The chance for a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not dead. A way to reach a just, secure and internationally guaranteed compromise exists. Though the path forward may not be easy, it is infinitely preferable to what otherwise lies ahead: a complete unraveling of the Oslo Accords, the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority and a massive escalation of death and destruction on both sides.
We must start with a simple fact: The Israeli-Palestinian final-status negotiations did not end at Camp David in July 2000. Nor did they end when the Al-Aqsa Intifada started two months later. President Clinton’s framework for peace was presented only in December 2000. Indeed, the negotiations in Taba in January 2001 were viewed by the participants as having been distinctly productive. Had Israeli Prime Minister Barak won re-election, it is quite possible that a peace agreement would have been concluded. The new intifada has been enormously destructive, but only after the February 2001 election of Ariel Sharon, to which it contributed, did the violence itself become the dominating issue, ending the negotiations. This has, of course, been reinforced by the events of September 11, 2001.
The American approach to the collapsed peace process remains firmly rooted in the Mitchell report, which was issued last spring: Achieve a cease-fire, undertake confidence-building measures and renew negotiations. It seems eminently sensible. Yet the extraordinary American effort made to achieve even a brief cease-fire suggests that this policy will not work. Indeed, even if a cease-fire takes hold, chances are very high that it will break down long before confidence-building measures have been undertaken. Moreover, even if negotiations are renewed, with the vast gap on final status between the PLO and the present Israeli government led by Sharon, the likelihood for negotiations deadlock, on every central issue, is very high. And such total deadlock will inevitably disintegrate into renewed violence, at ever higher levels of intensity. Indeed, even if the proposal discussed by Shimon Peres and Abu Ala for immediate Palestinian sovereignty in the limited areas from which Israel has already withdrawn were to be adopted, it would provide only a short respite before the reality of total deadlock reasserted itself. It is time for the United States, exercising leadership through the UN Security Council, to pursue a wholly different approach.
With the failure of efforts to re-establish meaningful bilateral negotiations, and with the delegitimization of Arafat as a negotiating partner, Israelis are increasingly looking for decisive unilateral solutions. In particular there is strong public support for unilateral separation: the idea that Israel, without negotiations, should withdraw from some or all of the territories and establish a physical barrier, with the Palestinians on one side and Israelis on the other.