needs a more engaged
U.S. to help broker
...Although Bush endorsed a two-state
solution, he did little to promote it,
letting the peace process languish until the
end of his second term. Bush categorically
backed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon,
whose unilateral withdrawal from Gaza
strengthened Hamas and undercut those who
wanted peace talks.
The administration was solely focused on
Iraq, even as Gaza became a virtual prison
camp with all borders controlled by Israel.
Nor did the administration press Israel to
cease expanding settlements on the West
Under such conditions, Palestinians
turned toward Hamas - which at least
provided social services. Young Palestinians
and intellectuals now talk increasingly
about the "one-state solution." Meantime,
Hamas' rocketing of Israeli towns has
further soured Israelis on the idea of two
So Obama will take office as the very
idea of two states is dying.
The Gaza war has badly undermined those
moderate Arabs who still support the
concept, such as Palestinian Authority
leader Mahmoud Abbas, and the rulers in
Jordan and Egypt.
It's nonsense to believe that Israel can
forcibly install Abbas back in charge of
Gaza; Abbas would be denounced as a puppet.
The Gaza war will also make it harder to
revive the 2002 Arab peace plan, which calls
for all Arab states to recognize Israel in
return for a two-state formula.
And the fighting also has threatened
promising mediation by Turkey that had
brought Israel and Syria together in renewed
peace talks. Embarrassed by the Gaza war,
Turkey has suspended the talks.
Yet the arrival of Obama provides a brief
window in which a serious peace process
might get restarted. He will have to use all
his smarts and charisma to restore hope for
change in the region and dispel suspicions
He must convince skeptical Palestinians
and Israelis that Mideast peace isn't a
mirage, so they'll vote for peacemakers in
upcoming elections. He must also persuade
members of Congress not to interfere.
Some of the best advice on how to proceed
is offered in a small book called
Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace:
American Leadership in the Middle East
by Daniel Kurtzer and Scott B. Lasensky
(read excerpts at
Kurtzer, a former peace negotiator and U.S.
ambassador to Egypt and Israel, is on
Obama's short list to become a top Middle
East adviser, and I hope he gets the job.
The pair stress that the president must
make clear to Americans why Arab-Israeli
peacemaking is a priority in a post-9/11
world. Rather than the passivity of the last
eight years, the U.S. role should be
proactive. It should aim for a final
settlement and not get caught up in
The United States should involve other
regional and international players in the
process, backing Israel-Syria talks, for
example, which were long opposed by the Bush
team. And U.S. officials must press Israel
to meet its commitments, like freezing
settlement-building, even as they press
Palestinians to cease violence.
Most crucial, the president must be fully
behind any policies pursued by his secretary
of state or special Mideast emissaries.
Despite his full plate, this process won't
move without him.
There's still a chance to rescue Mideast
policy from eight years of fumbles, and
Obama can't afford to miss that chance.