Some "peace processors" never give up. In the New York Times today, four of them try an old and very bad idea: forget about negotiations, and substitute the views of some un-elected elderly "statesmen" and of the UN Security Council.
In an op-ed piece entitled "Going Directly to Israelis and Palestinians," Shlomo Ben-Ami, Thomas Schelling, Jerome Segal, and Javier Solana suggest "a new approach" that isn’t new at all. The heart of it is this:
"The U.N. Security Council...will establish a special committee composed of distinguished international figures acting in their own capacity. Possibly it would be headed by a former American statesman or senator." Their "first task would be to determine if there is any possible peace agreement that would be acceptable to a majority of both the Israeli and Palestinian people." To determine this, the panel would "go to the region where, over a period of several months, it would conduct a transparent inquiry into the possibility of genuine peace." It would hold televised hearings and "conduct public opinion research and study the record of past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations — in particular, the Clinton Parameters and the progress made at Taba and in the Olmert-Abbas round." Then, and this is the key, the panel "would...develop a draft treaty" which the UN Security Council would approve in a resolution, calling for negotiations based upon it as a starting point. If Israel or the Palestinians object, "the process should go forward even if one government, or both, fails to embrace it." If the parties fail, the Security Council should "pass a resolution which embodies the...plan and calls on Israel and the Palestinians to announce their acceptance."
The four authors are optimistic: "Agreement may not be immediate. However, an end-of-conflict plan that emerges from this process will have the staying power of historic resolutions such as 181 and 242. Supported by majorities on both sides, it will be an offer that political leaders cannot indefinitely refuse."
What’s above is the plan as the authors describe it. Here’s my description.
The four men are tired of the fact that neither Israelis nor Palestinians accept peace terms that they, in their wisdom, are sure are right. The fact that Israel is a democracy with an elected government is an inconvenience to be brushed aside; "public opinion research" is much more reliable than elections, I guess. So much for democracy in the year of the "Arab Spring." The fact that Israel has twice made offers to the Palestinians--Prime Minister Barak in 2000 and Prime Minister Olmert in 2008--that were very generous in the view of the United States is irrelevant. The fact that those offers were withdrawn precisely because Israel did not want to allow the Palestinians to pocket them and start negotiations from those points is also irrelevant; the panel will start by swallowing them and jumping off from there, studying them "in particular."
The confidence of these four authors in getting "majorities on both sides" to support such a plan is bizarre. It has been tried. The "Geneva Initiative" of 2003, a lengthy, detailed peace plan developed by Israelis and Palestinians who know a lot more about the issues than these four gentlemen, went nowhere. The "People’s Voice Initiative" sponsored by one Israeli and one Palestinian leader, who offered some central principles for a peace deal and asked citizens on both sides to sign up, got 400,000 signatures in a combined population of 11.5 million. To be a bit more specific about the issues, do they think they will get Palestinians to agree to abandon the so-called "right of return," or Israelis to give up Jerusalem? Will they have security proposals that cope with the Hamas control of Gaza, or ways to handle every territorial dispute? Do they think no dedicated, intelligent American, Palestinian, or Israeli officials have ever addressed these issues and earnestly sought solutions?
Then of course there is the personnel question. Who might the "distinguished international figures" turn out to be? Why, with luck they might be as distinguished as the four authors; maybe three of them (excluding Ben-Ami, an Israeli and former foreign minister) might even comprise three of the four! For other ideas as to who are "distinguished international figures," look at the group that named itself "The Elders" and even has a web site: http://www.theelders.org/. Consisting of Kofi Annan, Ela Bhatt, Lakhdar Brahimi, Gro Brundtland, Fernando H. Cardoso, Jimmy Carter, Mary Robinson, Desmond Tutu, they have decided to solve the world’s problems and on the Middle East they proclaim that "After decades of peace process, there is still no peace. The Elders are supporting civil society action for an end to the conflict and lasting peace." Apparently they should knock that civil society nonsense off and simply write up a final status agreement, and mail it in to the UN. What are the Elders up to? In their own words, "The Elders represent an independent voice, not bound by the interests of any nation, government or institution. They are committed to promoting the shared interests of humanity." (Emphasis in the original, by the way.)
Which brings us back to the four authors of this new, old, proposal. They too are sure they represent the "shared interests of humanity." They will not only not be "bound by the interests of any nation, government, or institution" but are certain they themselves and people like the Elders are much better than messy things like democracy and elected governments.
I don’t know if the current Israeli leadership and the current PLO leadership can make peace; their predecessors obviously could not. But I do know that only Israelis and Palestinians can make peace. Not the UN, not the Elders, and certainly not another "special committee composed of distinguished international figures."