8. There's still a long way to go: An enormous amount of work has been done since Israelis and Palestinians first started searching for a conflict-ending agreement during the 1990s. In fact, gaps have been narrowed conceptually on all of the issues -- borders, security, Jerusalem and refugees -- not just in so-called Track II diplomacy, but in formal efforts between Israel and Palestinian negotiators.
But to suggest that this body of negotiating history demonstrates that everyone agrees on the end game -- or that it should be easier to arrive there because they can see it off in the distance -- trivializes the challenges at hand. The gaps between Israel and the Palestinians on the core issues remain enormous, and won't be easily bridged simply because the international community has a vision about what the end game should be.
Lesson: The reason we don't have a conflict-ending agreement isn't for lack of clever fixes and rational bridging proposals, it's because of the lack of political will, capacity, and urgency on the part of leaders who continue to see more dangers in trying to change the status quo than risks in maintaining it.
9. Beware of an interim deal: This year marks the twentieth anniversary of Oslo, a heroic but largely failed effort to use an interim approach to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given the difficulties of achieving an end game, there will be great temptation to adopt another interim approach -- perhaps the idea of an interim accord or a Palestinian state with provisional borders. Oslo offers a cautionary tale.
Interim agreements can work if the general principles of the final deal have been agreed upon, both sides concur that no unilateral efforts will be made to gain leverage during the interim period, and it's only a matter of implementation proceeding in phases. They can also work if both sides believe an interim deal is better than nothing at all. But a phased approach will not work if it's an open-ended arrangement that aims to reach a piecemeal settlement by piece deferring certain issues and creating ambiguity around others.
Lesson: Be careful before you throw good money after bad.
10. Lone Ranger diplomacy doesn't work: Obama is the most controlling foreign-policy president since Nixon. He doesn't delegate, he dominates. And if Susan Rice becomes his new national security advisor, the marginalization of the State Department will only become more acute.
This kind of control might be fine if you had a real strategy -- if the United States were still viewed as a regional heavyweight, or if Obama's sidekick were Henry Kissinger. But none of that is the case. The Arab-Israeli peace process can't be micromanaged out of the White House; it tends to get politicized and lead to blunders (see: Obama's first term). In any case, the president is too preoccupied with other matters to devote sufficient attention to it.
Lesson: Empower Secretary Kerry, and let him run his own team -- made up of experts who understand the issue and have a clear plan to make progress. That won't guarantee success, but it's the best bureaucratic model.
11. This isn't getting easier: There never was a successful peace process that could be had on the cheap. And the environment is now more challenging than ever before: The Palestinian national movement seems hopelessly fractured, Arab leaders are weaker and more accountable to Arab publics, Islamist voices are louder, and Israelis are seemingly uninterested in peace issues.
There's no mystery in what it would take to produce a conflict-ending agreement and no reason why it couldn't or shouldn't happen. You simply need the following things: Israeli and Palestinian leaders bold enough to pay the price for peace; a determined American mediator prepared to be tough, persistent, and ready to assist with implementation; and Arab states that will support the Palestinians politically and financially -- and who are willing to reach out to Israel with confidence building measures. And all of those things are now missing in action.
Lesson: Good luck, Mr. President. You'll need it.