While emphasizing that he only represents his personal perspective with this post, I am pleased to share this commentary by the independent foreign relations analyst, Dr. Thomas Mitchell:
The international mediation theorist I. William Zartman has written that most attempts at international mediation fail because the moment is not ripe for negotiations. Ripeness, according to Zartman consists of three elements: a hurting stalemate, legitimate representatives, and a formula that offers a way out. Just as an exercise, let’s compare these three elements with the present situation before the peace process industry shoves us into another round of negotiations.
A hurting stalemate is a situation that is not comfortable for either side and often involves a threat to the existing balance-of-power with the stronger power usually losing position to the weaker power but at great cost to the weaker power. Hamas is quite comfortable with the status quo because it believes that time is on its side and that it is better to wait for better terms that will allow it to destroy Israel in the future. The Israeli government is quite comfortable with the status quo because it believes that it has America in its pocket. In fact, stalemate is the glue that holds this governing coalition together.
Legitimate representatives refers to parties that actually represent the two sides in conflict. By this definition, the Israeli government is legitimate but the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority is questionable. This is because most of the fighting or terrorism from the Palestinian side is carried out either by Hamas or by the Al-Aksa Martyrs’ Brigades, who are not fully answerable to the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas’s legitimacy is also questionable because his term as elected president has expired and Hamas refuses to recognize his leadership, and he rules only in the West Bank.
A formula is a compromise that will give both sides what they really need to live with, solving the major problems. There is yet to be a formula for Palestinian refugees that is acceptable to both sides. This holds true for Jerusalem as well. A theoretical compromise formula is only a way out if the mediator can get the two sides to accept it as such.
In the Arab-Israeli conflict it is generally understood that readiness―”ripeness” in a powerful mediator―is also important. Obama just suffered the worst midterm election defeat in sixty years and Congress is determined to support the Israeli government. Thus, Washington is as unready for mediation as Jerusalem and Ramallah are unripe.
So what should the Obama administration do in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? It could produce a compromise formula, as J Street is proposing, and offer it to the two sides. This might work with borders. But it should not expect immediate results. It should then sit back and wait for the situation to grow worse. Much of the history of successful diplomacy in the conflict has come about as a result of waiting for a ripe moment and then taking advantage of it.
One such ripe moment was during the Yom Kippur War when Israel feared losing its military superiority and Egypt feared losing its Third Army. Kissinger exploited this to negotiate the Egyptian-Israeli Disengagement Agreement. Several months later he repeated the exercise between Israel and Syria. He then used the momentum to negotiate a second interim agreement in the Sinai a year later.
Jim Baker took advantage of the collapse of the Iraqi threat in January 1991 to force Yitzhak Shamir to go to Madrid. This led to the Washington talks and eventually to the Oslo process.
Carter’s attempt at a general comprehensive solution to the conflict in 1977 failed because neither the Arabs nor the Israelis were ready for that. But Sadat was ready for a separate peace with Israel, although he would not admit this publicly. The Camp David Accords and autonomy were devised as a thin cover to disguise this ripeness.
Modern diplomacy has not progressed much beyond the state of 18th-century medicine. Then a common cure for most serious ailments was bleeding. It is the same in diplomacy. First one must bleed the patients until they are too weak to resist. Then they can be cured.
If the Northern Ireland conflict or the history of the PLO is any measure this might take twenty years. It took the IRA some thirty-five years from its creation until it was ready to do what was necessary for a stable peace in the province. It took (depending on whether one is measuring from the creation of Fatah in 1958 or the PLO in 1964) about 40-45 years for the PLO to be willing to do what was necessary for a two-state solution. Unfortunately, however, by that time Sharon was in power in Israel and Israel was no longer ripe.
Hamas was founded in early 1988―at this rate it has anywhere between 13 and 23 more years before it will be ready for a negotiated compromise solution with Israel. It might take longer because of its religious zeal―the Arabic meaning of Hamas. That time is necessary for the insurgents to realize that the other side is not going anywhere and for that other side to realize that it must compromise with terrorists. If the PA can rid itself of corruption (this is like asking most Arab regimes to do the same), it might make itself a suitable substitute for Hamas in the intereem.
Let the bleeding begin and carefully monitor it so that neither patient dies. In the meantime Peace Now can continue to monitor the settlements and J Street can build its capacity as a counter to AIPAC. Both will be needed to deal with Israel when the Palestinians finally are ready.
Insanity was defined by Albert Einstein as repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting different results. We can choose insanity or ripeness.