Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Unrealistic Assessments Hinder Progress

Dennis Ross points to why a deeper understanding of existing-and historical-realities must be a pre-requisite to any hopes of changing the political horizon in the Middle East. The fact that the Saudis deemed it a priority to broker an agreement between Fatah and Hamas, essentially accommodating Hamas, has profound implications for Israeli-Palestinian relations and movement on the political level. The Saudis may have good reason to try and push Hamas away from their current Iranian Shia supporters, but by accommodating them, the Saudis have made it more difficult for the Israelis to enter into more substantive negotiations. With Hamas now more firmly entrenched in power, realities on the ground may preclude any forward movement between the Palestinians and Israelis. For Israel, continued terror attacks (just yesterday, the Shin Bet revealed that it broke up a Hamas cell in the West Bank city of Kalkilya that had planned to detonate a car bomb in Tel Aviv during the Passover holiday), Qassam missile attacks, and continued arms build-ups in Gaza-a la Hezbollah in southern Lebanon-must cease. There is only a short window of time before Israel finds its hand forced and stops the arms build-up itself with a major incursion into Gaza. Needless to say, that would end for the foreseeable future any hopes of diplomatic breakthroughs.
Sometimes, larger goals of more comprehensive agreements must remain subservient to smaller, incremental steps, that are grounded in current realities and can build trust and momentum. Shooting for the stars is not only unrealistic in this instance, it can set progress back. There is a lesson in this for all of us who are striving towards a peaceful solution to the conflict: fanciful notions of comprehensive agreements at the current moment do not match realistic possibilities. We must pay scrupulous attention to recent history and work within a framework of the possible.
david brumer

Statecraft Requires a Reality Check
Dennis Ross
Secretary of State Rice says a strategic realignment in the region creates an opportunity for peace-making. She sees the Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians, Palestinians, and other "moderate" Arabs sharing with Israel a common fear of Iran. However, while the Saudis and Israelis may both see Iran as a threat, they have different ideas about how to deal with it.
Effective statecraft should have led Rice to explore how far Arab leaders were prepared to go. She would have quickly found that the Saudis (and others) are very hesitant. Good statecraft also would have revealed that any "political horizon" disconnected from the realities on the ground would not have been sustainable. For Israelis, continuing terrorist attacks, rocket salvos, and Hamas build-ups in Gaza (patterned after Hizbullah's in southern Lebanon) must end before they trigger a major Israeli incursion into Gaza, Nablus, or Jenin - any of which would sink whatever diplomacy still exists.
Priority number one should be a comprehensive ceasefire between Israelis and Palestinians (as opposed to complete resolution of the conflict).
A second priority should be to foster a dialogue between Israelis, Palestinians, and the larger Arab world about the responsibilities of a Palestinian state once it is finally created. How will it interact with Israel and the outside world? The dialogue could hammer out specifics about how normalized Israel-Palestine relations could evolve in stages.
A third priority should be to ensure that Fatah gains strength against Hamas. Fatah must clean up its act, and the U.S. should help. Make no mistake about it, if Hamas wins the next elections in two years (for president and legislative council), the conflict will be transformed from a national conflict into a religious conflict. If that happens, we'll be out of the peace-making business for a long time, and Islamists will be able to dominate the most evocative issue in the region.
The writer is counselor and Ziegler distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.


Lao Qiao said...

The United States threw away a great opportunity during the Second Lebanon War. President Bush should have made a statement to Israel and to the world that Hezbollah was a destructive terrorist force that should be decisively defeated. Instead, President Bush eventually joined President Chirac and negotiated a cease-fire, thus saving Hezbollah. Although Bush is viewed as too pro-Israel by many people, in fact he is not pro-Israel enough.

Anonymous said...

Intelligent blog. thanks for writing it.