from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Aiming for Israeli-Palestinian Peace

January 15, 2014

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Secretary of State Kerry continues his energetic efforts to get the Israelis and Palestinians to sign a comprehensive peace agreement. In a new Policy Innovation Memo for the Council, I argue that such an agreement is not possible right now and that there’s a better way forward.

The memo begins this way:

The Obama administration is fostering Israeli-Palestinian negotiations aimed at a full and final peace agreement. While the talks last they help calm the regional political situation, but they do nothing to improve Palestinian daily life or help build the institutions of a future Palestinian state. If they fail, as all past efforts have, they may leave behind frustration and bitterness. Even so, negotiations should not be abandoned, but should be buttressed by a simultaneous effort to undertake pragmatic steps that support Palestinian institutions, improve life in the West Bank, and strengthen the Palestinian Authority (PA) against Hamas.

The cost of our focus on a comprehensive agreement has been that the United States has rarely pushed hard for immediate, meaningful, on-the-ground changes. We think we are "aiming high" and that "aiming low" shows insufficient ambition, but realistic moves that help prepare the Palestinian people for statehood are in fact a better bet than the search for that elusive handshake on the White House lawn. The memo offers some concrete suggestions for U.S. policy, and concludes this way:

While today’s political-level peace negotiations can provide an essential umbrella for pragmatic steps, focusing solely on achieving a full final status agreement is too risky. Practical on-the-ground improvements are beneficial in themselves and can improve chances for an eventual negotiated settlement. They will also strengthen the PA and its ability to engage in the compromises any full peace agreement will require. Supporting the construction of a Palestinian state from the ground up, strengthening Palestinian institutions, and seeking pragmatic Israeli-Palestinian cooperation should be the center of U.S. policy now, not the handmaiden to a policy aimed at a comprehensive but currently unattainable final peace agreement.

The full text is found here.

More on:

Middle East and North Africa

United States

Diplomacy and International Institutions

Israel

Palestinian Territories

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