab-Israeli matters and the parties shortly discovered he did not have the ear of the White House. He was soon a peripheral figure.

With Abbas out, the Roadmap going nowhere, and Israel beginning to control the violence through tough but increasingly effective methods (the fence, improved intelligence, targeted killings, and continuing strangulation of the movement of individual Palestinians), the administration entered its third phase. When Sharon suggested a plan for unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza and four settlements in the northern West Bank in late 2003, Bush backed the proposal.

Now the United States and Israel were negotiating about concessions to Palestinians, an entirely new process that all previous Israeli governments had rejected because no Arab commitments were involved. But Bush and Sharon were in no mood to deal with Arafat, and the new Prime Minister, Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala), seemed weak and ineffectual. To ease Sharon's domestic problems with right-wingers, Bush sweetened the pie by agreeing in an April 14, 2004, exchange of letters that the US would accept the notion that the large West Bank settlement blocs close to the Green Line would be incorporated into Israel as part of any agreement. He also accepted the idea that Palestinian refugees would not return to Israel. These commitments were not substantially different from particular provisos in the Clinton parameters, but they were now contained in an official negotiation between Washington and Jerusalem.

Convenient for both leaders' domestic standing at home, the Arab world cooperated by loudly denouncing the commitments and ignoring the qualifications and provisos issued by White House aides almost immediately and by the President himself in a May meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II. Bush also gained commitments from the Sharon government to remove unauthorized outposts, make progress toward a freeze on settlement activity in the West Bank, and ease restrictions on the movement of Palestinians not engaged in terrorist activities. No one paid much attention to these promises, including the Israeli and American leaders.

Fortunately for the administration, there was little it had to do during an election campaign to implement this policy. Sharon was engulfed in his own domestic problems over the disengagement plan, and he was increasingly adamant in defending it. The Palestinians were in disarray. No one bothered to notice or seemed to care that the Israeli leader had not fulfilled his April 2004 commitments on settlements. With John Kerry solidly backing the President's policy, Sharon's failures could be explained away not by inadequate administration implementation, but rather by the need to show the Israeli leader some slack as he battled defiant right-wing forces.

The entire picture of Phase 3 changed radically in November 2004. Bush was reelected, Arafat died, and Sharon set in motion a series of political developments leading to a National Unity coalition with Labor that would be able to implement his disengagement policy. With Mahmoud Abbas the new duly elected Palestinian leader by early 2005, Sharon was talking about coordination and even negotiation with the Palestinians. Bush was making similar comments. New promises of Palestinian aid were offered by the United States and the Europeans, there was new talk of resurrecting the Roadmap, and Tony Blair announced a summit to deal with Palestinian reform. Both Abbas and Sharon dedicated themselves to ending all violent actions between their peoples at a Sharm El Sheik summit with President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II in early February. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heaped encouragement on both sides in a trip to the area hours before the summit, and the administration appointed Lt. Gen. William E. Ward to help with the task of coordinating security between the two sides in the new situation.

The key question about the Bush administration's policies remained, however: Was it up to the task of implementing its grandiose plans? Suddenly, it faced a situation where two of its three preconditions had been met: The Palestinians had new leadership and political reform was being instituted. Only an end to violence remained, and the new leadership seemed at least initially committed to achieving that objective. These developments should make implementing the Roadmap and other aspects of the administration's policies toward the Israeli-Palestinian dispute easier, but did it have the personnel, the time, the patience, the wisdom, and the motivation to deliver? This question is the key to determining the success of Bush's second term in its policies toward the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Other Arab states. Naturally, because of the Intifada, Palestinian issues have dominated American policy toward the Arab-Israeli dispute since Mr. Bush took office. Yet in the other two most dramatic Arab-Israeli cases of the period, the administration was remarkably passive. When Bashar al-Assad of Syria made the first of his oft-repeated offers to re-enter talks with Israel unconditionally in late 2003, the Bush administration did nothing to push Sharon toward dialogue, signaling that it didn't care or was opposed to Israel renewing talks. Similarly, the United States did nothing to push the proposal forward when the Saudis unveiled a peace plan in early 2002 (subsequently mostly adopted by the Arab League) in which they vaguely declared that the Arab world should normalize relations with Israel if it made peace agreements with the Syrians and the Palestinians. Whereas on the Palestinian issue the administration made broadbased pronouncements followed by at best limited action, on these other issues it was purely and simply passive.

The Bush administration in historical perspective. Compared to its predecessors, this administration was unabashedly restrained on Arab-Israeli issues in its first term. No other Presidency faced violence and crisis and did more verbally and less practically. Other administrations, when faced with major spasms of violence, moved to place an American imprint on the situation they confronted (Eisenhower in 1956, Nixon in 1973, Reagan in 1982, Bush in 1991). Both Truman in 1948 and Johnson in 1967 sought desperately to keep America's role as limited as possible, preoccupied as they were with the emerging Cold War and Vietnam respectively. They were happy to leave the heavy lifting to the United Nations and the Europeans. Carter and Clinton sought to take advantage of diplomatic openings when opportunity knocked.

For Bush, there were no genuine openings after 2000, but even before 9/11 he had made it clear both that he would not be engaged and that he would not allow any other party to substitute for the United States. The administration acted more like the Reagan team than any of its predecessors in its focus on other issues in the region (Lebanon, Iran, Iran-Iraq war), its downgrading of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and its penchant for a heavy emphasis in its policies on pronouncements (the Reagan Plan, the Shultz Plan). Yet, even the Reagan administration acted militarily to separate Israeli from Lebanese forces in 1982, and sought to engage once the first Intifada broke out in late 1987. In short, it is difficult to identify a clear predecessor to Bush's peculiar combination of close ties with Israel, intense interest in the region, creative statements about the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, and lack of practical engagement in times of crisis. Whether the second term will witness a fundamental change in this pattern remains to be seen.

II. The Bush Administration's Three Policy Goals in the Region

The three global goals. Even if the administration could overcome its past difficulties in implementing its policies, the regional challenges are profound. The problem is further compounded, however, by the administration's efforts to impose its global strategies onto the region. There are three major goals the US is currently pursuing in the region: the war on terrorism, the effort to limit WMD proliferation, and the campaign to spread democracy. Each is separate, and yet interconnected as well. Each suffers from the administration's tendency to announce or even initiate big programs -- original, creative, controversial, and novel -- and then to falter in their implementation a pattern that is disturbingly similar to the experiences in the Israeli -- Palestinian theater.

Each of these broad goals has been pursued by specific policies, which have often failed. Thus, the invasion of Iraq quickly vanquished Saddam Hussein's regime. But it turned out that Iraq did not possess a WMD arsenal, and the invasion and its aftermath has served to foster terrorism inside Iraq and to be a convenient recruiting tool for al Qaeda and its allies. The attempt to promote democracy has been accompanied by a lethal insurgency.

Iran was declared a member of the Axis of Evil; the administration seemed to be waiting in exultant expectation for its satanic regime to collapse and to be replaced by a democratic regime that would represent the reformist yearnings of a majority of its populace. At best, the hope has been that the Iranians will somehow become like the Libyans and give up on WMDs, despite the major distinctions between the two countries. Meanwhile, the Ayatollahs have moved methodically to continue building a nuclear force and supporting terrorism, especially in Lebanon and Palestine through Hezbollah and aid to Islamic Jihad and Hamas. The administration has been reduced to reluctantly accepting the Franco -- German -- British initiative. The result is the emergence of an Iranian adversary more dangerous than ever. The campaign to spread democracy in the region was announced with great flourish and with a flurry of summit meetings in mid -- 2004. The Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative (BMENA) has indeed led to a distinct increase in the discussion of reform and democracy in the region, and some specific positive measures. In practice, however, its disparate programs have largely favored established governments in the region, with too little in the way of funds or encouragement available for pro-democracy NGOs, women's groups, and educational reformers.

The contradictions in the application of the three global goals to the region. The problem with current administration policy is that the goals of promoting democracy and thwarting terrorism and proliferation are not compatible, and undercut each other. It will take decades at best to turn the region democratic, and meanwhile terrorism and proliferation are likely to increase. The democracy campaign, even if successful, will not necessarily help with the effort to stop either terrorism or proliferation. Meanwhile, the steps required to thwart terrorism and halt proliferation are more likely to undermine the democracy campaign than to promote it. Moreover, although the war on terrorism is critical to the administration's central global policy, it is unclear how policy toward the region is connected to the global campaign against al Qaeda and its affiliates. Iraq has become a training ground for terrorists, even though most insurgents appear to be local. Certainly, the cause of the insurgency and the American occupation are a source of recruitment for these organizations. Meanwhile, the jury is still out on whether democracy in the region will be aided by current efforts in Iraq. The election of January 30, 2005, demonstrated that individual Iraqi citizens were prepared to risk their lives to vote, certainly a heartfelt development. Yet it still remains to be seen whether the election, accompanied by a widespread Sunni boycott, can translate into a widely accepted constitution and government, the alienation of major Sunni concerns, and the end of the insurgency. Policy toward Iran has not achieved any diminution in Tehran's support for terrorism, and the democracy campaign is a long-term policy that is not likely to achieve any successes in the short term in the global war the US is waging. Terrorists' pursuit of WMDs means that Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons and its support of terrorism could combine to defeat two of the administration's global goals. The fundamental problem is that the long-term promotion of democracy is doing nothing to stifle terrorism or proliferation, and the wars on terrorism and proliferation are doing nothing to promote democracy. Trying to apply global policies, even worthy global policies, to the region as a whole is a failure, and, in fact, may be exacerbating the dangers the US faces.

The three global goals should not trump Arab-Israeli dialogue. The administration's three global goals as applied in the region to the Arab-Israeli problem have had the effect of diminishing the saliency of resolving the conflict. The connection between dampening or even resolving the Arab-Israeli dispute and reducing the terrorist threat remains extremely controversial. Terrorism has occurred in many locations in the region in a manner unrelated to the Palestinian question so that it often appears that addressing the dispute will do nothing to alleviate it. Where terrorists have justified their actions as motivated by pro-Palestinian or anti- Israeli views, their deeds have created a syndrome in which taking any diplomatic steps could be seen as rewarding terror. Indeed, Sharon has had to overcome this attitude among some Israelis as well as Palestinians in pursuing his disengagement plan.

The failure to stop Iranian nuclear plans also makes addressing the Arab-Israeli dispute more difficult. The prospect of an Iranian nuclear force raises insecurity in Israel and fear that Hezbollah and Palestinian extremists will be emboldened should the Iranians succeed. Meanwhile, an Iranian nuclear force will undoubtedly raise again discussions of an Israeli nuclear force and create pressures on several key Arab states to produce an "Arab bomb," if only for prestige reasons to keep up with Iran, Israel, and Pakistan in the wider region. The intensified Israeli insecurity could inhibit Israeli willingness to take risks in addressing any potential threat, including that coming from the Palestinians.

The pursuit of a democratic Middle East has had a particularly deleterious impact on Arab-Israeli dialogue. Instead of encouraging the Palestinians and the Syrians to talk with Israel, our prime stated interest now is to support democracy as a means of ending terrorism. In the past, Israeli governments have almost always been prepared to talk to governing Arab leaders who would talk to them. Some Israelis would even have dealt with Saddam Hussein secretly in the 1990s had it not been for American pressure. Sharon, with American acquiescence, has pursued a very different policy. He has demanded in essence that parties who want to talk should end all support, encouragement, and infliction of violence against Israel. The death of Arafat and the early moderate moves by Abbas served to reinforce the wisdom of this approach to both the American and Israeli governments.

The cold shoulder method can be seen in an even more subtle way in Washington and Jerusalem's reactions to the Saudi peace plan of early 2002. Revealed with much fanfare and, as noted earlier, even substantially adopted by the Arab League in late March 2002, the Plan seemed to offer an opening for a tradeoff between the Arabs and Israelis: normalization with Israel for comprehensive peace. Admittedly, the Plan was not clear in many respects and it fell victim to the simultaneous horrendous onslaught of suicide bombings against Israel then occurring.

Yet, the Plan's rejection heralded a new approach in which Arab states could no longer fight and talk. Arafat had said in his speech to the UN General Assembly in late 1974 that he had come "bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun." The essence of Sharon's policy was to say that holding the gun as an option was not acceptable as a basis for talks. The Syrians supported Hezbollah, housed terrorist offices in Damascus, and worked closely with Iran. Israel would not talk while they held a gun. Saudi Arabia permitted the funding of terrorist groups; Israel would not take any peace plan from such a country seriously.

Some would argue that the Israeli Prime Minister did not want to enter into negotiations with either the Palestinians or the Syrians, and the new restrictions on talking were a convenient excuse that allowed him to pursue his own preferences. Little noticed is the fact that President Bush has gone further than Sharon, and certainly further than the Israeli public, in his prerequisites for negotiations. Since mid-2002, he has said that the Palestinians would not only have to end the violence, but they would have to introduce political reforms and new leadership.

Especially since the 2004 US elections and Arafat's death, he has demanded that the Palestinians become democratic before negotiations can succeed. As he noted in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on December 1, 2004,

"Achieving peace in the Holy Land is not just a matter of pressuring one side or the other on the shape of a border or the site of a settlement. This approach has been tried before, without success. As we negotiate the details of peace, we must look to the heart of the matter, which is the need for a Palestinian democracy. The Palestinian people deserve a peaceful government that truly serves their interests, and the Israeli people need a true partner in peace."

After 9/11 the administration concluded that democracy was to become the ultimate means of defeating terror just as freedom had been viewed at the antidote to communism during the cold war. It is inherently difficult to criticize any attempts to spread democracy. The problem is that the President has now begun to tie the achievement of democracy to the pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace. As he said on November 12, 2004, "I've got great faith in democracies to promote peace. And that's why I'm such a strong believer that the way forward in the Middle East, the broader Middle East, is to promote democracy."

As we know from other regions, democracy takes many years, even decades, to develop, and has political, economic, social, and cultural dimensions which all must be in sync in order to be fully effective. Meanwhile, the Arab-Israeli conflict continues unabated. While the parties wait for democracy, the dispute and its accompanying violence only worsen. Dangerous arms are purchased and developed. Frustration grows; more settlements are built; facts on the ground replace diplomatic and economic progress. The demographic clock is ticking; soon there will be more Arabs than Jews between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

Israel has made formal peace in the past with Arab countries that were not democracies (Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania). The development of democracy would hopefully enhance those countries' relations with Israel over many years. But in the short term, the notion that democracy is an essential prerequisite for Israeli-Arab progress will necessarily doom any American activity because full-fledged Arab democracy is simply not going to happen soon, even in Iraq. While the outlook for democracy may be more optimistic in Palestine than in the rest of the Arab world, even here there are many factors that do not augur well: the role of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah's al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades; the semi-independence of many of the violent groups; the violent culture; the tribal nature of society; and a political culture that demands discourse in maximalist terms on such issues as refugees, Jerusalem, and "the Zionist enemy."

Of course, the presidential election of Abu Mazen is a positive sign. But the administration does not seem to realize that sustained movement toward Israeli-Palestinian accommodation would help to advance Palestinian political reform and democratization. That would be a major achievement for American interests worldwide, and especially in the region. It would also signal that terrorism does not pay, because the Palestinians could only succeed diplomatically if they had squelched terrorist activity internally.

In fact, regardless of the next stage in the evolution of Iraqi politics, it will be infinitely easier for the Palestinians to create a democracy than for the Iraqis to do so. The Palestinians are a much smaller country than Iraq, and one which has much more experience in democratic practice. Moreover, as deep as their divisions are, they are not as serious as the divisions between Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds in Iraq.

Even more important, the Palestinians have had almost forty years of training in democratic methods and procedures simply by their contact with the Israelis. The only chance to build on this potential is to aid the Palestinians to build their own institutions politically and economically, while simultaneously working tirelessly to move relations with Israel forward. In fact, there is little chance of democratizing the Arab world without attending to the Arab- Israeli dispute. The democracy campaign by the administration has deeply angered many of America's Arab friends in the region who have denounced any notion that political reform is a condition for resumed American involvement in peace making. At a meeting in Rabat, Morocco on December 11, 2004, Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, put it succinctly, "How can this partnership [between the Middle East and the West] be achieved without settling the Palestinian issue?"

King Abdullah II of Jordan told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on May 16, 2004, that,

"You talk to the overwhelming majority of the Arab population, you ask them what is the most important thing? Democracy, freedom, civil liberties, and every single person will go back to you and say the Israeli-Palestinian war. That is the problem."

In an interview with Le Figaro on March 8, 2004, Mubarak was even blunter. "The priority is a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because it is the source of all problems. Any reform in the countries of the Middle East cannot succeed as long as this conflict is not resolved." Despite the horrors in Iraq, Arab-Israeli progress could strengthen those in the Arab world who are already sympathetic to us and it could attract those who are potentially persuadable to our side. While diplomatic progress will not lead the Iranian regime to end its nuclear ambitions or the Iraqi insurgents to lay down their arms, it will change the momentum of the American role in the region enough to give US diplomatic efforts and political campaigns a better chance of advancing.

III. The Need for a Regional Approach

The administration's policies in the Middle East are based on a global outlook that it attempts to apply to the region. There are no policy goals for the region, nor are there strategies designed specifically for the Middle East. In the past, the opposite error has been much more common. Most administrations have ignored global policy goals, and focused too narrowly on local problems, especially the Arab-Israeli dispute. Only rarely has the regional factor dominated US policy.

The current Bush administration has juggled more policy initiatives in the area than any of its predecessors, but it seems to believe that it need not look at the area in regional terms, because the Mideast is so central to its democracy, terrorism, and proliferation global goals. The Arab- Israeli conflict has been defined as fundamentally local, and Iran and Iraq are basically local situations with global implications regarding proliferation (Iran) and terrorism (Iran and Iraq). The region today is not a welcoming environment for peaceful and diplomatic change. Any administration would have its work cut out for it, despite the positive developments emanating from the death of Yasser Arafat, Abu Mazen's election, and Sharon's disengagement proposal. But the first step in developing a new policy is to shed the traditional temptation to see the Arab- Israeli dispute largely in local terms. We should begin instead to see it regionally. Only then can we expand the options and tradeoffs available to diplomats, for no policy is likely to succeed without a heavy contribution from parties other than those immediately involved.

Oddly enough, the Arab-Israeli dispute could well turn out to be easier than our other challenges in terms of producing specific results. Because of their global status, terrorism, proliferation, and democracy are all long-term issues. Stabilizing, and certainly democratizing, Iraq and stopping Iran's nuclear ambitions are even more daunting than Arab-Israeli issues.

The second step toward movement, however, is to shed global theologies that get in the way. Bush's democratic criteria are almost impossible to implement in the near term. Sharon's "end the violence" standard is too ill defined. Both Sharon and Bush need to develop criteria for moving forward that are as clear as the old standard for negotiations (willingness to talk) or the new criteria for dismantling a nuclear arms-building capability.

If we develop new initiatives on the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially at a moment of opportunity, the achievement of success could well in the end serve global imperatives. By ameliorating conditions in the region, we could move toward progress on democracy, terrorism, and proliferation by changing the environment. The unusual combination of Arafat's death, Abbas' victory, and a National Unity government in Israel does not come along often. There was no such opening during the last four years. Therefore, if the US does not move to capitalize on changing circumstances, its already fading image will be harmed globally, with further diminished respect in the region.

This greater involvement in the Palestinian-Israeli arena will help Arab moderates who want to support the US but for whom American backing of the Israeli cause is an impediment either because of adverse public opinion or because they themselves resent American lack of involvement. Getting Israeli-Palestinian clashes off of al Jazeera can only aid American standing in the region.

If we take advantage of this moment of opportunity, we can move both our global and regional agendas forward. If we do not, our reluctance will contribute to a more widespread failure. But we cannot proceed by revisiting old mistaken paths that have not worked in the past, and will not work now. Instead we need a new direction, as outlined below.

 IV. Lessons for Dealing with the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Previous models of attempted solutions. Any new approach for American policy toward Arabs and Israelis should be seen in a brief historical context.

Since 1948, the US has tried a myriad of ways to resolve the Arab-Israeli dispute, despite its varying priority over time. One method is an international conference. The Truman administration half-heartedly supported an early attempt to resolve the major issues in the dispute, especially the refugee problem, at the Lausanne Conference in the spring and summer of 1949. The Nixon administration organized a one-day event after the October 1973 war. Carter attempted but failed to produce an international meeting early in his administration. The most successful attempt at an international conference was the October 1991 Madrid Conference organized by the Bush 41 administration. It spawned the creative multilateral talks which had five components (arms control, environment, water, economic development, and refugees), and a series of bilateral talks between the parties in Washington. The Clinton administration could not prevent the multilaterals from largely petering out in the mid-1990s, and the so-called bilaterals were overtaken by the 1993 Oslo agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Another method is to try for a bilateral agreement. Both the Carter and Clinton administrations took advantage of initiatives among the parties themselves to help precipitate agreements between Israel and Egypt, the Palestinians, and Jordan respectively. In the end, however, Clinton could not produce final accords between Israel and either the Palestinians or Syria. Other administrations have tried to support interim discussions on piecemeal agreements. Eisenhower sought unsuccessfully to achieve Egyptian-Israeli secret talks in 1956, but in the aftermath of the October War under Nixon and Ford, Kissinger brokered three disengagement agreements, two between Egypt and Israel, and one between Syria and Israel. We have already seen that the current administration failed repeatedly at similar types of agreements to end the Intifada in its first term.

Still another type of approach is a grand scheme developed by the United States, sometimes with other parties, and then presented to them for their acceptance. The first of these was the Alpha Plan developed with the British during the first term of the Eisenhower administration, which focused on Israeli withdrawal from territories gained in the 1948 war. It obviously failed to gain Israeli enthusiasm. Another was UN Resolution 242 in November 1967, which constituted an agenda for Arab-Israeli discussions that followed. Secretary of State Rogers in the Nixon Administration presented several proposals, among them one for a comprehensive post-1967 agreement and then one for an interim agreement between Egypt and Israel. Neither worked. In 1982 the Reagan Plan was a Washington idea for "self-government by the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza in association with Jordan," instead of Israeli permanent control or an independent Palestinian state. That failed too. The Shultz Plan in 1988 was designed to precipitate rapid negotiations after the outbreak of the first Intifada the previous December. That idea went nowhere as well. In this light the Bush administration's Roadmap has had the best reaction among the regional participants of all American-initiated proposals, though it still has had no specifically positive results.

One approach is relatively rare: an American proposal on a very specific issue. The Johnston Plan during the Eisenhower administration proposed an equitable share of the Jordan waters. Although Syria prevented the Arab League from accepting it, both Jordan and Israel followed its suggested arrangements. The Johnson Plan during the Kennedy administration proposed beginning to deal with the Palestinian refugee problem, but both Syria and Israel reacted negatively.

Another mechanism, which in recent years has been elevated to a different type of approach, is the use of a Special Mideast Envoy. This instrument has a long history, going back to the 1948 war. At first, the US preferred to rely on a UN emissary. After the first one, Count Folke Bernadotte, was assassinated by Israeli terrorists, his successor, Ralph Bunche, did manage to negotiate the armistice agreements which ended the war in early 1949. As late as the post-Six Day War period, the US in the Johnson administration relied on another UN envoy, Gunnar Jarring.

Although Dwight Eisenhower had used Robert Anderson on a secret and unsuccessful mission intended to begin talks between Ben Gurion and Nasser in 1956, the contemporary use of this approach began only in the last two years of the Carter Administration after the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. Devotees of appointing a Mideast envoy forget that those appointed for this position have usually not been successful. Between Carter and Reagan, several individuals were appointed to the position, and only Phillip Habib could be seen as having made any progress in his assignments whatsoever, these referring mostly to the Israeli-Lebanon problem of the time. During the Clinton administration, Dennis Ross was successful in helping the Israelis and Jordanians to agree to a peace treaty, but was not able to bring about a peace between Israel and either the Syrians or Palestinians.

All these approaches -- comprehensive or limited; initiated by the parties or outsiders; engaging the President and Secretary of State or a Mideast envoy; involving the US, the UN, or a coalition of outside parties -- have one common assumption: They are designed to address the most difficult bilateral problems (borders, refugees, and mutual recognition) as a means of breaking the Arab-Israeli logjam. In a sense we have never left the armistice talks that ended the 1948 war, with Bunche trying to deal with the fundamental problems that divided Arabs and Israelis and ending by reaching only an armistice between them.

The various efforts we have just reviewed do not deal with public opinion or the details of implementing agreements. They do not fit agreements into a wider context so that tradeoffs can go beyond the old notion of land for peace so central to UN Security Council Resolution 242. When it comes to Arab-Israeli peacemaking, we are still caught in a mid-twentieth century time warp. The moment has arrived to broaden and deepen our approach if we expect to succeed.

Toward a program of action. Our interests in the Mideast are now far more complex than they once were. During the Cold War the Mideast was often peripheral; in this war on terrorism and proliferation, the region is necessarily central. Because we are so involved in the region now, we need to deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict in different ways beyond the hyper-activism of the Clinton administration and the hyper-passivism of the first Bush term. More important, we have to get away from the model that the United States has always pursued: Get part or whole of a bilateral deal, and celebrate victory. Instead, we need a new model: one that combines a greater focus on details on the bilateral level with a larger focus on the region. We should burrow further into details than we have ever done before and, at the same time, we must look at a larger regional picture, which is necessitated by our new, post-9/11 global challenges.

The argument over whether or not to move to final status discussions after the death of Yasser Arafat and the election of Abu Mazen is an example of "old think." The Israelis are not ready either politically or psychologically after four years of Intifada. The Palestinians do not have their house in order or their violent elements controlled. Final status today is a ticket for failure. Some Washington analysts have recently proposed that the United States announce (probably in coordination with the Quartet, the Arab countries, and others) its preferred framework for a final accord between the Israelis and Palestinians, or at least the principles of such an accord. This approach is a major error. Both Prime Minister Sharon and President Abbas have many internal challenges to address as they adjust to the new political conditions. These types of problems will continue to exist even if disengagement is successfully completed. It is inconceivable that the United States could produce principles that do not cause both leaders serious headaches. Wellknown American positions differ from many in the Israeli public on Jerusalem, settlements, and borders and from many, if not most, Palestinians on the viability of refugee return to Israel and some of the specifics of such issues as Jerusalem and borders. It would be more difficult for each leader to compromise, even on immediate issues, if the United States were to be seen as challenging him on critical issues. Such a blueprint would thus only complicate domestic and diplomatic problems on both sides, and each leader would undoubtedly be weakened by the American initiative.

But refraining from promoting final status or promulgating a blueprint for a final accord does not mean we should be watching from the sidelines as to how Abu Mazen is progressing or waiting for democracy to succeed. Instead, we must smooth the way and look for opportunities to pursue bilateral agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. First, we must get into the disengagement process (which means withdrawal for the Israelis, an end to the violence by the Palestinians, and new economic measures for the Palestinians) in novel and unprecedentedly detailed ways. Second, we must develop a new regional process that will serve as a precursor to final status talks whenever they become possible. The first step requires immediate attention. The second should follow upon disengagement, but now is the time to begin to plan for it.

V. Recommendations 1: The Office of Disengagement Management

First and foremost, nothing will happen on the Arab-Israeli question without progress on disengagement and an end to organized Palestinian violence. Despite the support for disengagement of all major involved parties, success is not assured. Not only are factions on both sides deeply opposed, but the problems themselves are inherently difficult. The Gaza withdrawal is the first time that Israel has decided to withdraw unilaterally, without any pressure from an extra-regional government. There is no precedent for this type of action. There are no obligations on the Palestinian side built into a unilateral decision.

Even if Abbas succeeds in cracking down on Palestinian violence and is seen as a viable negotiating partner by Israel, negotiations at this late date are not likely to be helpful and will only delay the withdrawals. It is easier for Abbas to live with decisions on the precise boundaries of the departure that Israel has already made, because he will gain the political benefits of withdrawals and not have to face criticism that he did not demand enough. For Israel, negotiations over details that have already been decided unilaterally would only delay a process that for domestic reasons is best completed as soon as possible. However, coordination with the Palestinians on the handover of authority, property, and post-withdrawal relationships would clearly facilitate the future of the arrangement. Therefore, the US should be encouraging Israel to coordinate, but not negotiate, with the Palestinians over the disengagement plan.

The stakes here are very high. If a plan like disengagement cannot succeed when it has the backing of the Israeli government, the acquiescence of the Palestinian Authority, and the support of the international community and the Arab states, what type of plan can prevail on the Palestinian question? If it succeeds (Israeli withdrawals followed by no or almost no attacks against Israel from these territories), no Israeli Prime Minister -- however right wing -- will be able to avoid public calls by Israelis for further disengagement. The Palestinians will see clearly the advantages of life without Israelis, and if conducted properly, they will see the disadvantages of violence in terms of the impact on their daily lives and their political future. If disengagement fails (it results in continued or increased violence from Gaza, which will bring inevitable reoccupation), then no Israeli Prime Minister -- however left wing -- will be able to end the occupation for a generation. Under these conditions, the Palestinians, for their part, are likely to conclude that violence is the only way, and their leadership will follow such a policy or will be replaced.

Disengagement will not succeed through reliance on clever diplomatic envoys or conclaves. Its implementation should be determined by thousands of details being looked after by amply funded security and economic operatives on the ground. Even before the policy had been proposed by Prime Minister Sharon, General Anthony C. Zinni had suggested a new American office in Jerusalem that would do nothing more than coordinate the many security, economic, and political efforts being undertaken toward the West Bank and Gaza by many countries. Disengagement cannot be implemented from London, Washington, Berlin, or even Cairo or Amman. It needs people from many countries working together on the ground to make it happen, especially since the Israeli withdrawals are not even half the battle. What happens in Palestine is the key to its success. Therefore, a critical task in implementing disengagement is to create an Office of Disengagement Management (ODM) in Jerusalem in which many countries will participate, preferably under an American resident chair. This American should be someone who is experienced in these matters and is respected by Israelis, Palestinians, and the White House, but he or she should be seen as supervising a technical team of security and economic specialists, not as someone attempting to arrange new diplomatic deals.

For disengagement to work, the Palestinians will have to be able to take over the area effectively after the Israelis depart. If violence continues or intensifies against Israel from these areas, the departure will undoubtedly be short-lived, or at the very least, Gaza will be revisited by Israeli forces frequently with devastating political, military, and economic results.

The key task of the ODM should be to help Palestinians with the security reforms and ending the violence. Its secondary task must be to provide the financial supervision and oversight that are essential for the development of an economic infrastructure that will allow Palestinians to take the steps that will help make disengagement work. The ODM mechanism shows much greater promise of future success than either leaving the Palestinians to their own devices or trying to impose some kind of trusteeship, a move that would inevitably release them from any sense of responsibility for their future liberty and welfare.

The economic challenge should not be underestimated. The Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) of the Donors held an important meeting in early December 2004, and discussed a fouryear package of $6-8 billion toward Palestinian resuscitation. This will increase substantially international aid to Palestinians, which is already the highest in the world, at $300 per capita. The ODM will have to make sure, on a daily basis, that the handling of Palestinian finances continues to be reformed and that those who commit violence or engage in corruption are not rewarded by new economic aid. Israeli, Palestinian, and international involvement and coordination are also essential on such issues as agriculture, fisheries, the housing and construction sector, infrastructure, gas, industry, labor, and the movement of goods.

In this light, the appointment of General Ward is an excellent first step, a positive move by the administration in the right direction by addressing the types of problems that will inevitably be raised by the security half of the equation. Yet, Ward apparently will not have a multinational team and certainly will not address the second half of the problem, the economic questions which are inherently multilateral. By contrast, an ODM might be organized in two subdivisions. The US might well, perhaps advisedly, be placed in charge of the security part of the office, and the Israelis and Palestinians must necessarily be the central part of that security effort. But the advantage of the proposal made here is that security and economics would be addressed under one roof, and major attention would necessarily be focused on both while all countries engaged were forced by the process to coordinate.

In addition to the complexities of making disengagement work, its timing will demand care and enormous political dexterity. Over much of 2005, both societies will be undergoing deep political challenges. Currently, Israel's new coalition hangs on by a razor-thin margin, as the settler community and the right wing continue their relentless confrontation with Prime Minister Sharon in their attempt to thwart disengagement. Despite the approval of over two-thirds of the Israeli public, the anti-withdrawal forces have repeatedly demonstrated their resolve to prevent Sharon's plan from ever being realized.

The Palestinians will also be preoccupied with domestic politics through at least early August. On July 17, elections will be held for the Palestine Legislative Council (PLC); for the first time, Hamas is expected to participate. Fatah members will be focused on the elections for their new leadership, which will occur on August 4, a date selected in honor of Arafat's birthday. To win both sets of elections, Abu Mazen and his team will need to show results: Israel will have to release prisoners and dismantle roadblocks, while the United States and the international community will have to provide aid in ways that will be palpable to the Palestinian street over the extended period of the election campaign.

Sharon will be pressing for clear signs of the new Palestinian government's efforts to control violence so that he can demonstrate that disengagement is viable. Abu Mazen will be urging attention to immediate measures so that he can demonstrate clear benefits to his people from his moderate approach. Thus, even with considerable good will, Sharon's and Abu Mazen's short term political interests may diverge. Extremist groups on both sides will be trying to undermine the best intentions of both leaders.

The American role on this issue will be critical over the next several months. The challenge is to harness the positive attitudes on both sides to make progress while also satisfying their immediate political needs. These may not be met by the same policies. It is not an impossible task, but it will require both attention and perseverance. An ODM would certainly help dramatically in this endeavor.

One key problem with the Roadmap has been that it requires parallel actions by both sides in its first stage: end of violence; political reform; dismantling unauthorized outposts; freezing settlements; and diminishing roadblocks. The weakness of the roadmap was always that it needed an "on-ramp" to get started: an act or series of acts that would "jump-start" the process so that the roadmap itself could be traversed. The combination of disengagement, the death of Arafat, and the election of Mahmoud Abbas provides such an on-ramp.

If the Bush administration does not take advantage of this opportunity and make it work, then it will be hard pressed to develop any alternative viable policy for the Arab-Israeli conflict throughout its second term. The task is by no means easy, and both the Palestinians and Israelis are themselves in a delicate stage, but the potential is there. If both feel they have come out of this period with nothing, mutual suspicions and bitterness will have been intensified. The United States will be widely blamed throughout the region, with a deleterious impact on all other aspects of our policies that interact with this issue, regional and global.

VI. Recommendations 2: Beyond Disengagement -- The Development of a New Regional Process

The four Israeli-Palestinian alternatives after disengagement. We should know by the fall of 2005 whether disengagement is likely to be successful. If the prospects are positive, this means that both an Israeli consensus has developed for moving forward, and a Palestinian Authority has emerged that is capable of handling internal reform, is in charge of the areas from which Israel has departed, and is making significant strides toward controlling violence and producing the unification and reform of the security forces. Then, there will be much talk of four alternatives: another Israeli unilateral disengagement, this one including additional parts of the West Bank; a return to pre-Intifada comprehensive negotiations to settle all outstanding issues in the conflict; the creation of a Palestinian state with provisional borders as envisioned under Phase 2 of the Roadmap; or an attempt to go slightly further and delineate the final borders of a Palestinian state without addressing Jerusalem or the refugee issue.

There will be pressure "to do something" to keep the process alive if disengagement succeeds, but each of these alternatives -- though all have arguments in their favor -- have considerable risks. As in the case of the first unilateral disengagement, a second round would be easier for the Palestinians politically than a negotiation. They would, however, again fear that the disengagement would not be followed up by additional steps so they would prefer final status negotiations. On the other side, if disengagement is seen as a good gamble by the majority of Israelis, it might be less controversial. However, the territories from which Israel would now be withdrawing would all be on the West Bank; that would mean that many would be reluctant to withdraw without negotiations. If the record of the first unilateral disengagement is seen as mixed (not such a failure that it wasn't worth doing, but not such a success that it should be repeated), then another unilateral withdrawal will probably not be possible.

Although the Palestinians might prefer to re-enter the Camp David/Taba syndrome, it is hard to conceive of an Israeli government coming to power that would be interested. Despite their stated preferences, it is also difficult to conceive that Palestinian politics would have been settled sufficiently by late 2005 to allow the new leaders to make the necessary concessions so soon after Arafat's death. The same is probably true of the fourth alternative -- an attempt to delineate the new state's final borders except Jerusalem -- unless disengagement and Palestinian political reform were seen 9-12 months hence as a total and surprising victory for the forces of moderation.

That leaves the Roadmap's proposal for a Palestinian state with provisional borders preceded by an international conference as the most viable outcome of an even minimally successful disengagement. Despite misgivings on many sides, especially among the Palestinians, this alternative has the advantage of having been internationally recognized in the form of the Roadmap.

The problem with thinking only in these terms is we then automatically return to the rut in which Arab-Israeli diplomacy has been stuck since 1948. The process of reaching and then implementing any of these alternatives will be as important as any agreement which is reached, because, as we have seen repeatedly in Arab-Israeli affairs, agreements must be followed by implementation. The peace treaties between Israel and the Egyptians and Jordanians, respectively, only look effective because they have basically held. Such arrangements as the multilaterals, the Lebanese-Israeli agreement of late 1982, and the Wye Accords of October 1998 did not hold, and the Oslo accords are seen by many, if not most, observers as ultimately a failure.

Final status agreements are rare in international affairs. If they are not accompanied by processes that create accommodation, they almost always deteriorate. That certainly has been the Arab-Israeli experience. Indeed, as we saw in 1947 and 2000, unsuccessful final status efforts can be accompanied by war. Centuries-old conflicts between France and Germany, and France and Britain, were not settled by pieces of paper alone. We need a regional process in place that will cushion final status negotiations when they come, assure their success if agreements are reached, and cushion the blow if they are not.

A new regional process. In developing this new regional process, three issues must be addressed: economics, security, and society. Two sets of participants must be engaged: outside parties and local publics.

1. Economics and functional issues (water; environment, etc.). Disengagement is only the tip of the iceberg. The old multilaterals tried to deal with economic and functional issues on a regional basis, and some meetings still occur. Institutions like the World Bank and the AHLC meet to deal with specific Palestinian problems and issue reports. But the very name of the AHLC reveals it all: ad hoc. Since the signing of the Oslo accords, there have been many meetings and agreements signed in Paris, Cairo and Sharm El Sheik, among others. There must be a means developed for institutionalizing this pattern so that the economic instrument can be used both to enhance the atmosphere for agreements and to assure their implementation and sustainability if and when they occur. The death of Yasser Arafat should make this task easier vis-à-vis Palestinians, but it is also a region-wide problem.

2. Security. In the security area, regional proliferation and terrorism are critical issues that precipitated the American invasion of Iraq, helped to destroy Oslo, and are at the heart of American concerns about Iran. No government will make concessions in any negotiations if it believes that its security will be threatened by the arrangements to which it is adhering. A carefully circumscribed regional discussion of such issues as preventing terrorism or intelligence cooperation to prevent violence could enhance prospects for movement that could lead under the proper circumstances to addressing the proliferation issue in a mutually agreeable fashion. At a minimum, focusing on the terrorism question could facilitate agreements, because violence has been a consistent impediment to their consummation. Security discussions, then, if handled properly and with sufficient priority, can themselves serve as confidence-building measures. The old regional security and arms control multilateral served as a confidence-reducing mechanism, but it came within a phrase of agreeing to a code of principles, and stumbled over the issue of an Israeli nuclear force. One wonders whether the agreement might have been salvaged if the Clinton administration had realized the importance of gaining the engagement of such countries as Egypt in the process, had it not been so focused on bilateral contacts, and had it devoted more effort to producing an arms control accord.

3. Society. The region is dominated by countries in which hatred, intolerance, and lack of sensitivity to the suffering of others is nearly overwhelming. These attitudes are reinforced by corruption, autocracy, and self-congratulatory nationalism. The inherent problem of a culture of violence, in Palestinian society in particular, but in the region as a whole, is another inherent problem a broadened agenda must address. For too long the "macho syndrome" has prevented the development of a more coherent regional order. Even Israel, so far the region's only democracy, is not immune to some aspects of the prevailing syndromes. Through a combination of re-education and dialogue, these underlying attitudes and dangerous behaviors must be addressed. Diplomatic activity cannot wait until the culture of violence ends, and indeed agreements should reasonably be expected to ameliorate them. At the same time, as recent history attests, if diplomatic activity is conducted in a vacuum, ignoring fundamental social problems, the positive impact of successful diplomacy will be lost.

Expanding the participants.

1. Public engagement. As experiences in other parts of the world confirm, peace on paper cannot coexist with vile hatred in the press and within public institutions. In this regard, the new Palestinian government is far ahead of its Arab neighbors in its initial steps to quell incitement. But programs of public education on all sides need to be instituted so that Israelis and Arabs both have more of a sense of the kind of issues that alienate the other. They can only be sensitized by greater contact and dialogue.

Despite all the years of conflict, surprisingly little non-official contact has occurred between academics, experts, NGOs, women's groups, educators, journalists, business people, military officers, officials attending meetings in their private capacities, and retired generals and diplomats. The new civil society programs being pursued by the Bush administration are designed to deal with some of these contacts, but only among Arabs. They do not include Israelis. Even if these pro-democracy efforts are more successful than most analysts predict, they will not foster enhanced Israeli-Arab understanding. Indeed, they may produce further misunderstanding. These programs inadvertently exacerbate the divergence and division between Arabs and Israelis by treating both sides very differently. We need a MEPI (Middle East Partnership Initiative) that will create a civil society between Arabs and Israelis, not just within Arab societies.

There are some so-called Track 2 efforts that still exist between Arabs and Israelis, and some are very productive, but they are insufficiently funded and cannot meet the demands of the parties. These meetings are useful in testing possible future diplomatic and other initiatives and in promoting mutual understanding. Another highly useful type of forum in this vein are the regularly held gatherings of the Pentagon's Near East and South Asia (NESA) Center for Strategic Studies, which bring together military and diplomatic officers from Israel, Turkey, and most Arab countries for dialogue, conversation, and briefings on major current issues.

2. Outside parties. Because of the past concentration on bilateral agreements brokered by the United States, the engagement of regional and international outside parties and what they might contribute to the process has been insufficiently recognized and their potential contributions inadequately utilized.

As Egypt and Iran have demonstrated recently in opposite ways, countries in the region are critical to progress. Egypt, for its part, is beginning to show that a neighboring Arab country can facilitate Israeli-Palestinian movement through its role in hosting and leading the Sharm El Sheik summit of February 2005 and in its contributions to the Gaza disengagement plan. Whether or not the withdrawal succeeds will depend in no small measure on actions the Egyptians are ready to take. In a completely opposite direction, Iranian aid to groups preparing suicide bombings and effecting other attacks on Israelis have prolonged the Intifada.

If neighboring Arab states chose to act and did so wisely, they could facilitate positive actions by Israelis and Palestinians, or ultimately other Arab states such as Syria, by offering economic aid, especially to the Palestinians, and by initiating and expanding ties to Israel. The latter could be an important confidence-building measure, especially if it is coordinated and determined, something that was not the case in the 1990s. Public or private Arab aid to terrorist groups works to prevent positive developments on the Arab-Israeli front. In contrast, the prevention of terrorism is even more important than positive confidence-building measures.

Recent discussion of potential membership or associate membership for Israel and some Arab states in both the EU and NATO represents the kind of creative thinking that could, under appropriate circumstances, contribute to Arab-Israeli advances. For too long the dispute has been defined by disagreements over territory and rights. By opening their gates to creative arrangements, such organizations as NATO and the EU could broaden the context to add opportunities in a globalized world to the Arab-Israeli agenda. In this regard, it is not too early to return to discussions of an American-Israeli defense treaty to be signed at an appropriate time, especially in reaction to a potential Iranian nuclear force.

The Bush administration has in a sense recognized the need to broaden involvement in the process by creating the Quartet, which was critical to the creation of the Roadmap. But the problem with the Roadmap is that it involves four entities: the EU, the UN, and Russia, in addition to the United States. The EU is thereby participating as a unit in and of itself, without sufficient utilization of the individual talents of specific members. Other countries that might usefully contribute, such as Canada, Australia, Japan, and Turkey, are automatically excluded. The multilaterals created after Madrid in October 1991 were a more useful model in terms of membership because they included more countries taking part in positive roles. Individual countries chaired specific sub-groups (the US and Russia for regional security; Canada for refugees; Japan for the environment; the US for water; and the EU for economic development). Different countries participated in different groups. The United States and Russia headed the steering committee of the entire project.

The great advantage of this approach was that responsibility and tasks were shared, and the regional parties were participating together dealing with specific problems. The disadvantage was that the issues were either largely functional (environment, water, economic development) or surrounded by controversy politically (regional security and refugees). Moreover, the topics helped to convince the Clinton administration that they were a sideshow because it was assumed their success was dependent on what happened in the bilateral talks. It was thought that if bilateral agreements could be reached, then the multilaterals could easily be resurrected. Thus, insufficient effort was devoted to sustaining them. In the end both the bilaterals and the multilaterals died.

Establishing the new process. Traditionally, and especially in the 1990s, American policy has been designed to avoid complicating issues by dealing almost exclusively with Israeli agreements with particular states. The Bush administration has been even more cautious. But in the post-9/11 world, we need a new mechanism so that the environment will be created for progress. This new process should include both official and unofficial elements. If disengagement succeeds, I propose the holding of an international conference convened by the Quartet as envisioned by the Roadmap. Its sole function would be to create the following committees that would then carry on with particular activities.

The entire process could be coordinated by the Quartet, but where appropriate there should be a private directorate as well to conduct the non-official segment of the process. One of the problems of the old multilaterals was over-reliance on official activities when many diplomats did not have the time to expand their participation. In this contemplated new situation, private groups and experts would be utilized wherever necessary to prepare relevant documents and studies. The non-official Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (CSCAP) is one such model for this instrument.

1. The Roadmap. Under the chairmanship of the United States, this committee would be charged with proceeding to implement the basics of the Roadmap. Although this overall process is focused on creating a regional setting for discussions, this committee would be more limited to enable the parties to make progress alone, but within the reassuring context of a wider regional setting. They would thereby have all the benefits of American-sponsored bilateral discussions in conjunction with the confidence-building back-up of the wider meetings outlined below. Presumably, the committee's main task would be to deal with the creation of "an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and attributes of sovereignty" as envisioned in that document's second phase. Should that effort succeed, then it could move on to a permanent status agreement as called for in the third phase in the context of the regional process being enumerated here. An interim phase in which permanent borders were agreed upon, excluding Jerusalem because there would be no discussion yet of Jerusalem or refugees, is also a possibility. If Israel chose to proceed with a second unilateral withdrawal, the implications of that plan and the coordination of it could also evolve in these discussions.

At least initially, the United States, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority would be the only members of this committee. However, the parties could agree to additional participants, or, depending on circumstances, the United States might prefer to withdraw and leave the two sides alone. In the event that Syria and Israel agreed on negotiations, they could create a subcommittee of their own within this committee, perhaps with the involvement of the United States, if they so chose and Washington was willing to engage.

2. Palestinian reconstruction and reform. The membership of this committee would be much broader, consisting of all those countries and institutions currently engaged in contributing to Palestinian reconstruction and reform. Both countries inside and outside the region would be invited to participate. The EU would be a possible chair. The World Bank would be a possible co-chair. The committee's purpose would be to coordinate and supervise all efforts designed to assist and promote Palestinian political and economic development.

3. Regional discourse and education. This committee would be charged with working on such issues as public education, the development of moderate political attitudes, and a regional atmosphere of tolerance and pluralism. It would attempt to fund activities such as Track 2 and other types of non-governmental interchange and discussion broadly defined between the peoples of the region. It might also seek to develop people to people interchange between countries among particular groups such as women, journalists, youth, business executives, educators, artists, even parliamentarians. Ideally, this committee would have the largest possible membership, and would be chaired by a popular and uncontroversial country.

4. Regional human conditions. When the multilaterals began, they were oriented to lifesustaining needs: water; the environment; the need to share information about potential illnesses or to inform neighbors about earthquakes; and to deal with the problems of desertification, poverty, and illiteracy. Those needs have not altered. The recent tsunami in South Asia demonstrates that the people of a region have a common fate no matter what their attitudes toward each other. The purpose of this committee would be to pull together all remaining activities in the region that deal with these issues and to seek to fund studies and promote cooperation wherever possible on these life-sustaining matters. Progress on these issues, of course, could conceivably serve as confidence-building measures in other arenas.

5. Regional economic development. This committee would deal with ways of enhancing regional economic development, methods of increasing trade among countries, would hold regional meetings similar to those conducted in the mid-1990s, and would discuss common problems faced in the era of globalization. It would be the most similar of these committees to the multilaterals that existed a decade ago. One of its most important activities would be to permit businessmen and -women from throughout the region to meet with their counterparts from the area and from other countries as well.

6. Unofficial security and political discussions. There are two other issues that should be discussed by the non-official segment of this regional process: common security threats and explorations of a regional future. Subsequently, and if the process functions effectively, it should be possible to elevate these two topics to the official level. Meanwhile, there are common security threats that all states in the region confront. Most countries are actual and potential victims of terrorist attacks. A black market engaging criminal and extremist elements feed each other in the attempt by non-state actors to gain possession of nuclear weapons, radiological sources generally, and chemical and biological agents. On the unofficial level, ways of sharing information or even cooperating to thwart common adversaries can be explored.

One of the many problems in the Middle East is that there is no common vision of a regional future in which states interact in an "international civil society." Experts and specialists from throughout the region already engage in limited Track 2 discussions that explore the boundaries of what is currently possible, and what might be developed in the future in terms of official mechanisms for examining common political problems. These Track 2 efforts could and should be expanded with a larger infusion of funds.

A new regional American imperative. The entire official and unofficial regional process outlined here would serve to build support for the roadmap regionally, and it would serve the interests of both sides. Israelis would experience the benefits of cooperation. Arab states could utilize this mechanism as a means of showing Israel that a different future is indeed possible. They could also advance their own individual interests as well as signal their seriousness of purpose through this instrument. Syria, for example, could demonstrate its commitment to dialogue by participating both in the official and non-official segments of the new regional process, thereby increasing pressure on Sharon from within Israeli society. Damascus could simultaneously impress the United States as a way of improving relations with Washington. Currently, the Syrian government rarely allows any of its citizens to participate even in unofficial and private sessions.

If successful, the new regional process would promote a more positive atmosphere among states in the area that would facilitate more extensive bilateral negotiations in phases two and three of the Roadmap, and in both the medium and long term. A regional process such as the one described here should become a high priority for US policy as it seeks to facilitate a new Arab- Israeli momentum for progress and as it seeks clear achievements in its other objectives in the area.

VII. Conclusion

The fundamental problem with the Bush administration's policy in the Middle East is that the long-term promotion of democracy is doing nothing to stifle terrorism or proliferation, and the wars on terrorism and proliferation are doing nothing to promote democracy. Trying to apply global policies-even worthy global policies-to the region as a whole is a failure, and, in fact, may be exacerbating the dangers the US faces.

Instead, the primary activity of American policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict in 2005 must be doing whatever is necessary so that Prime Minister Sharon will achieve his objective of withdrawing from Gaza and the northern West Bank and President Abbas will carry forward on Palestinian security and political reforms. Abu Mazen must be able to successfully control and advance the areas from which Israel has withdrawn. The parties need to be able to see that there is a process upon which a foundation can be built, rather than failures that confirm the impossibility of change.

We need an approach that deals with three levels: the traditional effort at negotiations, more attention to details and technicalities of agreements, and a wider context of incentives and tradeoffs. The heart of this new process is the creation of an Office of Disengagement Management located continually on the scene to make sure both the security and economic components of disengagement are accomplished.

There is already much talk about what will come next. But that entire discussion is premature because, without successful disengagement, nothing else has a chance to happen. The primary immediate task is to take the security, economic, and political steps that will make disengagement work. There will be no future phases if violence from Palestinians against Israelis does not end and if the disengagement plan does not go forward.

However, if disengagement succeeds, plans must be in place so that, unlike in Iraq, or even after the Oslo accords, there will be a rapid follow-up. Only then will a wider discussion be possible. Meanwhile, a new public-private regional process must be put in place. After disengagement has been completed, I propose the holding of an international conference convened by the Quartet as envisioned by the Roadmap. Its sole function would be to create official and unofficial committees that would then carry on with a host of activities that would embed the new process in a solid context of confidence-building reinforcing measures.

At the same time, public experts outside government must be utilized on a wider scale so that we are not so totally dependent on biographies or foibles of individual leaders. Participation must be wider so that the publics become more receptive to accords and initiatives and so that overworked bureaucrats and leaders do not cut corners and consummate faulty agreements. More countries in and out of the region must be involved in more activities so that there can be more attention to details and a wider context in which progress can occur. This process will only work with a greater expenditure of funds on activities ranging from Palestinian economic development to regional discourse and education, from regional human conditions to common security threats.

The policy agenda then is to be preoccupied with disengagement in the short term, which necessarily means focused attention on the critical need to end Palestinian violence as well. We should then begin to plan for an international conference as disengagement succeeds. Only when the new process is established -- after disengagement has concluded -- should the discussion begin on what the next step in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations will be.

The test of the Bush administration, in the short term, will be making these efforts work. Its test in the medium term will be to take advantage of these successes and move forward to create an entirely new approach toward Arab-Israeli relations. If it could marry innovation with implementation, the Arab-Israeli arena could be transformed and could become a model for further American policy in the region.


To print this page, select "Print" from the File menu of your browser.