Unilateral Peace

It's time for Israel to move toward a two-state solution, alone if necessary.

The White House has made clear, as recently as last Thursday's press briefing by Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, that President Barack Obama's visit to Israel this week "is not about trying to lay down a new initiative" for Arab-Israeli peace. Yet over the last 13 years, there have been only two rounds of substantive negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and two realistic peace proposals: former U.S. President Bill Clinton's 2000 "Clinton Parameters" and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's 2008 proposal, neither of which was accepted by the Palestinian leadership.

The Palestinians have opted for a unilateral strategy, bypassing negotiations with Israel to seek unconditional U.N. recognition of the "State of Palestine." They hope that the international community will deliver Israeli concessions without forcing them to make the reciprocal ones that a negotiated agreement with Israel would inevitably require. It is not at all clear that even a negotiated peace agreement would win the support of the Palestinian people, let alone be implemented in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, where Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), cannot even visit. Moreover, the PA continues its efforts towards reconciliation with Hamas, a terrorist group armed by Iran, which has sworn to destroy Israel.

We Israelis cannot continue to wait for the Palestinians. Israel must take charge of its future as a Jewish, democratic, secure, and legitimate state. A poll conducted in December 2012 indicated that some 80 percent of Israelis still support a credible peace agreement with the Palestinians. We therefore propose that Israel lay down an initiative -- one that will breathe new life into the peace process.

Israel should begin by once again presenting the Palestinians with a generous and realistic proposal along the lines of the Clinton Parameters and Olmert's comprehensive 2008 offer. If, yet again, the Palestinian leadership is unwilling to resume credible negotiations, Israel should pro-actively take constructive, unilateral, internationally coordinated steps towards a two-state reality, meaning the de facto -- if not yet de jure -- existence of two nation-states for two peoples. This process could lead to the resumption of negotiations. Israel should attempt to coordinate with, or at least inform, the PA of such steps, but proceed independently even in the absence of approval.

Unilateral Israeli action would create tangible progress toward a two-state solution and generate momentum towards re-establishing negotiations. As such, Obama should support it. Such a plan contradicts neither U.S. commitment to a bilaterally negotiated solution nor U.S. opposition to unconstructive, unilateral actions that could impede negotiations, such as terrorism and international legal actions against Israel.

Unilateralism has a bad reputation in Israel, primarily because Israel's 2000 unilateral redeployment behind the "blue line" demarcation with Lebanon led to Hezbollah's entrenchment and rocket fire against northern Israeli towns, just as its 2005 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza led to Hamas' rise to power and unprecedented daily shelling of civilian centers in Israel's south. At the same time, however, few Israelis -- if any -- wish to return to the occupation of southern Lebanon or Gaza. The decision to withdraw from both territories was correct. In the first case, unilateral action legitimized Israel's border in the north; in the second case, it mitigated Gaza's growing demographic threat and the challenge that the Israel Defense Force's presence posed to Israeli legitimacy. What was flawed about these past moves was how they were carried out.

The government of Israel made four main errors during the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza: not preceding the move with a generous peace offer to the Palestinians; leaving a corridor open to weapons smuggling into Gaza; completing the total evacuation of the territory without leaving bargaining chips for future negotiations; and failing to secure recognition of its significant and constructive concessions by not coordinating the move with the international community or the Palestinians. As a result, Gaza became a launching pad for rockets and missiles targeting Israel.

But past mistakes hold lessons for the future. We suggest a new series of unilateral steps towards disengagement that have a better chance of succeeding. First, Israel should renounce its sovereignty claims over areas east of the security fence that separates Israel from the West Bank. Second, it should end all settlement construction east of the fence. And third, Israel should enact a voluntary settlement evacuation and compensation law. These measures would pave the way for Israeli disengagement from roughly 85 percent of the West Bank. They would also undermine the Palestinian argument that Israeli settlements are skewering a two-state solution and encourage them to return to negotiations over the remaining 15 percent of the West Bank.

Israel should coordinate these moves -- particularly those related to security -- with the United States, the international community, and the PA, thereby lending legitimacy to the process. The Jordan Valley and possibly other strategic locations should provisionally remain in Israeli hands to prevent the smuggling of weapons to the West Bank and assure Israel's security.

These steps are not necessarily contingent on a renewal of negotiations. Instead, they are designed to proceed in tandem with efforts to revive talks and reach a negotiated settlement, based on U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

By supporting this approach, Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry would simply be encouraging actions aimed at creating a two-state reality and laying the groundwork for a two-state solution. If the United States believes that the window is closing on a two-state solution, it should opt for new thinking over old, progress over the status quo, and coordinated unilateralism over stalled negotiations.

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

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Lessons Learned from Kenya's Election

Kenya’s general election wasn’t perfect -- but it was peaceful. Here’s why.

As investors bite their nails over the latest Eurozone crisis in Cyprus, a different type of investment is paying off handsomely: Kenya's elections passed largely without violence. 

This success was not just good luck. Well-prepared Kenyan institutions, global non-profit organizations like Mercy Corps, and governments from around the globe collaborated to help peace win the day. This result not only prevented significant human suffering: It also bolstered a stalwart ally of the West in the struggle against terrorism (Kenya is currently battling al-Shabab extremists from neighboring Somalia who could have exploited any violence to their own advantage) and protected a rapidly growing market for global exports. To be sure, many observers express skepticism regarding the election's credibility and will not be pleased if the presumed winner, Uhuru Kenyatta, who is accused of fomenting violence in the last presidential elections, ultimately prevails. So far, however, any contested results will be challenged where they should be: in the courts, not through violence on the streets. 

Five years ago, Kenyans were not so fortunate. Violence surrounding the 2007 election, stoked by ethnic mobilization, led to more than 1,000 dead with 350,000 more displaced. The bloodshed cut Kenya's tourism industry in half, and reduced Kenyan GDP growth by over half, from 6 percent to 2 percent, virtually overnight. These negative economic effects rippled throughout East Africa, as Kenya is a lynchpin economic and transportation hub, and have persisted for the past five years. 

A peaceful election required tremendous effort. Kenyan government and grassroots organizations implemented a nationwide early-warning and early response network to quell violence before it spread. Another Kenyan group monitored for hate speech. Political parties reminded their followers to defend the peace. Recently reformed police secured the polling places, religious leaders and local committees monitored and calmed tensions, and drama groups conducted mobile peace theaters. SMS texting technology facilitated a nation-wide public education campaign and was used to send calibrated peace messages to youths preparing to clash. 

Numerous international partners, ranging from the United Nations to the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, supported Kenya's efforts. For instance, from the United States alone, the State Department's Conflict and Stabilization Operations bureau and the U.S. Institute of Peace deployed teams to high-risk areas to assess conflict mitigation efforts. The U. S. Agency for International Development funded a large effort that mobilized youth against violence. 

The risk of violence was, and remains, very real. Observers have documented warning signs of violence, from stockpiled weapons to ethnic incitement, which was a root cause of earlier violence. Fearful families sent women and children to the farm or out of the country. Kenyan businesses closed in anticipation of violence, with economic repercussions across East Africa. Studies showing that previous bouts of electoral violence are strong predictors of repeated violence reinforced the need for prevention. 

Though it will take time to understand exactly what worked and why, the broad effort at conflict prevention succeeded, and the dividends of prevention are already evident. After the March 4 election, Kenya's stock market soared, and GDP growth is expected to reach 6 percent again soon. Peaceful elections also saved millions of dollars worth of humanitarian assistance that would have been necessary to feed and house those who could have been displaced by violence. With East Africa's largest economy, Kenya looks set to continue the economic growth that will restore the $7 billion dollars' worth of losses since 2008. This, in turn, will lift many out of poverty, led by sustainable commercial growth rather than scarce aid dollars. 

The total cost of peace efforts in Kenya is shockingly low -- less than a third the cost the military pays for a single joint strike fighter to leave the runway. If we can multiply conflict prevention savings in one country across the globe, the potential benefit is enormous. 

Though conflict prevention is cheap compared with alternatives, proving success is challenging. It is the classic dog that didn't bark. In Kenya, some observers attribute peace to a political alliance between two tribes previously at loggerheads. Yet even with that alliance, indicators were present and a peaceful election was far from certain. What we know is that prevention efforts have worked well -- at least so far. 

Though Kenya's peaceful election is worth celebrating, it is too soon to declare victory. Violence could still return in Kenya. A court challenge to the razor-thin presidential results is generating anxiety, and the business sector is watching (a weakening shilling shows tension tied to a pending decision by the Supreme Court on the legality of the election). In addition, the team that appears to have won Kenya's election is indicted by the International Criminal Court for allegations of stirring violence in the previous election and will face trials in The Hague later this year. Either of these events could revive ethnic tensions. Prevention efforts cannot rest. 

As the world prepares for a new round of critical elections -- the 2014 presidential election in Afghanistan is just one example -- it is worth learning the lessons from Kenya and focusing on conflict prevention. War is costly in so many ways. But investing in peace pays.