Building a New Peace Process

If one thing is apparent in the saga of the Palestinians’ unilateral approach to statehood, it is that the Quartet has failed entirely in its mission to foster a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. This bodes poorly for future US influence in the Middle East as well as a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some feasible approaches, however, could change this failed course.

The Palestinians were unsuccessful in their bid to win a recommendation for statehood from the United Nations Security Council, but that does not mean that the drama ended there. President Obama avoided using his veto, a small victory, but one washed away by Palestinian ascension to UNESCO membership, which highlighted the limits of Obama’s UN influence, as well as the split among EU countries over the Palestinian question. The fourth and only other country member of the Quartet, Russia, supported the Palestinians’ UNESCO membership.

Given the failure of the Quartet to bring any tangible benefits to the Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority has indicated that it may continue the pursuit of memberships to other UN bodies, including the International Criminal Court. Palestinian membership to the ICC would be highly problematic for Israel, and therefore dampen the prospects of a mutually agreed upon solution to the conflict, because it would allow the PA to pursue “lawfare” as a way to hurt Israel rather than to make peace.

The PA announced on Tuesday that there has been progress in reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas, most notably over the future of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The agreement, should it be enacted, will produce a government without him. This will mean big problems for international funding of the PA, as the Republican-controlled House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the State Department and foreign operations is likely to suspend all US aid to the Palestinians. It will present the biggest challenge yet to EU financial support as well. Further, it will be difficult to attract future investment from international bodies and others who exclusively identify Fayyad with the improvements in Palestinian institution-building and security cooperation with Israel.

The political environment in the US is a challenge as well. Although false rumors of Obama losing unusually large amounts of Jewish support have been proliferating, the president is facing a decline in Jewish support and has redoubled his Jewish voter outreach. Between now and the election, Obama is likely to avoid controversial statements or actions when it comes to the conflict, meaning that US leadership will likely take on a more quiet approach. Contributing to his difficulties, the loss of Dennis Ross last week means that the administration is now without any significant experiential knowledge of the peace process or a reassuring face for Israel.

Moving forward, however, the US can make progress by focusing on three primary objectives: maintaining the absence of violence between Israel and the Palestinians, preventing further Palestinian progress in the UN, and, as I discuss in my current World Affairs article, developing a new approach to the failed peace process.

Maintaining the absence of violence will be difficult if Fatah and Hamas form a unity government. Without the current funding, the PA will not be able to afford this effort, and with Hamas’s involvement in a unity government, Israel is unlikely to continue cooperating with the PA, especially in the area of security. However, because maintaining peace is genuinely in everyone’s interest (including, for the time being, Hamas’s), this difficulty can be overcome. Obama should find a way to continue the US Security Coordinator effort and the funding for it. Another strategy, along with a greater role for the US, would be to call upon an underappreciated partner in the project, Canada, with whom Israel has a great deal of trust. Canada already has a significant part in the program and may well be willing to increase its participation because Israel’s security is an unconditional priority for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Minister John Baird. A greater role for the US and Canada in PA security efforts would help Israel and the US Congress feel more comfortable about continuing to work with the PA, which must also do its part to ensure that Hamas has no place in its security forces, whether they interact with Israel or not.

Preventing PA membership to the ICC will be a challenge as well, especially in the wake of Obama’s failure to mobilize opposition for the UNESCO vote. Quite simply, Obama should not have lost many of the states he did—many of whom have historically followed the US—and he must redouble his efforts on any ICC decision. At the moment, the court’s head prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, is awaiting an advisory opinion from the UN on whether to accept a 2009 PA request for jurisdiction. This should give opponents of the request some time to close ranks. The EU must find unity on this issue, not only because the Palestinians need to see European leaders align against such a unilateral approach, but because the EU holds much sway over the court as its most significant financial contributor. The US, too, should be able to mobilize ICC member states like Australia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Georgia, and Mexico, among others, to suspend their funding as well if the court accepts Palestinian membership. Given that Obama has thus far opposed the PA’s unilateral efforts, if he can help the EU find consensus on the issue and persuade other members to withhold their funding, he stands little risk to his political standing at home, where the court is viewed skeptically.

If the US succeeds in keeping violence down locally and preventing Palestinian lawfare internationally, it will have come far. Left unchecked, these threats would not only destabilize the region, but probably end any chance for peace in this generation by exposing the Palestinian approach as an effort to achieve its own statehood by delegitimizing Israel’s. If relations between Israelis and Palestinians remain calm, however, and states band together to block the PA from the ICC and other UN bodies, then from that stability a peaceful and lasting resolution process might eventually arise.

Aaron Menenberg was a 2010–2011 Menachem Begin Heritage Center Israel Government Fellow with the Israeli Ministry of Defense in the West Bank. The views expressed are his own.

Editors Note: This article was written as an update for the authors article, “The Oslo Legacy: Goodbye to All That,” which appeared in the November/December issue of the print journal.

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