Future US mediation should involve more regional diplomacy

For the sake of reaching a long-term ceasefire in Gaza, and for future efforts towards a two-state solution, the US must encourage more regional diplomatic participation.

US attempts for a ceasefire in Gaza this past month were a disaster. Despite working endlessly to incorporate the efforts of regional and European actors, Secretary Kerry’s efforts were repeatedly dashed, only to be replaced by a tenuous 72-hour ceasefire.

Although it has fallen short, the US has chosen the right course.  A strategy of encouraging greater participation from these self-appointed Middle Eastern mediators and others represents the surest way the US can expect to broker a ceasefire.  Moreover, this option can satisfy the large swath of Americans weary of the toll that a protracted involvement in the Middle East has taken but who worry about the prospect of a declining US influence around the world.

Dr. Galia Press-Barnathan at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem once argued in an academic article that by allowing greater intra-regional European security cooperation after the Cold War, the US was able to mitigate its costs of maintaining stability there while still preserving its hegemonic position. This theory of “security regionalization,” as she calls it, may be extrapolated to a US option in the Middle East of “diplomacy regionalization,” whereby the US would encourage regional third party states to engage more actively in negotiations with the conflicting parties—Hamas, Fatah, and, at least indirectly, Israel.

Unfortunately, rather than exhibiting regional cooperation the ceasefire talks—and inter-Arab relations in general—have been characterized by competition. This competition has manifested itself in a clash between a Saudi- and Israeli-backed Egyptian ceasefire initiative, on the one side, and Turkish and Qatari efforts to vouch for Hamas, on the other.

Making matters worse for itself, in the search to find a more palpable offer for Hamas after it rejected the former’s terms, the US appears to have swung a full 180˚, adopting almost entirely those of the latter. Kerry’s lopsided proposals have stirred feelings of betrayal and mistrust from all sides.

To this end, both Israeli and moderate Palestinian leaders alike have rebuked his last major proposal on July 26, released to the parties after a meeting in Paris between Western leaders and Turkey and Qatar. It was soundly rejected by Israel’s cabinet, as well as the Palestinian Authority, which ridiculed the US for having discarded the Egyptian initiative in favor of a “friends of Hamas” outlook.  Two weeks on, despite various Obama officials having come to Kerry’s aid, not to mention Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, Kerry’s most recent remark that Netanyahu is a “stubborn head” has left few to wonder whether the diplomatic spat is still ongoing.

For the US to rebound from this series of diplomatic blunders, it must make a more concerted effort to juggle the demands of all parties.  It should devise an international mechanism combining regional cooperation within the divergent camps and the various conflict party-mediator relationships that allow, for example, the US to circumvent having to speak with Hamas directly.  Though a daunting task, only a year ago Kerry pulled off another admirable feat by convincing the Arab League to amend the Arab Peace Initiative to allow for negotiation on minor land swaps.  Such endeavors for compromise are helpful, and align with the spirit of diplomacy regionalization.

The US must also see to it that Abbas and the Palestinian Authority be placed at the center of all Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, including over Gaza. The surest way for the US to bolster the PA’s voice over that of Hamas is to countenance the Fatah-Hamas “technocratic government,” which retains Abbas’ leading role. Plus its contact with both Israel and Hamas can be exploited as a primary mediating source.

In short, greater regional diplomatic involvement under this international mechanism could prevent another fissure within the Palestinian ranks, would act as a confidence-building measure between Israel and the Arab parties, and would provide international (US or EU) monitoring for the implementation of (and against breaches to) agreements.  A Middle Eastern diplomacy regionalization is the US’ most secure, comprehensive, and cost-effective path out of the current mess, and onto the road to a two-state solution.

Article was originally published in the Mitvim-DC Monthly, August edition.  An earlier version was also published in the Jerusalem Post. 

About the Author
Brian Reeves is the director of external relations at Peace Now.