Opinion: Time to Draw a Map For Mideast Peace
Now it's time for Obama to chart bold new moves for 2011, including, first and foremost, a renewed effort to achieve a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement. Nothing else would bring as many collateral benefits for U.S. national security. And no other issue is as ripe for solution.
For the first time in decades, a Palestinian government exists in the West Bank that has delivered security to both Palestinians and Israelis. Under the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Palestinian security forces have been unified and professionalized. Palestinians walk the streets of West Bank cities without fear and terrorist attacks on Israelis are essentially nil. Meanwhile, the West Bank has experienced remarkable economic growth, exceeding 8 percent – a phenomenal figure at a time of global economic malaise.
Palestinian negotiators have submitted detailed proposals to Israel and the United States on the core issues of borders, refugees and Jerusalem. Israel, however, has not done so. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears paralyzed by fear that his right-wing government will collapse if he puts down on paper the elements of a settlement.
Many observers believe that the Netanyahu government will soon fall, but that does not mean that the U.S. should just wait for a more courageous Israeli leader. In fact, the U.S. should draft its own peace initiative, building on its deep understanding of Israeli and Palestinian needs and concerns.
It should start with a map of the new Palestinian state.
A veteran analyst of Arab-Israeli peace negotiations -- David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy -- has already done much of the work. Laboring for nearly a year, Makovsky has completed three maps that provide what he calls "credible territorial options" for the new Palestine.
While Makovsky declined to give details pending the formal unveiling of the maps in late January, they appear designed to allow Israel to retain the most populated settlements close to the old 1967 border while maximizing contiguous land for the Palestinians.
Makovsky said the maps show "where geography meets demography."
A former journalist for Israeli and U.S. publications who has long helped Americans understand Israel and vice-versa, Makovsky says he has consulted all sides but did not ask for anyone's endorsement. If the Israelis and Palestinians balk at his proposals, however, "it would be logical for a third party like the United States" to put forward a territorial solution, he said.
Resolving the issue of borders would end the fruitless bickering over Israeli settlements that has consumed so much U.S. Middle East diplomacy. It would end the "legal limbo status" of most settlers, Makovsky says, and bolster Fayyad's state-building efforts. The Palestinians "would see the contours of a state and not just hear more speeches."
Israelis could also rally around something tangible. Arab leaders who have been loath to extend recognition to Israel would have a new impetus to move forward. Spoilers such as Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah would be thrown on the defensive. Al-Qaida terrorists who accuse the United States of responsibility for Palestinian oppression would lose one of their most potent propaganda tools.
The Obama administration appears ready to take the initiative. In a speech last month to the Brookings Institution's Saban Center, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said "it is time to grapple with the core issues of the conflict on borders and security; settlements, water and refugees; and on Jerusalem itself."
"The United States," she promised, "will not be a passive participant." If the two sides fail to agree, "we will offer our own ideas and bridging proposals when appropriate."