As Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu approach their meeting Monday, it is worth reflecting on the lessons of the “peace process” over the last eight years. There have been no less than six separate failures during that period, noteworthy not only in number, but also because each reflected a “new approach” that ignored the prior failure. Here are the six failures, followed by their central lesson:
1. Peace Through Direct Negotiations (The Oslo Process). This project failed at Camp David when the Palestinians rejected the offer of a state in Gaza and 92% of the West Bank, with a capital in Jerusalem. It brought on a terrorist war against Israelis, in buses, cars, restaurants, discos, schools, and homes.
2. Peace Through a Bridging Proposal (The Clinton Parameters). After the Camp David failure, Dennis Ross spent months in secret meetings with both sides, developing a bridging proposal to incorporate the minimum each side needed and the maximum each side could give. The result was the Clinton Parameters – increasing the West Bank percentage to 97% and providing an international plan for refugees – accepted by Israel and then rejected by Yasser Arafat in the Oval Office on January 2, 2001.
3. Peace Through Phases (The Roadmap). This project never completed even Phase I, as the Palestinians refused to commence sustained efforts to dismantle their terrorist groups, and preemptively announced that Phase II (a state with provisional borders to conduct Phase III negotiations) was unacceptable.
4. Peace Through Unilateral Action (The Disengagement). In September 2005, Israel turned over Gaza – with every settler and soldier removed – allowing the Palestinians to live “side by side, in peace and security” and build a state. That process failed within a week, and produced rockets, tunnels, a cross-border kidnapping, and – ultimately – a new war.
5. Peace Through Democracy (The 2006 Elections). The administration thought giving the Palestinians a choice between Hamas and Fatah (the “peace partner”) would give Fatah the legitimacy it needed to start dismantling other Palestinian terrorist groups. Instead, the Palestinians chose their premier terrorist group, and a year later it expelled Fatah from Gaza in a coup. Remarkably, this failed attempt at peace was blamed on the U.S. president who gave the Palestinians a choice, not on the choice the Palestinians made.
6. Peace Through Internationally-Sponsored Negotiations (The Annapolis Process). Ignoring the failure of direct negotiations, the rejection of the bridging proposal, the inability to complete any phase of the three-phase plan, the disconcerting demonstration project in Gaza, the Palestinian electoral choice and the subsequent coup, this new approach endorsed negotiations with the leaders of the rump state of Ramallah, commencing with an international conference and a deadline of one year, with continuous American involvement through the personal commitment of the Secretary of State. The Palestinians ultimately rejected a 100% offer by Israel (93.5% of the West Bank and a 6.5% land swap).
The lesson of these six failed approaches is that the absence of peace does not result from the failure of Israel to offer a state, or to withdraw from territory, or to dismantle settlements, or to accept a bridging proposal, or to devote a year to trying again with extended American involvement. The fundamental reason is the Palestinians have neither the leaders nor the electorate ready for a two-state solution, nor the basic economic and legal institutions necessary to make such a solution work. If they did, any one of the prior six approaches would have succeeded.
The latest idea is a “57-State Solution,” based on a Saudi/Arab proposal under which Israel would return to indefensible borders, turn over the historic portion of its capital, and recognize a Palestinian “right of return” — in exchange for 57 pledges of “peace.” The proposal comes with a refusal to amend it and warnings of a new war if it is not accepted. It is likely to produce not peace but a seventh failure, bigger than the ones that preceded it.
A better plan is the one Netanyahu seems likely to propose to Obama: intensive efforts to improve Palestinian economic life on the West Bank, and continued development of Palestinian police forces to insure law and order — with political negotiations proceeding no faster than the establishment of the legal and economic institutions necessary for peace. It is a plan that would take longer than a grand bargain (which is unlikely to be reached or to be enforceable even if it were), but the lesson of the six prior failures is that it is the only plan with a chance of success.