(Courtesy of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
"ISRAEL AND THE PEACE PROCESS SINCE THE RABIN ASSASSINATION"
DECEMBER 12, 1995
Political "Jet Lag"
Today too many observers take progress in the peace process for granted. The same day that President Clinton and Prime Minister Peres had concrete discussions on Israeli-Syrian peace, followed by a substantive phone conversation between Clinton and Syrian President Assad about how to move the process forward, Israeli troops redeployed from Nablus, the largest Palestinian town in the West Bank. None of these events, however, made the front page of the "New York Times." Peres’s visit to the United States was preceded by a historic set of meetings with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Egyptian President Mubarak, and Jordan’s King Hussein; these meeting were hardly even mentioned in the Israeli press.
Too many people Israelis, Arabs, and Americans seem to fail to comprehend the extent of the transformation now underway in the Middle East. Similarly, there seems to be a lack of understanding by "experts" of the basic reasons for the speed and depth of this change.
As experts were looking at differences in the positions articulated by Middle Eastern leaders, they were ignoring the common needs of Middle Eastern peoples. To view any Arab leader as omnipotent is to disregard the fact that in every Arab society there is a call by people to address basic social, political, and economic needs. From Arafat to Assad, leaders know that fulfilling these needs is in their national interest and is essential to their survival, and they factor this into their peace policies.
Peace with Palestinians: The Point of No Return
Though the process of reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians is not over, there is no turning back. Within the next ten days Israel will redeploy from four major cities. After December 28, 1995, all Palestinians will be accountable to the Palestinian Authority. The option of a Greater Israel will then have been precluded; Palestinian actions will henceforth be analyzed on their own merits rather than as reactions to Israeli policy.
Oslo is succeeding because it followed the right basic premise: Palestinians must rule their own lives, as Israel relieves itself of the heavy moral and political burden of ruling Palestinians. In this sense, each side has benefited. However, the two sides still need to transform the Rabin-Arafat breakthrough into a process where the two societies develop a degree of empathy for each other. While keeping in mind the enormous achievements made so far, it is important to remember how large loom the obstacles that lie ahead.
Peace with Jordan and Egypt
The Israeli-Jordanian reconciliation reflected the success of a peace based on national interest and economic reality. Though it is difficult to get economic projects off the ground, the Amman summit showed the magnitude of change in the Middle East. Ironically, in this process of transformation, the normally cautious business community is leading the way, while the far-thinking intellectuals are the most reactionary element. With Egypt, Israel’s challenge is to transform a peace that was made in the 1970’s on political and strategic grounds into a peace based on the economic and social needs of each society.
Peace with Syria: The Challenges Ahead
Peace between Israel and Syria will be achieved because neither has a better alternative. Just as peace could not have begun without the Palestinians, it cannot be completed without the Syrians, given their unique role in the Arab world. However, there are numerous obstacles to overcome. The Syrian-Israeli equation today is one of fundamental hostility. This equation is reflected in all of the issues on the bargaining table: the territorial and strategic dimensions, the continuing violence and terrorism, the non-recognition of legitimate interests, and the lack of any constructive relationship. Prime Minister Peres’s strategy is to transform the equation of hostility in all of its components. Peace with Syria must be built on political, economic, and social needs that today define national interest.
The equation of peace with Syria demands that the parties fulfill the requirements of "full peace." The multilateral process – "the underground peace process" which began in Madrid and has proceeded quietly but with great success, illustrates an aspect of full peace in that it demonstrated the ability of past enemies to cooperate on an ongoing basis in a regional context. For an Israeli-Syrian peace treaty to succeed it must meet three tests: it must reflect each country’s national interest; it must prevent war through credible security arrangements; and it must integrate the two partners in a wider regional framework. Peace with Syria can fit into a puzzle of existing economic relationships forged through the Amman process, the Barcelona process, and the multilaterals.
Just as Israel and all its partners came to the conclusion that peace is a way to address their people’s needs, Syria will do the same. Israelis must stop asking whether peace with Syria will be "warm" or "cold"; the barometer of peace with Syria will be how it reflects each country’s self-interest.
The lack of a breakthrough since Madrid is a result of the length of time is has taken to redefine national interest. It also reflects a problems in the modalities; the process needs a flexible framework in which all the issues bilateral and regional relations, Lebanon, security, economic ties, and the timetable for withdrawal are addressed together. This can be done through a multidimensional approach different level of negotiations addressing different topics of negotiations.
In the end, peace with Syria will remove a strategic threat to Israel. Through each party acting in its own self-interest, Israel and Syria can make peace and establish a comprehensive settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Syrian behavior highlighted by Assad’s decision not to upset the Palestinian and Jordanian tracks shows that he understands and recognizes these new realities. That recognition, coupled with Israel’s underlying strength, promises to transform the region, despite the objective obstacles that remain on the path to peace.
U.S Role in the Peace Process
The U.S. role in the pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace is essential. Those who derogate the U.S. contribution to the achievements since Madrid are woefully mistaken nothing would have been accomplished without active and consistent U.S. engagement. The Clinton administration has been especially supportive; this is the first administration that promised not to impose its views on the regional parties and fulfilled that promise to the letter, acting in the full spirit of honest broker. In the future, the United States will continue to be essential, though it may be more prominent in the post-negotiation period than in the bargaining period itself. There are some issues that can only be settled through direct negotiations. In the long run, Washington’s role in promoting economic investment will be an essential component of securing peace. As for U.S.- Israeli strategic relations, this remains a cornerstone of the bilateral relationship and a key element of the peace equation. At this point in time, however, Israel has made no request to formalize this in a mutual defense treaty.