President Obama’s Must-read Primer on Clearing 'Pathways to Peace'

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer is convinced that Middle East peacemaking is 'in Obama’s guts.' His new book aims to show the president how to move forward.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Numerous free copies of “Pathways to Peace: America and the Arab-Israeli Conflict” have been sent to the White House in recent days in order to make the book “hard to avoid” for its’ ultimate target audience of one, President Barack Obama, according to former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer.

But the newly published compendium of articles, edited by Kurtzer and published by Palgrave Macmillan, is required reading for anyone remotely interested in Middle East peacemaking, even for those who think that any talk of an impending “peace process” is no more than wishful thinking.

A compilation of articles written by a diverse and experienced group of former participants in the peace-making business along with observers and commentators, the book offers varied – wildly varied at times - and starkly differing viewpoints on what went wrong in the past and what can be done right in the future. But its underlying themes are consensual: 1. Time is running out for the two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians and 2. The US has a critical role to play in trying to see if there’s anything left to salvage, as initiator, facilitator or, in some cases, enforcer.

The authors present a wide array of options: Avi Gil, the former director general of Israel’s foreign ministry, describes the strategic fallacy of the widespread Israeli belief that “time is in our favor,” and calls for an American-backed Israeli initiative based on withdrawal to the 1967 borders, a proposal that seems unfortunately fanciful given the expected results of the upcoming Israeli elections.

Former Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher advocates a last-ditch U.S. push to drop the “process” from the term “peace process” and to strive for an immediate agreement based on the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, even though the Arab World has undergone transformative change since the initiative was first proposed. On the more practical side, perhaps, former State Department official and Quartet Representative Robert Danin advocates an integration of the “top-down” with the “bottoms-up” approach that focuses on building the economic and security foundations of a future Palestinian state.

Analysts and authors Yossi Alpher and Gershom Gorenberg call on President Obama to nurture Israeli public opinion and to give Israelis, as Alpher says, “the national validation that they thrive on.” Alpher calls on the U.S. to capitalize on the UN recognition of Palestine (impending at the time of publication) in order to launch “state-to-state” negotiations aimed at achieving modest, interim arrangements. Aaron David Miller also believes that a two-state solution is “beyond the capacity” of the current leaderships of both countries and calls on the U.S. President to be patient, exercise caution and wait for the right opportunity.

On the opposite end of the potential horizon, former Clinton adviser Robert Malley calls for an all-encompassing agreement that would resolve all the outstanding and existential issues on the table and would include Hamas, the Palestinian Diaspora and Israeli Arabs as players in the talks.

Mirroring complaints about Obama’s mishandling of Israeli sensitivities, Malley eloquently castigates the Obama Administration for chronically misreading Palestinians and President Mahmoud Abbas: “It mistook a strong preference for talks for an absolute dependency on them, optimism about U.S. presidents for blind faith in them, rejection of violence for passivity, and concern about the PA’s survival for a determination to preserve it all costs. Most of all, it mistook inordinate patience for infinite patience and while Abbas exhibited the former – in what has often struck many Palestinians as a manifestation of excessive naivete – he was never possessed of the latter.”

Capping off other articles by former American and Palestinian officials, Kurtzer weighs in by concluding with a call for a vigorous and forceful U.S. effort to hammer out a peace agreement that would best serve American interests, while offering his own, ready-made, off the shelf “parameters” for a possible final settlement. Time, Kurtzer says, is of the essence, and champions of the status quo are misguided: “Calm on the surface masks growing frustration and anger below. Any spark can ignite a conflagration that will consume the status quo.”

The U.S. has not played a serious role in trying to achieve peace “in over a decade.” Kurtzer told me this week, “and it’s time for that to change.” His book, Kurtzer obviously hopes, may help to facilitate the change, or at least get the conversation rolling.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama and Mahmoud Abbas in 2010. Credit: Reuters

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