and Robert Malley
have a challenging and insightful must-read op-ed in today’s Washington Post
. Entitled “Middle East Triangle,” it looks at why and how to bring Israel, the Abbas-led PA and Hamas into a political process that could actually make sense and deliver on the vital interests of all three.
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has gone from a violent, intractable, clear-cut duel to a violent, intractable, three-way chess match. Today, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas each fears that the other two will reach a deal at its expense. And each is determined to prevent that outcome.”
Agha and Malley then explain why a deal between any two components of the triangle would be perceived as so threatening by the third:
“Nervous about being left out, all three parties are laboring mightily to avert an understanding between the other two. Hamas threatens the nascent Israeli-Palestinian political process, challenging its legitimacy and intimating that it could resort to more violence. Israel warns that renewed Palestinian unity will bring that process to an abrupt halt. Abbas actively discourages any third-party contact with Hamas. The end result is collective checkmate, a political standstill that hurts all and serves none.
The truth is, none of these two-way deals is likely to succeed. In tandem, no two parties are capable enough to deliver; any one party is potent enough to be a spoiler. There can be neither Israeli-Palestinian stability nor a peace accord without Hamas's acquiescence. Intra-Palestinian reconciliation will not last without Israel's unspoken assent and willingness to lift its siege. Any agreement between Hamas and Israel over Abbas's strong objection is hard to imagine.”
And they then describe the way out and the option that could actually deliver meaningful progress and even a deal in 2008.
“For any of these dances to go forward, all will have to go forward. Synchronicity is key. Fatah and Hamas will need to reach a new political arrangement, this time not one vigorously opposed by Israel. Hamas and Israel will need to achieve a cease-fire and prisoner exchange, albeit mediated by Abbas. And Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will need to negotiate a political deal with Abbas, who will have to receive a mandate to do so from Hamas. The current mind-set, in which each side considers dealmaking by the other two to be a mortal threat, could be replaced by one in which all three couplings are viewed as mutually reinforcing. For that, the parties' allies ought to cast aside their dysfunctional, destructive, ideologically driven policies. Instead, they should encourage a choreography that minimizes violence and promotes a serious diplomatic process.”
Arguably, the only serious follow-up item to the President’s just-completed Middle East visit was his desire to push forward on an Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough. Adopting the Agha-Malley triangle model would not only suggest that the administration is removing its debilitating ideological blinkers but would also offer the best and perhaps only chance of achieving a success on the Israel-Palestine front.