<em>Guest Post by Sameer Lalwani</em>: Former Peace Process Negotiators Daniel Levy and Rob Malley Skeptical of Bush Administration’s Israel-Palestine Plan


Sameer Lalwani is a policy analyst in the New America Foundation’s American Strategy Program
Last night, the New America Foundation co-hosted a dinner with The American Prospect around their June “Middle East issue” that featured a number of important pieces by my American Strategy Program colleagues. While the special issue centered on the broader strategic questions emerging out of the Middle East including our options for dealing with Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, the evening’s discussion narrowed in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and “Ten Commandments for Mideast Peace” co-authored by former negotiators Daniel Levy (Israel), Ghaith al-Omari (Palestine), and Rob Malley (U.S.). Levy and al-Omari are currently both fellows at New America, Malley is the International Crisis Group Middle East Director.
Unfortunately Ghaith al-Omari had to undergo a last minute dental procedure and Steve Clemons, who was scheduled to host and moderate the event, was stranded on a tarmac in Providence due to inclement weather (a recurring event for Clemons). So Flynt Leverett–who also had an excellent memo laying out our options in the June issue titled “To the Incoming President: On Iraq“–stepped in along with Bob Kuttner, to host the evening.
The timing of the dinner couldn’t have been better as it followed on the heels of the Bush administration’s proposal last Monday to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and PM Salam Fayyad’s government by renewing financial assistance, offering security assistance, working with Israel to release prisoners and ease its chokehold of checkpoints, and, most significantly, creating a political horizon with a regional conference scheduled for the fall.
Malley and Levy started off the evening sketching out the terrain of the post-Palestinian-split environment and whether the administration’s recent proposal was both serious and substantial enough to change the dynamic in the region. Though the meeting of regional actors on the peace process, proposed for the fall, has been likened to the 1991 Madrid conference, Malley pointed out the significant differences in this climate–the fragmentation of the Palestinians, the polarization of the Middle East, the interconnectedness of regional problems increasing the propensity for interference, the collapse of US credibility, and the absence of a shared vision–shatters the analogy.
Levy underscored that the absence of a substantive, not merely nominal, referee in the process has had a devastating impact on calculating risk. The Winograd Commission interim report reveals that a number of ministers, who signed on to the bombing campaign against Lebanon last summer, had the assumption of US intervention after 48-96 hours built-in to their decision-making process. Without the US reining everyone in, Israel was locked into a downward spiral of escalation.
The general strike against the administration’s strategy of isolating Hamas and bolstering Fatah in the West Bank is that no one has a real strategy for the day after, for “retaking Gaza,” which suggests the complete isolation of Hamas will not be possible indefinitely. Former Secretary of State Powell stated less than a week ago that the US needed to find some way of talking to Hamas:

I think you’d have to find some way to talk to Hamas. I don’t want to insert myself into what Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice is doing or what the president is doing. But they are not going to go away. And we have to remember that they enjoy considerable support among the Palestinian people. They won an election that we insisted upon having. And so, as unpleasant a group as they may be, and as distasteful as I find some of their positions, I think that through the [Middle East Quartet, which consists of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations] or through some means, Hamas has to be engaged. I dont think you can just cast them into outer darkness and try to find a solution to the problems of the region without taking into account the standing that Hamas has in the Palestinian community.

In order to navigate this and talk to Hamas, Levy proposed some innovative diplomatic tricks to have Hamas represented without formally being at the table. For instance, in ’91, the Palestinians had to be brought in as part of the Jordanian delegation allowing them to claim their own seat at the table while Israeli negotiators were able to defend this to a domestic polity. But like former Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin’s firewall between the peace process and combating terrorism (an effective policy to prevent spoilers from derailing the peace process), this dual-delegation strategy would require a political willingness and strength that most agree is a largely absent.
The skepticism of the speakers was rivaled only by the attendees of the dinner (composed largely of journalists). But despite their doubts, the former negotiators actually suggested some possibilities for taking advantage of the President’s speech to build up a real expectation of a regional conference. Some options being considered by Israel that might bolster the process included addressing the re-launch of the Arab peace initiative with some early deliverables or even another plan for “convergence” and removal of West Bank settlements.
In a departure from Steve Clemons who has derided Tony Blair’s appointment as Middle East envoy, Levy and Malley offered cautious support for Blair because of his achievements in Northern Ireland bringing together the hardliners of both sides, which was attributed his keen sense of timing and the politics. Blair has a slightly different take on the direness of the situation yesterday expressing a “sense of possibility” and a confidence in his ability to extend beyond his economic portfolio to advance peace talks. Another former negotiator has mentioned to me that Blair’s stature and closeness to Bush can be real assets that enable him to bypass the President’s gatekeepers, some who may impede serious efforts to restart a peace process.
As Levy and Malley struggled to present possible upsides to what one of them described as the administration’s plan to “push the accelerator on a failed policy,” it seemed as if they were reaching deep into a hat to extract a rabbit that just wasn’t there.
Towards the end of the evening, facing continued questions on the perpetual impasse (Israel’s demand for a real partner to begin negotiations and Palestinians’ demand for an easing of harsh conditions to preface negotiations), Levy proposed a path breaking action–if Israel issued a decisive statement of intent that they wished to return to the 1967 borders with negotiated adjustments, that they saw “no future in the occupied territories,” it would have a dramatic impact on the Palestinian dynamic and the Arab world’s willingness to see this process through. (It is rumored earlier drafts of President Bush’s speech with more State Department input referenced the magic numbers “67” but they were scrubbed away in successive drafts).
Perhaps because the US referee Israel once counted on to cue their “next move” has since disappeared, Israel may begin to take a long hard look at its options and decide this ’67 declaration is just the Gordian knot maneuver it needs to begin normalizing ties with the Arab world.
–Sameer Lalwani


10 comments on “<em>Guest Post by Sameer Lalwani</em>: Former Peace Process Negotiators Daniel Levy and Rob Malley Skeptical of Bush Administration’s Israel-Palestine Plan

  1. Matthew says:

    arthurdecco: To quote Bobby DiNiro from Taxi Driver: “Are you talking to me?”
    Matthew (frequently mistaken for Michael)
    Thanks for the kind words.


  2. arthurdecco says:

    Michael said: “While I don’t like Zionism, I do like positive solutions. And those definitely will not originate from Bush or Congress, which is only slightly less Occupied Territory than the West Bank.”
    One of the most accurate summations on this subject I’ve ever read. Thank you, Michael


  3. Matthew says:

    Good points john somer. But I do think squeezing the IRA funding had a lot to do with it. As to the ME, the Europeans already treat Israel differently from other “Mediterranean Union” nations. While I don’t like Zionism, I do like positive solutions. And those definitely will not originate from Bush or Congress, which is only slightly less Occupied Territory than the West Bank.
    What I do know about the Euros is that they are smart enough not to listen to “intellects” like John Hagee, James Dobson, and the gone-and-not-missed Jerry Falwell when it comes to solving ME problems.
    But, hey, what do I know. America has done a fabulous job in the ME. Look at Iraq.


  4. john somer says:

    Matthew doesn’t seem to know Europe. Israel won’t be a membefr of the EU but might become a member of Sarkozy’s proposed “Mediterranean Union” along with Turkey, Lebanon, Palestine and other countries bordering the Med sea. And if I remembeer well, Blair had some help from a certain Sen Mitchell, along with Bertie Ahern in solving the N Ireland issue. Would Sen Mitchell not be American ?


  5. Matthew says:

    Just like Northern Ireland, the solution is about keeping Americans out. Israel’s future is in secular Europe. The Europeans rightly seen this as a dispute between two people. Israel will be a full member of Europe when it dismantles its apartheid system vis-avis the Palestinians. The Europeans rightly see that God has nothing to do with this dispute. And what kind of “god” is waiting breathlessly for someone Brooklynite to magically “redeem” some Judean hill by squatting his fat ass on it. (And is that not the ultimate Orwellian notion: land is redeemed by pushing poor people off it. I guess you have to go to a world-class Bible “College” (read Christian Madrassa) to believe that.)


  6. MP says:

    Posted by Carroll at July 25, 2007 06:53 PM
    Yes. The Israelis will make peace without the help of the US. They are much further along in their thinking and awareness than we are.


  7. MP says:

    Carroll writes: “Barring some kind of civil war in the US over this Israel fetish thing here we will still be talking about the Israel problem another 40 years from now.”
    I don’t know about that. The Northern Ireland dispute went on for much longer and was easily just as intractable. Yet they seem to have solved it. Especially as the solution is in plain sight, as it was not in Northern Ireland, which also circled around two people and one piece of land. And a long, long history. And, of course, religion.


  8. Carroll says:

    And here’s exactly what I mean……the Israelis like Lieberman and the christian zionist like Hagee will never let there be peace… these cultist WITH THE HELP OF THE US GOVERNMENT will keep this crapola up until the end. We should herd all the evangelicals and the politicans into the Grand Caynon and nuke them.
    “Here is a shocking speech made by Sen. Joe Lieberman last week to the new Israel lobby group: Christians United For Israel. Shocking because it is so filled with religious talk about the Biblical covenant between God and the Jews.
    By standing with Israel today, each of you has joined that journey and taken up the torch that was lit in God’s promise to Abraham 4,000 years ago, and carrying it forward to spread that light. I believe that Israel’s rebirth in 1948 was divinely inspired by God…
    When Ronald Reagan talked about God in politics, or when Muslims talk about God’s hand in human events, we all get the heeby-jeebys. Why isn’t Lieberman’s language concerning?
    Something else: Lieberman describes the foundation of Israel in 1948 as a “miracle.” It is interesting that Lieberman’s view is unreconstructed. In March this year, Judith Shapira, an Israeli Zionist speaking at Columbia, conceded (to Saif Ammous) that the foundation of Israel, or the expulsion of Arabs anyway, was a “tragedy.” Hillel Halkin, an Israeli Zionist columnist at the Forward, uses similar language in discussing Jews’ “unavoidably violent return” to Israel in his 1977 book, Letters to an American Jewish Friend:
    Has not modern Zionist settlement in Palestine done all it could from the beginning, if only for the sake of its own morale and conscience, to turn a blind eye to the truly tragic nature of a conflict in which an ancient and hounded people was able…to regain its lost homeland, yet only by displacing another innocent people whose land it was too?


  9. Carroll says:

    Must a ton of bricks fall on Levey’s head?
    Israel does not want peace.
    Or rather the Israelis in the US don’t want peace.
    Unless you get rid of the AIPAC’ers and the Lieberman’s and all the other Lukid Israelis here in the USA Israel will never come to a peace settlement.
    Barring some kind of civil war in the US over this Israel fetish thing here we will still be talking about the Israel problem another 40 years from now.


  10. Sandy says:

    Gee, after reading this, I’m skeptical as well of any “Israel-Palestine Plan”. This, I believe, is how they really feel…and operate:
    Re-Targeting Syria, the “Ho Chi Minh Trail of Terrorists?”
    Just when it appears that Israel and Syria may be slowly inching their way towards peace talks with the help of Turkey and Qatar (although Israel’s new president, Shimon Peres, called for direct talks Friday), two hawks at the otherwise realist Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) are calling for the Bush administration to carry out punitive attacks against Damascus.
    In an op-ed entitled “Trouble With the Neighbors” published by the Washington Post Friday, former Bush speech-writer and Christian rightist Michael Gerson complains that the administration’s military reaction to alleged subversion in Iraq by Iran and Syria has been “muted” but concedes that attacking Iran could be problematic. “Syria, however, is what one former administration official calls ‘lower-hanging fruit,’” writes Gerson who charges “Syria’s Baathist regime [with providing] a base of operations for its Iraqi Baathist comrades involved in the Sunni insurgency” and calls for “forceful action against Syria’s Ho Chi Minh Trail of terrorists.” (excerpt)


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