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Next Week in Jerusalem? | The Nation

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Next Week in Jerusalem?

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President Obama must go to Jerusalem next week. Seriously. He needs to go to Jerusalem in the same fashion as Egypt's Anwar Sadat went to Jerusalem in 1977. He needs to use his presidential prestige and unique oratorical gifts to impose a dramatic new paradigm on a Middle East mired in a dangerous stalemate. I write this knowing full well that America has no viable partners in a "peace process" that is going nowhere. All the players on the ground are politically weak and perceive the status quo as less risky than the prospect of making the necessary compromises everyone knows are necessary. But that is precisely why the only realistic policy at hand is one that requires a game-changing, high-profile initiative from the Obama administration.

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Kai Bird
Kai Bird is a Nation contributing editor, a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian and the author, most recently, of...

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The president's Middle East advisers—the usual suspects include men like Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk—are no doubt urging caution, arguing that any forceful American diplomacy is bound to end in failure. They are the failed realists. Aaron David Miller, another perennial Middle East adviser to both Republican and Democratic administrations since 1978, recently confessed that he was "no longer a believer." In a Foreign Policy essay titled "The False Religion of Mideast Peace," Miller explains that believing in "Arab-Israeli peacemaking" is pretty much like tilting at windmills. He virtually confesses that his career as a diplomat over the past three decades was a futile exercise drenched in delusions. Miller now thinks America can essentially do nothing to end the region's endless series of tribal wars. At the end of his essay he writes, "Right now, America has neither the opportunity nor frankly the balls to do truly big things on Arab-Israeli peacemaking. Fortuna might still rescue the president. The mullahcracy in Tehran might implode. The Syrians and Israelis might reach out to one another secretly, or perhaps a violent confrontation will flare up to break the impasse. But without a tectonic plate shifting somewhere, it's going to be tough to re-create the good old days when bold and heroic Arab and Israeli leaders strode the stage of history, together with Americans, willing and able to do serious peacemaking."

But a "tectonic plate shifting somewhere" is precisely what Obama could bring about by going to Jerusalem. Standing at the very same Knesset podium where Anwar Sadat once stood, Obama could with drama and empathic oratory unveil a new American policy for the Middle East. It would lay out the following five policy initiatives:

1. America's full endorsement, with the immediate backing of the United Nations Security Council, of the 2002 Nusseibeh-Ayalon Plan for the creation of two states—with June 1967 borders (with small, one-to-one adjustments) and Jerusalem being the shared capital of both states.

2. A proposal—again backed by a new UN Security Council mandate—that the Nusseibeh-Ayalon Plan be put to a referendum in both Israel and the occupied territories within three months. (This particular peace plan is similar to the December 2000 Clinton Parameters, the 2003 Geneva Accord and the Arab League's 2002 peace initiative—but the simple, six-point Nusseibeh-Ayalon Plan has the added attraction of having been endorsed by some quarter-million Israelis and about 160,000 Palestinians.)

3. If said referendum is not held, then America would press the UN to impose economic sanctions against the offending party or parties. Economic and military aid to Israel or the Palestinians would be suspended until that time when a two-state solution is fully implemented.

4. An American pledge to bring Israel within NATO's security umbrella—if and only if Israel agrees to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and dismantle its nuclear arsenal.

5. When the Nusseibeh-Ayalon Plan is fully implemented, America and the international community would pledge to create a Middle Eastern Economic Investment Authority on the scale of the 1948 Marshall Plan for European recovery.

These five steps would remake the Middle East. Initially, such a seismic change in US policy would cause political upheavals across the Arab world. The current coalition government in Israel would not survive. But a majority of both Israelis and Palestinians—even in Hamas-controlled Gaza—would most probably vote for the Nusseibeh-Ayalon Plan. And if they did not, well, America would be fully justified in disengaging from the Middle East. We could then with a clear conscience do what "realists" like Aaron David Miller suggest—nothing.

But I doubt this would be necessary. Most people would recognize that Obama's new paradigm was rational, democratic and the obvious road to peace and security. Israel would become a smaller state, but it would at last be secure and at peace with all its neighbors.

Some may complain that I am leaving Iran's theocracy out of the scenario. But the upheavals that would accompany Obama's trip to Jerusalem would inevitably affect the viability of that regime as well. Perhaps after Jerusalem Obama could plan a trip to Tehran. The road to Tehran clearly lies through Jerusalem.

Make your reservations on Air Force One, Mr. President! You need to start earning that Nobel Peace Prize.

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