To Achieve Peace between Israel and the Palestinians, First Set Aside the Oslo Model

December 15, 2016 | Moshe Yaalon
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While remaining committed to the long-term goal of “political separation” from the Palestinians, the former Israeli defense minister Moshe Yaalon urges policymakers to avoid repeating the mistakes of the Oslo Accords and instead take a “bottom-up” approach. (Free registration required.)

The conventional wisdom attributes the failure [of the peace process] to a lack of willingness by the parties to make some relatively small concessions. If only this behavior were adjusted or that policy paused, the argument runs, things could have worked out in the past—and might still work out in the future, even absent dramatic movement on either side.

I think this conventional reading of recent history is naïve, and that the real reason for the failure of negotiations has been Palestinian reluctance to recognize Israel’s right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people—in any boundaries. When that reluctance dissipates, peace will be possible; until then, it will not be. Israeli policy, and that of the international community, should thus be focused on trying to help Palestinians realize that the choice for peace lies in their hands.

What then is the alternative?

I favor a policy of bottom-up change and incremental progress, trying to build a durable structure of peace on solid foundations rather than sand. . . . The first component of such an approach would be the promotion of Palestinian economic growth and infrastructure development. . . . At the same time, Israel should do what it can—both directly and by enabling the efforts of others—to help improve Palestinian governance, anticorruption efforts, and institution-building in general. At all times, however, Israel should be mindful to avoid patronizing the Palestinians; it is not Israel’s business to impose its way of governing on the PA or to choose leaders for it; rather, the goal is to provide opportunities for the Palestinians to determine their own future. All of this should be done against the backdrop of Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation. . . . .

Such a bottom-up approach should have a diplomatic component as well, ideally a regional initiative that would bring in Arab states interested in helping to manage and eventually solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—whether or not those states have formal relations with Israel.

Over time, these efforts could lay the groundwork for a true peace rooted in mutual recognition and responsible cooperation. . . . The Palestinians can, should, and eventually will have their own political entity, but at least for the foreseeable future, it will lack certain attributes of full sovereignty, such as armed forces. . . . Achieving even this result will take patience, persistence, and years of practical effort. But it offers the chance for a real peace somewhere down the road, something that the conventional top-down approach will never produce. Any attempt by the new administration in Washington to plow the old furrows once again is destined to fail.

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