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All that is required then, in that scenario, is to get and keep the two sides talking. Elliot Abrams, in an interview with the Jerusalem Post after the Bush administration left office, effectively rebutted this argument.
“But it seemed to me that the opposite view was right: that if everybody knows what a deal has to look like, and year after year and decade after decade, it is not possible to reach it, isn’t it obvious that it’s because neither side wants that deal?” Abrams said. “Now, the reasons for not wanting it can vary, and they can also change over time, but it does seem to me that if everybody knows what the options are, and the most Israel can offer is less than the least the Palestinians can accept, the solution is not close at hand.”
Abrams was right. It’s not that those parameters aren’t reasonable—they are, which is what makes them so consistently alluring to negotiators. It’s that Israeli leaders have regularly made that offer to the Palestinians, who have never shown any indication that they will accept them. Which is why increased pressure on Israel is silly and counterproductive—the third lesson of the Mitchell debacle.
There are few constants in the Arab-Israeli conflict that can help a negotiator plan a strategy. Foremost among them is what Hillary Clinton said in an interview with the New Yorker in 2007: “You do not get people into a process or to the table to make any kind of tough decisions, including compromises, unless the other side knows that your commitment to Israel is unshakable.”
There are two noteworthy parts to that quote that make it a concise expression of one of the basic rules of the Middle East. The obvious one is the unshakable commitment to Israel. That is the first requirement for productive negotiations—a lesson the Obama administration should be learning from all this. The tangible sacrifices in any deal are being made by Israel—often at a serious risk to the security of the Jewish state. Those sacrifices will not be made in isolation.
But also remarkable is the phrase “the other side”—which Clinton uses here to refer to the Palestinians. The special relationship between Israel and the U.S. was not an accident. It developed because the two countries have shared values and shared strategic goals. The same cannot be said of Arafat’s PLO, Abbas’s PA, or Hamas—the progression of Palestinian power has been consistent on this score.
The concept of an “even-handed” approach by the U.S. defies common sense, and will only reinforce intransigence on the Palestinian side, as it has thus far into the Obama administration’s failed attempts at peacemaking; not only has the PA refused to participate in direct negotiations with Israel, but Palestinian leaders are threatening unilateral declaration of a state—an abrogation of previous agreements and two decades of peacemaking efforts in the region.
Politico called Mitchell’s departure a “low point” in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But if American policymakers learn these three lessons, it will at least begin moving back in the right direction.
Seth Mandel is a writer specializing in Middle Eastern politics and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Horowitz Freedom Center.
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