More than 60 years after Israel's stunning victory in the 1948 war that birthed the Jewish state, an end to the world's most exasperating conflict seems more distant than ever. U.S. President Barack Obama is trying to drag both sides kicking and screaming to the negotiating table after nearly a decade of no progress. But is there still any reason for hope?
We asked leading Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians who've tried and failed to make peace to answer three crucial questions: What have you learned, who's primarily to blame, and what's your out-of-the-box idea to solve the conflict? Here are excerpts from what they told us.
National security advisor to U.S. President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981
Who's to blame: The United States. On more than one occasion it pledged to become seriously engaged in promoting peace, but in fact its engagement has been more rhetorical than real, lacking in will to use the obvious dependence of both the Israelis and the Palestinians on American support.
Out-of-the-box idea: To announce to the world America's commitment to a framework for peace based on four key points, namely (1) no right of return for Palestinian refugees to Israel proper; (2) West Jerusalem as the seat for Israel's capital and East Jerusalem as the seat of the Palestinian capital with some internationally based sharing of the Old City; (3) the drawing of borders between the two states along the 1967 lines, adjusted on the basis of one-for-one swaps as the frontiers; and (4) an essentially demilitarized Palestinian state with U.S. or NATO forces on the west bank of the Jordan River.
of the Palestine Liberation Organization's
Steering and Monitoring Committee and the organization's chief negotiator
What I learned: At the beginning of the peace process I honestly thought I knew Israel better. I used to believe that Israel's fears and concerns were about security and recognition. But when Arab and Islamic countries offered recognition to Israel in exchange for Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and Israel chose to continue its colonization, I started rethinking Israel's goals.
The False Religion of Mideast Peace
And why I'm no longer a believer.
By Aaron David Miller
Who's to blame: If you ask me as a Palestinian, I would tell you the Israeli occupation. But it is also important to say that Israel has not been seriously challenged to stop its illegal policies against the peoples of the region. Therefore I also blame the third parties for turning a blind eye to Israeli actions and consolidating a culture of impunity, which allows Israel to continue creating facts on the ground. Without this blind support, Israel would have never been able to settle over half a million settlers within the occupied Palestinian territory.
ambassador to Israel under President George W. Bush and ambassador to Egypt
under President Bill Clinton; professor of Middle East studies at Princeton
What I learned: Almost everything the United States tries to achieve in the Middle East is informed by what we do or fail to do in the peace process. When we are active diplomatically, Arab states are more willing to cooperate with us on other problems; when we are not active, our diplomatic options shrink. The Arab-Israeli conflict is not just another squabble among "tribes" over land; it has become a signature issue in international relations that encompasses dimensions of territory, security, historical rights, and religion. Achieving peace between Arabs and Israelis is a significant U.S. national interest.
Out-of-the-box idea: Nearly 43 years since the 1967 war, it is astounding that the United States has not articulated its view on what a final settlement should look like on borders and territory, settlements, Jerusalem, refugees, security, and the like. Today, we have worn-out guidance on some of these issues -- mostly focused on what we oppose -- but we lack a clear vision of what we support. In other words, it is time for us to act like a great power in resolving one of the world's festering and dangerous conflicts.