German-U.S. Workshop on Conflicts in Todays Wider Middle East and the Trans-Atlantic Relationship
The Crisis of the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli Peace Process: A U.S. Perspective
Avoiding Mideast Peace?:
Bush, Europe and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
by Scott Lasensky 
It may seem trivial to discuss Israeli-Palestinian matters at a time when the U.S. has embarked on its most ambitious foreign policy project since the Cold War the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Iraq as an open and free society. But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict endures. Without a resolution, or at least a substantial reduction of the conflict, American interests in the region will be increasingly difficult to manage. Moreover, there are connections to Iraq and the wider environment in the region that offer new opportunities for U.S. involvement. After a period of deliberate avoidance, the time is ripe for the Bush Administration to re-engage with the Middle East peace process in particular, the Israeli-Palestinian track.
For more than two years, European and Arab states have viewed Washington as ambivalent about stopping Israeli-Palestinian violence. With Bush's repeated statements supporting a viable Palestinian state measured against U.S. inaction on substance, it is easy to understand why. While numerous factors both international and domestic drove the Bush Administration to disengage, until now there have been few reasons (from Bushs perspective) to get deeply involved. A particularly powerful restraint on American involvement has been Palestinian violence and Bushs conviction that Palestinian leaders are tainted by terrorism.
But in the aftermath of the war in Iraq, avoiding Mideast peace is no longer an option for the White House. Both Europe and America need to mend the damage to transatlantic relations caused by war in Iraq. The Arab-Israeli arena holds the prospect for renewed collaboration. The Quartet (U.S., E.U., U.N. and Russia), founded in early 2002, could be the instrument to help restore transatlantic cooperation on Mideast policy. Furthermore, as the U.S. feels greater pressure to bolster its credibility in the region, the peace process will be harder to ignore. Moreover, with new developments in Palestinian politics, notably the confirmation of a prime minister and new cabinet, the U.S. has a more credible partner to work with.
Arab-Israeli matters have also become deeply entwined in the Anglo-American alliance on Iraq, with Washington facing diplomatic trade-offs that further strengthen the case for renewed peace efforts. With Saddam Hussein's regime now collapsed, there is no objective more critical than convincing the international community -- especially the Arab Middle East -- that the Iraq war is not an Anglo-American imperial project.
Despite these new possibilities and new imperatives, the prospects for deep (and sustained) American engagement remain uncertain. The parties are locked in violent confrontation and the politics of the conflict offers few diplomatic openings. The Bush Administration may fall back on its default position and continue to see Israeli-Palestinian affairs as more of a problem to contain than an opportunity to seize. Furthermore, the sheer scale of the Iraq endeavor may monopolize American attention and keep Arab-Israeli matters on the periphery. With the 2004 presidential race looming, the American electoral cycle could also prove a further restraint on American activism as the White House seeks to avoid open confrontations with the U.S. Jewish community and its Christian and neoconservative allies on Mideast policy.
This paper offers the following arguments. Despite a long-standing disinclination to engage in Mideast peacemaking, the Bush Administration is being forced to take more aggressive steps as a result of trade-offs related to Iraq and in light of new opportunities on the ground. The U.S. now has an opportunity to work closely with Europe via the Quartet not only because a multilateral approach could be a more effective strategy for intervention, but also because it would help to restore confidence in the transatlantic partnership. Moreover, if Israeli-Palestinian violence escalates, or if the conflict spreads to the larger Arab-Israeli arena, American involvement will become even more critical.
But differences in outlook and strategy will continue to hamper U.S.-European collaboration on Mideast peace efforts. As the process moves forward (should the Road Map gain traction) transatlantic differences will widen on matters such as Palestinian reform, security cooperation, Israeli settlements and the role of foreign aid. In addition, the Bush Administrations deep-seated impulse to avoid engagement which is explained in detail later in the paper could always re-surface and pull Washington away from active involvement. Continued disengagement would be a mistake for the U.S., particularly since the Bush approach has failed to restrain Israel on issues like continued settlement expansion (which seriously undermines prospects for peace).
First, this paper offers some data on what Americans think about the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I draw on widely available public opinion surveys, including polls by Gallup, CBS, CNN, the University of Maryland and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations.
Second, I outline several key factors that have shaped the Bush Administrations approach and led the U.S. to refrain from active mediation. Finally, I evaluate future diplomatic prospects, including the Quartets Road Map.
U.S. Public Opinion and the Middle East
The September 11 terrorist attacks had a measurable impact on American public attitudes about the Middle East. Following 9/11, awareness about the Middle East heightened -- so did public sympathy for Israel. Still, public support for Washington to act as an evenhanded mediator remains high.
By a wide majority (73%), Americans view the September 11 attacks as somehow related to U.S. policy in the Middle East. Moreover, a majority of Americans believe that a major reason for the attacks was American policy toward Israel and the Palestinians. After September 11, a vast majority of Americans felt solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had become more important. But Americans remain split about whether the U.S. should alter its Mideast policy. A Newsweek poll taken a few weeks after the attacks found 46% of Americans supporting a change in policy, and 43% opposing.
One unsurprising trend considering the connection between September 11 and suicide terrorism is the increase in sympathy toward Israel. A Gallup poll released in February 2003 found American support for Israel at its highest rate since the 1991 Gulf War, when Israel sustained repeated Iraqi missile attacks and refrained from retaliating. Asked if the U.S. should reduce its support for Israel, a decided majority say Washingtons ties should remain unchanged, if not strengthened. Post-9/11, more Americans favor improving ties with Israel than downgrading the relationship. Although support for Palestinians has remained fairly stable, attitudes have hardened about their leadership. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafats public ratings have plummeted. Following President Bushs June 2002 speech, a majority of Americans said they agreed with the decision to no longer deal with Arafat.
Paradoxically, overwhelming support for Israel does not displace the publics strong belief in the U.S. taking an evenhanded approach to the conflict. According to Gallup, between 63%-74% feel the U.S. should not take either side. In fact, most Americans support economic and diplomatic pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians in the context of a peace process.
This opinion data (admittedly, just a sampling) is not meant to fully explain American policy. Rather, it is designed to offer additional context in trying to understand American policy. Decision makers do not operate in a vacuum, especially on Arab-Israeli matters. But public attitudes are just one factor shaping the U.S. approach. For the Bush Administration, the critical determinants have been the collapse of the Oslo process, the deteriorating situation on the ground, the September 11 attacks and the outlook of the president and his top advisors.
Bushs Arab-Israeli Approach: Determining Factors
Conflict containment versus conflict resolution
The collapse of the Oslo process in late 2000-early 2001, and ensuing Israeli-Palestinian violence, convinced the newly installed Bush Administration that the situation was not ripe for resolution. American objectives became conflict containment and conflict management, rather than conflict resolution. The contrast with President Clintons approach could not be more profound. Clinton quickly took a deep personal interest in the peace process and believed that through patient mediation, carefully applied diplomatic pressure and generous inducements, the U.S. could shepherd Israeli-Arab peace talks.
Initially, Clinton would not go beyond the role of mediator. At Wye, he began the shift toward arbitration. Then, during his final days in office Clinton put forward U.S. proposals on the central issues. When it came to Mideast peacemaking, Clinton also had a deep personal commitment to moving the peace process forward. This partly grew out of his strong bonds with leaders in the region, especially Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, King Hussein and - for a time - even Yasser Arafat.
Bush shares neither Clintons interest in Arab-Israeli affairs nor his commitment. But more fundamentally, these two presidents faced very different conditions. The Bush Administration came to office with a realistic assessment of prospects and possibilities. Clintons frenzied (and failed) 11th hour diplomacy, mixed with the deterioration on the ground, gave caution to the incoming Bush Administration. The Arab-Israeli conflict was no longer ripe for resolution. Arafats decision to walk away from the negotiations, and not to confront the violence that followed, had an edifying effect on Bush and his advisors. The Bush team has had its share of mistakes, like granting Israel a blank check on settlement expansion, but missteps should not be confused with missed opportunities.
Moreover, Bush came to office with a foreign policy agenda focused on strategic relationships with Russia and China, and missile defense. When it came to the Middle East, it was energy security and Iraq at the top of the agenda, not the Arab-Israeli arena. For Israelis and Palestinians, this meant a minimalist approach from Washington. For its first two years, the Bush Administration sought to forestall further deterioration on the ground and ensure that the conflict did not widen and reverberate across borders. Until issuing the Road Map, there was little from Washington aside from a posture of containment.
Israelis and Palestinians have paid dearly for the continuing violence of the last three years. Nearly 1,000 Israelis have died and many more have been seriously injured. For the first time in decades, Israel is experiencing zero or negative growth. The countrys critical tourism industry has been decimated. Immigration, always a barometer for Israel, is flat. By some estimates the country is losing more citizens (via emigration) than it is gaining.
Palestinians have paid an even higher price. The Palestinian death toll is well over 2,000, with more than 25,000 injured. Civil society is disintegrating, and the Palestinian economy lies ruined. Poverty is rampant and unemployment is pushing 60 percent. According to the World Bank, two million Palestinians now subsist on two dollars a day or less. The Palestinian GNP has contracted by 40 percent. Even malnutrition is on the rise.
But despite the terrible violence and heavy toll on both sides, the larger architecture of the peace process has remained intact. Israels peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan remain strong, if somewhat cold. The Israeli-Lebanese track remains frozen, and hostility is high, but the border is relatively quiet. The Israeli-Syrian track is also frozen, but the situation is stable. Therefore, one could argue that Bush has been successful at containing the conflict.
Early on, it was easy to discern Washingtons containment approach. The Bush team was quick to condemn Palestinian attacks, and also chastised Israel in April 2001 when its army sought to undertake wide-ranging military operations in Gaza. The White House endorsed the Mitchell report in mid-2001 and soon sent CIA Director George Tenet to help reach a cease-fire. (Tenets mission ultimately failed.)
But throughout this first period in office, Bush was subjected to bitter complaints from Arab leaders about the lack of U.S. engagement. Still, these did little to sway an Administration disinclined to engage and concerned predominantly with containing the conflict.
The September 11 terrorist attacks did little to prompt deeper American involvement. Even though the Bush Administration did become more committed in form and in rhetoric, there was little substantive activity. The al-Qaeda attacks on America may not have fundamentally altered the structure of the international system, but they did re-prioritize American foreign policy. Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, hardly a priority before 9/11, certainly took a back seat to the pressing demands of homeland security, eliminating al-Qaeda, and defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Since the Bush Administration understood that its war on terrorism would rely heavily on cooperation from Arab and Muslim states who were demanding more U.S. leadership on Arab-Israeli matters -- it was necessary to demonstrate some engagement. Therefore, post-9/11 the White House declared repeatedly the end of the Israeli occupation and the establishment of a viable, democratic Palestinian state to be critical for American national security. These were very clear policy statements for an Administration that had little to say about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when it first came to office. After 9/11, Bush also named General Anthony Zinni as a special envoy charged with reaching an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire and implementing the Mitchell commission recommendations.
But the change in stated policy was not followed by substantive American engagement. Zinni made no progress and the White House pulled him out. President Cheney skipped the area during a major visit to the region in 2002. The White House hosted Israeli leaders on numerous occasions, but refused to have Palestinians at the White House especially Arafat.
The increase in sympathy and solidarity that Americans felt for Israel post-9/11 was not lost on Bush. Although enmeshed in fundamentally different conflicts, America and Israel shared the pain of suicide terrorism. For a president who increasingly viewed foreign policy through the lens of terrorism, the Arab-Israeli conflict took on a new light. Ironically, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon initially worried Israel would pay a price post-9/11 as the U.S. sought cooperation from Arab states in the war on terrorism. In fact, just the opposite occurred. Israel gained tremendously from 9/11s impact on Bushs worldview and the reorientation of U.S. foreign policy.
When Israel intercepted a ship in late 2001 laden with Iranian weapons and intended for the Palestinians, Washingtons suspicions only deepened. Then, when Israel re-occupied most Palestinian cities and towns a few months later, the Bush Administration only objected to targeting Arafat. The White House acquiesced to Israels wide-ranging military operations and the IDFs continued presence in the territories. It was a dramatic turnaround from a year earlier (pre-9/11) when the IDF was asked to withdraw after re-occupying parts of Gaza.
While American and European views about the conflict have diverged for many years, in the aftermath of Israels re-occupation the gap has grown wider. In order to forestall this growing division, and as a way to gain traction for the failing efforts to reach a cease-fire, Secretary of State Colin Powell helped organize a diplomatic Quartet in spring 2002. The premise of the Quartet was that only by working in concert could outside parties maximize their leverage. The U.S. has a special relationship with Israel, and Europe (as the PAs largest donor) has influence with Palestinians.
By itself, Europe had little success with diplomatic interventions in the Mideast. In terms of process, the rotating presidency is particularly ill-suited for Arab-Israeli diplomacy, which historically has required constant, determined and marathon-like mediation. But the problem is much deeper. Simply put, Europe lacks credibility with Israel. Interestingly enough, among key E.U. states Germany has the potential to take more of a leadership role. Foreign Minister Fischers intervention early in the Intifada, though ultimately unsuccessful, was welcomed by America and Israel.
No longer satisfied with the check-book role assigned during the Oslo years, since the outbreak of the Intifada Europe has clearly aspired to engage more deeply in Arab-Israeli peace efforts and even more so after the defeat of Saddam Hussein. Yet Europes role hinges on working in partnership with the U.S. This seems to be understood in Brussels, as evidenced by the decision to stand behind Washington following President Bushs bold statement in June 2002. With one speech, Bush cleared the slate and re-caste the American approach. Palestinian regime change became U.S. policy. Washington would no longer maintain contact with Yasser Arafat. Bush premised any movement forward on Palestinian leadership transformation and renewed security cooperation.
As an inducement, Bush held out the prospect of a provisional Palestinian state and a quick resumption of final status negotiations though he did not specify parameters for a permanent settlement. The immediate burdens were placed on Palestinians, but over the horizon lay obligations for Israel as well. Bush endorsed a process (some have called it a vision) that would lead to a freeze of Israeli settlement building and eventually to an end of the Israeli occupation that began in 1967. Bush also emphasized that a future Palestinian state should be viable, a code word challenging those in Israel (including Sharon) bent on maintaining a long-term and scattered Israeli presence in the Palestinian territories.
The long-term objectives Bush articulated an end to the occupation, security for Israel, a viable Palestinian state found a quick embrace in Europe. But the sequence, in particular the unambiguous call for regime change, did not sit well across the Atlantic. Still, Europe chose to work with the U.S. on creating a master plan for ending violence and renewing a political process. After the June speech, Bush tasked Powell to work with the Quartet to devise a specific plan to put the presidents words into action.
The Road Map, Iraq and Diplomatic Options for Mideast Peace
After several months of work, and much delay by the U.S., the Quartet came up with a plan known as the Road Map. Although it has its drawbacks, the Road Map represents the best chance for Israelis and Palestinians to step back from the brink. But the critical challenge for the U.S. and the Quartet remains one of commitment. For its part, the Bush Administration withheld release of the Road Map for more than six months, and even when it was released (May 2003) the White House maintained a low-profile. What kind of resources political, diplomatic, security and economic will be committed to implementing the Road Map? How much pressure will be placed on the two parties? Can the U.S. resist the temptation to disengage, which was so strong for President Bush when he come to office in 2001?
First, an assessment of the Road Map. The plans principal weakness is that it is silent on parameters for a permanent settlement. The Road Map lacks specificity about any of the core issues e.g. security, settlements, Jerusalem, borders and refugees. If these subjects were addressed, each side would be forced to engage in a serious internal political discourse. Without specifying even the most general outlines of a final settlement, the U.S. and the Quartet leave the parties free to pursue policies that ultimately undermine the prospect of a negotiated solution. Without a clear destination, there is little incentive for Palestinians to buy into this road map. For example, the concept of a provisional state, as envisioned in the Road Map, could be a way-station from which Palestinians never emerge. For Israel, assurances about the future demilitarization of a Palestinian state, international security guarantees and a denial of the refugees right of return to Israel are all elements that would generate greater support for the plan. The Road Maps silence on the core issues allows obstructionists and extremists on both sides to continue to promote certain fantasies about a final outcome.
But despite this serious weakness, the Road Map has real promise. The Quartets role as monitor offers a corrective to one of the principal failings of the Oslo process. During the Oslo years, there was no outside party responsible for determining compliance. The Road Map invests the Quartet with the power to verify and monitor steps taken by each side. According to the Road Map, the Quartet, rather than the parties, has the authority to determine if the process should move forward from stage to stage. How this new role will be operationalized (including the crucial question of whether the U.S. will have veto authority over security monitoring) remains unclear. Even more important, what kind of enforcement mechanism will the U.S. and the Quartet use? Still, the Road Maps monitoring and verification provisions are a critical innovation and may prove to be an invaluable instrument for ending the current crisis.
The timing of the Road Map, so close on the heels of Saddams defeat, is also promising. If the "road-map" doesn't change Israeli or Palestinian policy overnight, it can have a positive effect on the politics of the conflict -- and will demonstrate U.S. commitment at the same time.
The Quartet (the U.S., the European Union, the UN and Russia) itself is key since it demonstrates that there is more to U.S. foreign policy than unilateralism. Without the Road Map, and other confidence building measures more closely identified with Iraq, the U.S. could soon find itself in hostile terrain, isolated diplomatically, burdened financially and mired in an Olympian nation-building effort. With the Road Map, the U.S. can begin to prove to a skeptical world that American intentions are benign.
Other diplomatic options
While not ideal, the Road Map has stronger prospects than other initiatives currently under discussion. The bilateral option, which has remained off the table since the collapse of Oslo, is unlikely to re-emerge for some time. Unilateral initiatives, popular in Israel at the start of the Intifada, no longer find much support. Not only do Israelis fear a power vacuum, but the security establishment is convinced that Palestinians will view unilateral steps as validating the strategy of violence and terrorism. A more recent debate has emerged around the idea of a new international mandate for Palestinians, or rather a trusteeship for Palestine. But the Bush Administration is unlikely to support trusteeship since it partially relieves Palestinians of the need to continue reform, end terrorism and renew security cooperation. It would also require the U.S. military to act as an inter-positional force between warring factions and assume tremendous risks.
There are alternative approaches also in the mix, including popular initiatives. For example, former Israeli internal security chief Ami Ayalon and Palestinian leader Sari Nusseibeh have joined forces to promote a grass roots effort to build support for a two-state settlement that closely approximates the Clinton and Taba formulas. But their effort has been plagued by organizational problems and drafters have yet to launch a major outreach effort to support their petition drive (Ayalon and Nusseibeh claim to be seeking a million signatures.)
Any initiative including the Road Map will fail to gain traction without an improved security environment. In this respect, one of the most important initiatives remains the intra-Palestinian cease-fire talks, most recently sponsored by Egypt. An agreement by Palestinian factions to end organized attacks against Israeli civilians, even a temporary agreement, would provide a window of opportunity for the U.S. and the Quartet to push for quick implementation of the Road Map.
In this regard, Egypts role remains critical. Other Arab states, notably Jordan and Saudi Arabia, can also play a role in moving the cease-fire discussions forward. But nothing is more critical than the intra-Palestinian cease-fire talks that have been taking place in Cairo. Although these discussions were suspended before and during the Iraq war, in the post-war environment all parties have greater incentive to craft a functional arrangement that effectively avoids a Palestinian civil war.
The U.S. can also help matters by restraining itself from too strong an embrace of the new Palestinian prime minister. The more the new Palestinian leadership appears to be taking orders from Washington, the harder it will be to develop support among Palestinians. Abu Mazen has already publicly expressed his opposition to continuing the Intifada. The greatest contribution the Bush Administration can make is less to embrace Abu Mazen, and instead encourage Israel to take quick and meaningful steps that provide Palestinians with incentives to renew and sustain security cooperation.
Conclusion - The Road Ahead
Ten years after first sitting down with Israel to negotiate a political settlement, the Palestinian national movement stands at a cross-roads. If the political leadership decides to let the Intifada continue, the current catastrophe will only worsen and Palestinian society will suffer still more deprivations. In the aftermath of Americas defeat of Saddam Hussein, even as President Bush pursues new diplomatic initiatives, there will be little tolerance in Washington for a continued Palestinian insurgency.
With Saddam removed and Arafat increasingly marginalized, Israel has reaped significant gains. Furthermore, the Bush Administration has pushed hard for additional aid to Israel. Therefore, the U.S. can now turn to Sharon and be clear that with the new realities in the region come new responsibilities by all sides. Just as Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger used a strategy of positive inducements to encourage Israelis to take steps in the peace process, so too should President Bush press ahead. There is no question that the U.S. victory in Iraq has increased pressures on Washington from Europe and from within the region to act more forcefully with Israelis and Palestinians.
But barring military intervention (which is doubtful), there are real limits to what America can and cannot accomplish especially as Israelis and Palestinians are locked in violence and remain outwardly uninterested in negotiations. Despite the challenges, there are strong external factors pushing for deeper American engagement notably the need to restore transatlantic ties. With President Bush now declaring his personal commitment to the Road Map, and European leaders giving their support, there will be no middle ground. The Israeli-Palestinian arena will either serve as a way to mend the transatlantic relationship, or it will turn into a new source of discord.
 Dr. Scott Lasensky is a Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. These views are his own. This paper is based on remarks delivered 28 February 2003 at the Institut für Politikwissenschaft, Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, for a workshop entitled Conflicts in the Greater Middle East and the Transatlantic Relationship. The author wishes to express his deep appreciation to Professors Helmut Hubel and Markus Kaim, and to Tobias Helmsdorf and the other organizers and staff of the conference, as well as the sponsors the U.S. Consulate General in Leipzig, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
 CBS News poll, May 2002.
 Responses ranged from 58% to 68%, see University of Maryland, PIPA reports 2002 and 2003.
 University of Maryland, PIPA poll, May 2002, 73% said more important.
 Newsweek, October 2001.
 Gallup, February 2003 poll, 58% sympathy for Israel, 13% for Arabs. Gallup polls include the most consistently asked question regarding public attitudes toward the Middle East: In the Middle East situation, are your sympathies more with Israel or with the Arab nations?
 Polls by NBC News (71%) and the Pew Center (81%), October 2001. Also, the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations poll in October 2002 found similar results (71%).
 Gallup (54%) and CBS News (55%), polls taken in mid-2002.
 Gallup polls 2002-2003.
 CNN/USA Today poll, March 2002, more than three-quarters of respondents said they support pressure.
 One downside: the Clinton Administration also increasingly came to view the entire Middle East through an Arab-Israeli prism which was highly distorting.
 See World Bank Group. West Bank and Gaza at a Glance, (accessed March 6, 2003, www.worldbank.org/data/countrydata/aag/wbg_aag.pdf.); United Nations Special Coordinator. The Impact of Closure and Other Mobility Restrictions on Palestinian Productive Activities: 1 January 2002 30 June 2002. New York, October 2002; and James Bennet, Two Studies Find the Palestinian People Impoverished and the Economy in a Shambles, The New York Times, 6 March 2003.
 See President Bushs October 2001 endorsement of a Palestinian state, Secretary Powells November 2001 Louisville speech, President Bushs April 2002 Rose Garden remarks and his June 24, 2002 speech.
 U.N. involvement offered further international credibility and practical advantages on the ground. Russias role is essentially symbolic a fleeting acknowledgement of Moscows formal role as a co-sponsor of the Madrid process.
 Bush speech, June 24, 2002.
 Leaving aside opinions about the merits of the plan, in the annals of Arab-Israeli diplomacy the Road Map surely qualifies as one of the most uninspiring names. No state has put its stamp (e.g. the Saudi initiative) and no leader has staked his reputation (e.g. the Reagan plan or the Clinton parameters) on the plan.
 See Martin Indyk , A Trusteeship for Palestine, Foreign Affairs May/June 2003, volume 82:3.