Ambassador (ret.) Warren Clark, Executive Director
Churches for Middle East Peace
We have reached the end of the beginning of the process initiated by President Obama in January to bring Israel, the Palestinians, and Israel’s other Arab neighbors together to negotiate an agreement for peace- the so-called two state solution to conflict in the Holy Land.
The approach and timing for reaching an agreement (but not yet its implementation) are beginning to take shape. They follow the outline suggested in this newsletter last fall: the appointment of a Middle East negotiator, extensive consultations and a presidential speech. Senator George Mitchell was appointed Special Envoy for Middle East Peace in January. After a careful consultation process that included a teleconference by Mitchell with national church leaders arranged by CMEP, the President’s speech in Cairo on June 4 laid out a broad view of the need for agreement to create a Palestinian state and for Israeli settlement activity in the Palestinian territories to stop as a necessary step for advancing regional peace. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a highly conditional response on June 14, approving the idea of a Palestinian state while suggesting that settlement activity nevertheless might continue.
The next milestone may be an initiative by the Administration this summer to kick start bilateral and perhaps regional negotiations. It might well also include suggestions by the President regarding the final status issues including borders, settlements, refugees, Jerusalem, and security.
The US President and his negotiator are in a hurry, and for good reason. There is broad consensus that unless an agreement is reached soon, the opportunity for creation of a viable Palestinian state will pass away for the foreseeable future. Mitchell and others have been heard to say they want an agreement within two years.
The stakes are enormous. On the upside, an agreement on the final status issues would be an achievement that has evaded the parties and US Presidents for decades. However, the obstacles and cost of reaching any agreement should not be underestimated. Many have a vested interest in the status quo. U.S. efforts to limit settlement activity have already been meet with domestic political upheaval in Israel. U.S. resolve will be tested.
Now that expectations of progress have been raised, failure to reach an agreement soon would be a serious setback. Failure also risks ongoing violence and further political radicalization, as well as continued deprivation for Palestinians and decline of the Palestinian Christian community. Failure also might threaten the future of Israel as a democratic Jewish state.