The peace process is stuck. Today (July 11), the Quartet will meet to try to create some momentum. But what can the US do if the peace process is stuck? A few options that are not mutually exclusive:
1. Disengage – There have been times when the United States has decided that diplomatic progress is not possible or not desirable. Sometimes, the US has continued to hold meetings and issue statements. But such cases were motion without movement and the crucial follow-through and high-level US involvement was absent. (Examples: George W. Bush much of pre-2007; Ronald Reagan in 1981 and the first half of 1982.) With the 2012 election coming up, a holding pattern might appeal to the Obama administration.
2. Reassess – The United States has had the same aim (two-state solution) and same tactic (Israeli-Palestinian negotiations) off and on since 1993. Maybe it is time to step back and figure out whether, after so many setbacks, such an approach is still the best way to advance US interests. President Obama did a long review for Afghanistan and maybe the same approach is in order here. Some specific issues:
2A. Re-think relations with Hamas – The US/Israeli position of isolating Hamas since 2006-07 has not toppled Hamas. Hamas now has a much stronger hold on the Gaza economy due to the economic siege and the movement of the economy to tunnels. Perhaps a rethink is in order. Considering such changes would surely be part of a reassessment. This rethink also relates to whether to work with a Hamas that is part of a Palestinian unity government.
2B. Try to sculpt a UN resolution in September that is acceptable to the US and possibly Israel.
2C. Work on a partial Israeli-Palestinian deal. The sequencing in President Obama’s May 19, 2011 speech hints at this approach.
3. Go Big – The President has appeared to get caught up in tactical decisions (e.g., settlement freeze or not, 1967 lines with swaps). Another option would be to issue the Obama Plan, an updated version of the Clinton Parameters from December 2000. This might force the Israelis and Palestinians to have some vision and get back to the bigger picture. Of course, this might just beg the question of how to get a process started (and it might also reveal that larger Israeli-Palestinian gaps remain than “we all know what a final deal will look like” thinking admits.)
4. Carrots and sticks – The US may use incentives and and penalties. President Obama has thus far been unwilling to go much beyond pressure. But if he wants to move the process, he may need more than persuasion and finger-wagging.
5. Track 2 diplomacy – If the process is stuck, the US should make sure many backchannel dialogues are taking place. Stir the pot of ideas, keep contact up, and hope for a breakthrough or new ideas. Give the leaders a space in which to build a modicum of trust.
6. Domestic meddling – Although formally frowned upon, the US has long meddled in the politics of other countries. It can be messy and embarrassing but maybe it could undermine the Netanyahu government and weaken Israeli opposition to the Obama aproach.
7. Work the region & world – Who else has leverage? Can the US work with Arab countries to move the Palestinians? Can the US think more globally to build a wider process or perhaps a parallel multilateral track as in the 1990s? The Quartet meeting is a part of this approach.
8. Maintenance – Keep funding and training. Keep talking to the parties. This is a similar to #1 but the explicit point is to manage rather than resolve the conflict.
8A. Continue to help the West Bank – “Fayyadism” has helped build institutions and develop the economy in the West Bank (or at least that is what we are told). Continued US support could help one of the few positive stories for Palestinian negotiators. And it is a story that helps the PA image among Israelis.
Some of these options are far-fetched. But if the peace process is going nowhere, it would be prudent to think both inside and outside the box.