Repetition of Failed Experiments Is Not a Formula for Israeli-Palestinian Peace

[Weekly Standard] Elliott Abrams - As an official of the Bush administration I made three dozen visits to the Middle East in the last eight years, and after lengthy discussions with Israelis and Palestinians, it seems to me obvious that it is time to face certain facts: We are not on the verge of Israeli-Palestinian peace; a Palestinian state cannot come into being in the near future; and the focus should be on building the institutions that will allow for real Palestinian progress in the medium or longer term. What are the chances of a final status agreement in 2009? None. Despite the pressures for progress after Annapolis, little progress was made in 2008, and if anything conditions are worse now. It has been true for decades that the most Israel can offer the Palestinians is quite evidently less than any Palestinian politician is prepared to accept. Those who say "the outlines of an agreement are well known" are wrong: To the extent that such outlines are "well known," they are unacceptable to both sides or they would have led to a deal long ago. Meanwhile, Fatah as a party is moribund. Its reputation for incompetence and corruption remains what it was when Arafat was alive, for there has been no party reform despite endless promises. If democracy is impossible without democratic parties, the collapse of Fatah suggests that a future independent Palestine would either be run by Hamas and other extremists and terrorists or become a one-party "republic" on the model of Tunisia or Egypt. The lesson of Gaza to Israelis is identical to the lesson of south Lebanon, and a cautionary tale regarding withdrawal from the West Bank: "Land for peace" concessions have failed and become "land for terrorism." Until there is far better security in the West Bank, few Israelis would risk withdrawing the Israel Defense Forces from operating there. Furthermore, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now part of a broader struggle in the region over Iranian extremism and power. Israeli withdrawals now risk opening the door not only to Palestinian terrorists but to Iranian proxies. While Iran is able to sustain the Hamas terrorist regime in Gaza, negotiations over a full final status agreement are little more than staking territorial claims to a mirage. These factors suggest that a final status agreement is not now a real-world goal. What is? An intense concentration on building Palestinian institutions in the West Bank. The U.S. and the Quartet should take some time away from endless meetings and speeches and resolutions calling for immediate negotiations over final status issues, and turn instead to making real life in the West Bank better and more secure. The writer, senior fellow for the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations, was a deputy national security adviser in the Bush administration.

2009-02-24 06:00:00

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