WASHINGTON: The US administration must radically rethink ways to achieve a sustainable Israeli-Arab peace deal or risk seeing the goal of a two-state solution slip away, experts warned on Monday.
New realities in the Middle East, including the changes wrought by the Arab Spring and the rise of Hamas, meant the old ways of doing business had to be shelved, they told a Washington symposium.
“If we don’t seize whatever opportunity there is in the present, the prospects for negotiating a solution anytime in the near future are really very slim,” said William Quandt, who as a member of the National Security Council was deeply involved in reaching the historic 1978 Camp David accords.
“Maybe it’s already too late, I don’t think we will ever know unless we give it a serious try,” he added, arguing it was ultimately in the US security interest to secure a peace deal.
Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, initiated by President Barack Obama, have stalled since late 2010, and there has been a perceived lack of appetite for a renewed US engagement in the region.
But the recent war in Gaza was “a microcosm of the tectonic shifts that President Obama is going to have to confront,” warned Robert Malley from the International Crisis Group.
The three traditional pillars for peacemaking — strong Israeli-Palestinian entities, Arab nations ready to help the US and pressure the Palestinians, and a credible United States — “have all eroded,” Malley said. Therefore, America’s way of looking at the decades-old conflict had to change, argued Malley, program director at the ICG.
“Just as you can’t wage yesterday’s war, you can’t wage yesterday’s peace. We have to rethink the solution that we all thought we knew,” he said, speaking at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to mark the launch of a new book “Pathways to Peace.”
Former Jordanian foreign minister Marwan Muasher agreed Obama’s task lay between the “difficult and the impossible,” concerned that both a two-state solution and the Arab peace initiative, which he helped launch, were dying.
It was also vital to start setting the contours of the two states, said Daniel Kurtzer, former US ambassador to both Israel and Egypt, and now Princeton professor, who edited the book.