New ‘Israel Peace Initiative’ by former defense, intel chiefs: just talk?

Jewish groups that support a more active Middle East peace process are applauding a new plan conceived by a group that includes former Israeli military and intelligence chiefs and revealed by Ha’aretz on Tuesday.

As Americans for Peace Now CEO Debra DeLee said today in a statement, “its publication, even by figures not associated with the current Israeli government, sends a positive signal to the Palestinians and the Arab world that there is still a significant and influential constituency in Israel that supports Israeli-Palestinian and Israel-Arab peace based on agreements that reflect the interests of all the peoples concerned.”

J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami said that "the initiative – rooted in two decades of negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians – sets forth a clear vision for two states and, in conjunction with the Arab Peace Initiative, provides a strong basis to negotiate a regional, comprehensive peace agreement.

But in private conversations I haven’t found anyone who really believes the initiative – which Ha’artz reports backers hope will persuade Benjamin Netanyahu to press for negotiations with the Palestinians – is likely to break the deepening deadlock.

The Palestinians, increasingly focused on their effort to bypass negotiations and go directly to the United Nations to score a PR victory over Israel, continue to reject direct negotiations; the Netanyahu government, catering to a right flank that sees nothing but danger in new talks, say it is interested, but continues doing the one thing that pretty much guarantees the Palestinians won’t come back to the table – expand settlements.

Washington might be interested, if the Obama administration had any real sense that the two sides are ready for real negotiations. The problem is, they don’t. And with President Obama beset with a host of new international crises and facing a difficult reelection campaign next year, most observers say the last thing the administration wants is to make another pass at what seems for the moment like a completely intractable conflict.

It seems to me the real measure of the seriousness of the plan’s authors, including former army chief Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and former Mossad chief Danny Yatom, will be whether they take it to the Israeli public and aggressively make the case that time is running out for a two-state solution and show that this plan represents about the best Israel can hope for from a negotiated settlement.

And it won’t have much of an impact unless they find ways to work with peace-minded Palestinians to change a political climate in the West Bank that has made Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas just as afraid as his Israeli counterpart to make politically risky compromises that any movement in the peace process will require.

Until those things happen, it’s just talk. The problem isn’t a lack of ideas about how an Israeli-Palestinian settlement will look; the problem is a lack of political support on both sides and a lack of will by leaders who’d rather live with the current bitter status quo than take the big political risks peace will require.

And it seems to me that the only peace plan that’s likely to make any real difference now is a comprehensive American plan, based on the results of prior negotiations.

Former U.S. peace processor  Aaron David Miller addresses that in an interesting New York Times oped this week. He writes:

"A breakthrough would require something far bolder and more imaginative than the president articulating another set of sterile American policy positions. But a bolder proposal… has a high risk of failure and may be well beyond the will or capacity of the United States to achieve. Given the current turbulence in the Arab world, the smart money on such a risky venture — or on any peace initiative — would be to wait at least until after U.S. elections in November 2012."


About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.