The collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will be met with the usual recriminations, as supporters of both sides will blame the other for their failure. Perhaps with the process collapsed—for the time being irretrievably so—it’s time for American policymakers and especially the State Department to question some fundamental assumptions they have with regard to making peace in the Middle East. Here are some lessons that they might learn, or at least subjects which policymakers might debate before wasting any more jet fuel for Kerry’s travels or diplomatic energy when there are so many more pressing issues in the world:
- Peace comes not from a process, but from a fundamental decision by both parties that peace is what they want. A lot of journalists, diplomats, and analysts rightly remember the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat as a great peacemaker. What they forget is that Sadat only chose peace after he tried to eradicate Israel through war. Only after he concluded that he simply could not achieve his aims through violence did he make his bold gesture to Jerusalem. The problem with Palestinian leaders today is that they have not abandoned terrorism and violence as a policy tool: They will extract what incentives they can at the table—for example, the release of child killers and other terrorists—but then walk away and seek to win through violence what they could not through diplomacy. An endless process will not change Palestinian minds. Perhaps the Palestinian leadership will only come to such a conclusion when they suffer a decisive defeat, much as Sadat once did. A responsible international community would let them suffer such a defeat. The only precondition that matters is for the Palestinian leadership in its current form or whatever grassroots leadership takes its place to come to the conclusion that the only way to achieve their goals is through diplomacy.
- Aid can be a detriment to peace, rather than an enabler. The Palestinians have been, per capita, the largest recipient of foreign aid on Earth and yet the Palestinian state is a disaster. That is not because of the border fence, the blockade of Gaza, or Israel. Rather, it is because of poor Palestinian governance. Accountability matters. The problem with aid is that it erodes accountability. If Palestinian officials need not worry about schooling, clothing, or feeding their own people because they are assured of international subsidy, then why not spend money on political or military adventurism? Aid also undercuts democracy, for it supplants the job of an elected government. At the very least, it is time to rethink the notion that aid helps when there is no evidence that it has and much evidence that it has not. Indeed, perhaps it’s time to cut off aid and assistance—there are many other peoples who are in far greater need of international assistance, for example, in Guinea, Mali, South Sudan, or even Ukraine. American assistance is not an entitlement.
- Incitement matters. It has been almost twenty years since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. Rather than prepare the Palestinian people for peace, the Palestinian media fed a new generation a steady doctrine of hatred and rejectionism. While the vast majority of Israelis favor a two-state solution, the same cannot be said about Palestinians who continue to be told that Israel is an illegitimate entity. The State Department will always ignore reality in order to continue processes. Had Congress taken a no-nonsense approach toward incitement, and demanded an immediate cessation of aid when it occurred, then perhaps the region could have avoided 20 years of poison.
- Terrorism can’t be swept under the rug. In the course of researching my new book, Dancing With the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes, it became apparent that senior State Department officials in the 1990s had lied to Congress about Palestinian terrorism, fearing that if they acknowledged the involvement of senior Palestinian officials in terrorism, they might need to end the process. Simply put, senior Middle East peace processors—several of whom have served or now still serve in the Obama administration—had intelligence at their fingertips but purposely ignored it. There is no process that can succeed in the long term if the basis of that process is a lie.
- Agreements don’t have an expiration date nor do changes of administration cancel them. Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Accord in 1993. Since then, the Palestinians have, with Arafat’s death, had a change in leadership although Mahmoud Abbas is now more than five years past the end of his legal term. Israel has had seven prime ministers (counting Bibi Netanyahu twice). While pundits can quip about the he-said, she-said of Israeli and Palestinian compliance, the fact of the matter is that the Palestinian Authority exists because the Palestinian leadership agreed to recognize Israel and foreswear terrorism. That Hamas now forms part of the Palestinian government means that the Palestinian government no longer adheres to the agreement that forms the very basis of its existence. Israel would be perfectly within its right, should it so desire, to push the Palestinian Authority back out of Gaza and the West Bank and roll the clock back to before 1993. That might not be desirable, but if the Palestinians are going to absolve themselves of their contractual responsibilities, there is no reason why Israel should continue remitting payments or doing anything to facilitate the Palestinian Authority’s job or existence. If Abbas wants his partner to be Hamas, then he should pay the price for that decision.