Reaching the endgame

It isn’t often that I agree with the Jordanians and Saudis, but they’ve gone and forced my hand.

On Monday, after meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh articulated his country’s complaint against the plodding pace of the peace process.

“In the Middle East,” Judeh said, “there has been in the past an over investment perhaps by the parties in pursuing confidence building measures, conflict management techniques, including transitional arrangements, and an over emphasis on gestures, perhaps at the expense of reaching the actual endgame. As His Majesty the King puts it, Madame Secretary, there has been too much process and too little peace, a situation that most certainly is no longer sustainable. And what is required now and needed more than ever is to achieve peace…

“Tried, tested, failed formats, as have been discussed here during His Majesty the King’s visit in April, should also be avoided, including piecemeal approaches that never lead to peace, and that have proven repeatedly to be confidence eroding rather than confidence building. This time, the restoration of faith and the creation of the appropriate environment can only be achieved through clearly highlighting the endgame and skillfully guiding the parties to expeditiously crossing the finish line.”

Just a few days earlier, Prince Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia told Clinton essentially the same thing, saying:

“Incrementalism and a step-by-step approach has not and – we believe – will not achieve peace. Temporary security, confidence-building measures will also not bring peace. What is required is a comprehensive approach that defines the final outcome at the outset and launches into negotiations over final status issues: borders, Jerusalem, water, refugees and security.”

Both men, of course, decried Israeli settlement building and insisted on the same maximalist demands as usual, chief among them a full Israeli withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 lines. Obviously, they glossed over the brutal terrorism that has made the very notion of peace laughable. And undoubtedly their words were at least partially motivated by a desire to once again portray Israel as the party that is blocking rather than advancing peace.

Looking beyond that, though, the most important aspect of these two men’s comments is their insistence on calling a spade a spade regarding the hopeless charade that has been the Israeli-Arab peace process. That incrementalism has not achieved peace and will not achieve peace, and that the piecemeal approach has been tested and failed, has been so glaringly obvious, yet so dangerously ignored, for far too long.

Can there be any question that the endless confidence building measures of the past 15 years have failed to build confidence or bring our peoples any closer to a true and lasting peace? Is it even possible to deny the futility of continuing on this fruitless course of inaction, which perpetuates the conflict by keeping a final settlement constantly at bay, in some vague and ever-elusive future?

What Judeh called reaching the endgame is not just a desperate move to end a wearying conflict, it is the only way to resolve the conflict in the foreseeable future. Let’s be clear: There can be no peace without a resolution, first and foremost, to the question of borders. All other issues – all other issues, including security arrangements, division of water sources and resettlement of refugees – are merely derivatives of the overarching issue of borders. For a generation, we have talked about having “us over here, and them over there”. Without a clearly defined border, however, we can not know where “here” ends and “there” begins. With one, everything else falls into place.

That’s the main reason why the Obama administration’s obsession with a settlement freeze is folly: because it’s irrelevant. The only issue worth pressing all sides for now, and pressing really hard, is the issue of borders. You can’t have a Palestinian state, or a secure and democratic Israeli one, for that matter, without them.

We’re not used to taking advice from Jordan and Saudi Arabia, but it’s time to make an exception. Negotiating for a final status agreement now, with no more dithering over confidence building measures, is the only alternative to many more years of “too much process and too little peace.”

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