Below is the full text of a letter just released to President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as part of an effort supported by the U.S./Middle East Project, Inc., the International Crisis Group, and the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program. The letter is signed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lee H. Hamilton, Carla Hills , Nancy Kassebaum-Baker, Thomas R. Pickering, Brent Scowcroft, Theodore C. Sorensen and Paul Volcker. It is an initiative that I am very involved with and keen to encourage. The statement correctly identifies that after seven lean years of disengagement from peace efforts, the November conference creates both opportunity and risks. The administration is finally showing some political will to move on Middle East peacemaking. It must now combine that with political skill to achieve positive results and a good place to start would be a listening to the wise and experienced counsel of the letter’s signatories.
The text provides reasonable, meaningful and sufficiently detailed suggested language for an agreement that could be announced at the conference. It suggests that if the parties cannot reach this bilaterally, then the international Quartet, led by the US, should step in with bridging proposals along these lines. The authors explain that to invite Syria to attend the conference is a useful, but insufficient step that needs to be backed up by “genuine engagement.” Likewise, dialogue with Hamas (led by others, not the US) is preferable to isolation and should begin with a ceasefire between Gaza and Israel (as advocated here on ProspectsforPeace). Most importantly, the statement conveys an understanding of how the different issues are inter-related and connects the dots for the administration on a process that deals with substance, is inclusive, and delivers visible improvements on the ground for both sides. A diplomatic gauntlet has been placed at the door of the administration. Now, they must rise to the occasion.
The full text follows:
‘BECAUSE FAILURE RISKS DEVASTATING CONSEQUENCES, IT IS CRITICALLY IMPORTANT THAT THE MIDDLE EAST PEACE CONFERENCE SUCCEED.’
The following letter on the Middle East peace conference scheduled for Annapolis, Maryland in late November, was addressed by its signatories to President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The statement is a joint initiative of the U.S./Middle East Project, Inc., the International Crisis Group, and the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program.
The Israeli-Palestinian peace conference announced by President Bush and scheduled for November presents a genuine opportunity for progress toward a two-state solution. The Middle East remains mired in its worst crisis in years, and a positive outcome of the conference could play a critical role in stemming the rising tide of instability and violence. Because failure risks devastating consequences in the region and beyond, it is critically important that the conference succeed.
Bearing in mind the lessons of the last attempt at Camp David seven years ago at dealing with the fundamental political issues that divide the two sides, we believe that in order to be successful, the outcome of the conference must be substantive, inclusive and relevant to the daily lives of Israelis and Palestinians:
The international conference should deal with the substance of a permanent peace: Because a comprehensive peace accord is unattainable by November, the conference should focus on the endgame and endorse the contours of a permanent peace, which in turn should be enshrined in a Security Council resolution. Israeli and Palestinian leaders should strive to reach such an agreement. If they cannot, the Quartet (US, EU, Russia and UN Secretary General)—under whose aegis the conference ought to be held— should put forward its own outline, based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the Clinton parameters of 2000, the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and the 2003 Roadmap. It should reflect the following:
• Two states, based on the lines of June 4, 1967, with minor, reciprocal, and agreed-upon modifications as expressed in a 1:1 land swap;
• Jerusalem as home to two capitals, with Jewish neighborhoods falling under Israeli sovereignty and Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty;
• Special arrangements for the Old City, providing each side control of its respective holy places and unimpeded access by each community to them;
• A solution to the refugee problem that is consistent with the two-state solution, addresses the Palestinian refugees’ deep sense of injustice as well as provides them with meaningful financial compensation and resettlement assistance;
• Security mechanisms that address Israeli concerns while respecting Palestinian sovereignty.
The conference should not be a one-time affair. It should set in motion credible and sustained permanent status negotiations under international supervision and with a timetable for their completion, so that both a two-state solution and the Arab peace initiative’s full potential (normal, peaceful relations between Israel and all Arab states) can be realized.
The international conference should be inclusive:
• In order to enhance Israel’s confidence in the process, Arab states that currently do not enjoy diplomatic relations with Israel should attend the conference.
• We commend the administration for its decision to invite Syria to the conference; it should be followed by genuine engagement.
A breakthrough on this track could profoundly alter the regional landscape. At a minimum, the conference should launch Israeli-Syrian talks under international auspices.
• As to Hamas, we believe that a genuine dialogue with the organization is far preferable to its isolation; it could be conducted, for example, by the UN and Quartet Middle East envoys.
Promoting a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza would be a good starting point.
The international conference should produce results relevant to the daily lives of Israelis and Palestinians: Too often in the past, progress has been stymied by the gap between lofty political statements and dire realities on the ground. The conference therefore should also result in agreement on concrete steps to improve living conditions and security, including a mutual and comprehensive cease-fire in the West Bank and Gaza, an exchange of prisoners, prevention of weapons smuggling, cracking down on militias, greater Palestinian freedom of movement, the removal of unjustified checkpoints, dismantling of Israeli outposts, and other tangible measures to accelerate the process of ending the occupation.
Of utmost importance, if the conference is to have any credibility, it must coincide with a freeze in Israeli settlement expansion. It is impossible to conduct a serious discussion on ending the occupation while settlement construction proceeds apace. Efforts also should focus on alleviating the situation in Gaza and allowing the resumption of its economic life.
These three elements are closely interconnected; one cannot occur in the absence of the others. Unless the conference yields substantive results on permanent status, neither side will have the motivation or public support to take difficult steps on the ground. If Syria or Hamas are ostracized, prospects that they will play a spoiler role increase dramatically. This could take the shape of escalating violence from the West Bank or from Gaza, either of which would overwhelm any political achievement, increase the political cost of compromises for both sides and negate Israel’s willingness or capacity to relax security restrictions. By the same token, a comprehensive cease-fire or prisoner exchange is not possible without Hamas’s cooperation. And unless both sides see concrete improvements in their lives, political agreements are likely to be dismissed as mere rhetoric, further undercutting support for a two-state solution.
The fact that the parties and the international community appear—after a long, costly seven-year hiatus—to be thinking of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is welcome news. Because the stakes are so important, it is crucial to get it right. That means having the ambition as well as the courage to chart new ground and take bold steps.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter
Lee H. Hamilton, former Congressman and Co-chair of the Iraq Study Group
Carla Hills, former U.S. Trade Representative under President George H.W. Bush
Nancy Kassebaum-Baker, former Senator
Thomas R. Pickering, former Under-Secretary of State
Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisor to President Gerald Ford and President George H.W. Bush
Theodore C. Sorensen, former Special Counsel and Adviser to President John F. Kennedy
Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the Board of Governors of the U.S. Federal Reserve System