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Internationalizing the Solution: Multilateralism and International Legitimacy
Israelis are not yet fully aware that the world has changed and international legitimacy has become a very important pillar of international relations. The debate in the United Nations between the United States and those opposing going to war in Iraq was essentially a debate between an American unilateralism focused exclusively on military solutions and a European multilateralism trying to see whether international norms could be applied to conflict resolution.
Of course, such norms alone cannot provide a solution, just as force alone cannot. What is failing in Iraq is not U.S. military might but the concept of legitimacy, in the eyes of both the American public and the international community. The concept of international law has become an essential ingredient in international relations, affecting not only international enterprises but also domestic transitions. For example, in Colombia, the processes of demilitarization and demobilization could not proceed without a legal framework, because the international community would not accept it.
The U.S. mid-term election results reflect a message that questions America's way of speaking only in terms of threats and of advancing military solutions. This is a development that we need to understand.
Israel has been using the international community à la carte, i.e., only when it suits its purposes. For example, we say to the international community: "You need to ostracize Hamas. This is in the interest not only of Israel but also of the international community." The international community goes along and ostracizes Hamas; as a result of international pressure, Hamas nuances its position, shifts its political deployment toward a national unity government.
In handing over Rafah to European Union monitors, Israel agreed for the first time in 40 years to a third party taking control of the Palestinian external ports. Despite this major shift, Israel says to the international community: "We want you there, but we're never going to accept your input in other matters pertaining to the political solution." We want its support in Iraq and in blocking the Iranian nuclear process, but on issues that the international community believes are important - an equitable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute - we are much more reluctant to bring them in. Thus we use the international community à la carte, and are not sufficiently open to its involvement in peacemaking or conflict resolution.
Abba Eban, an Israeli foreign minister, once said that politicians take the right decisions - but only after exhausting all other possibilities. So far in the peace process we have exhausted two methods. We have exhausted the bilateral approach, although we need to be aware that we tried it for only a very short period in the long history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, from 1993 to 2001. Before that it was unilateralism, and after that it was unilateralism. We were far from perfect, both we and our interlocutors, and perhaps we need to try to go back and do it better. But the point is that we did not manage to reach a solution, either by bilateralism or by unilateralism.
Now that the world is changing, and the American unilateralist approach has run its course, we must start thinking about involving the international community more directly in solving the conflict. Why do we need the international community? We need it because we know what the solution is, yet our own political systems cannot deliver it.
At this point there is no fundamental gap between the parties in terms of the final setup and the details of the settlement. With the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, everyone knows that the solution lies somewhere between the Clinton Parameters and the Arab Peace Initiative; with the Syrians, everyone knows that it lies somewhere between the 1967 borders and the international borders. The gap is of meters, not kilometers. There is a problem of political will, and obviously there is a problem of trust, but the solution is almost ready-made.
Yet both the Palestinian and Israeli political systems are highly dysfunctional. They do not serve as vehicles for solutions of conflicts but as obstacles. From opinion polls among the Israelis and among the Palestinians, we discover - for example, in the polls that Khalil Shikaki1 has been conducting - that the overwhelming majority of the Palestinians agree to the concept of the two-state solution and of giving up 78% of historical Palestine. As for the Israelis, at the time of the Camp David talks, polls showed that only 5% agreed to the concept of dividing Jerusalem. But now, according to various opinion polls, over 50% support the idea.
The political systems, however, are bloqués, incapable of delivering the solution. Then there is the issue of trust, which makes it practically impossible to conduct bilateral negotiations - to reconcile the parties to each other's fundamental needs.
We need the international community to bring about the solution, not only because we ourselves are incapable, but also because the international community's involvement will be vital in safeguarding against any violation of the agreement. Why is the recent Lebanon War different from the Gaza situation? The Gaza situation was a fully unilateral withdrawal that did not create an alternative legitimate situation to the occupation. To believe that we ended the occupation in Gaza while still occupying the West Bank is to assume that Gaza is not part of a Palestinian entity. From the very beginning it was doomed, and personally, I questioned the wisdom of the withdrawal.
The war in Lebanon is particularly interesting, first, because it is the longest war in the history of the conflict, except for the 1948 War of Independence. And it lasted as long as it did, not only because of the difficulties in delivering the military solution, but also because the international community did not intervene; it gave Israel space and time to act. There were a number of reasons for this, but in my view; the main reason was that regardless of whether or not it was wise to respond militarily, one thing was clear: Israel had a right to uphold the validity of an internationally recognized border. The Lebanon War was about upholding the validity of internationally recognized borders.
This is the responsibility of the international community, and we are right in asking it to live up to its obligations. For if we are unable to uphold the validity of the border we de-legitimize all those in Israel who have been calling consistently for the creation of an internationally recognized border between us and the Palestinians. This is what is at stake. The international community needs to hear, and to be aware of, the sensibilities of the Israelis in this very small space. We cannot allow ourselves to have an agreement and then not have the support of the international community in upholding that agreement once it has been violated.
In Lebanon we were given time and space to act because we had an invisible wall of international legitimacy there. Now, the second interesting point about the war is that having the international community on your side is also a form of deterrence that is no less important than more tangible forms of deterrence. And if an agreement is violated, the international community will line up with you, put pressure on the aggressor and support you in the UN Security Council. The best proof is the fact that Resolution 1701 is far better than one could have expected from Israel's military performance. The political outcome was far better than the military outcome, again because of the importance of the concept of legitimacy.
This is a vital lesson that we need to inculcate in the Israeli public and introduce into the national discourse. Traditionally Israel has never been friendly to the idea of international solutions. Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was even against having the Americans involved in the peace process. There was some wisdom in that: He didn't want the intimate, privileged relationship between Israel and the U.S. to be affected by the ups and downs of a peace process the results of which were never certain.
It was former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who brought the Americans into the process. He brought them in because, having set on fire all the mechanisms of peacemaking and all the channels of contact with the Palestinians, he could not move without a third party. This is how the Americans got in, but once they were in, they became fanatic. They didn't want the Europeans, the Russians and others involved. I think what failed in then-President Bill Clinton's phase of the peace process was his international diplomacy, more than the kind of deal that he was putting on the table. He was unable to bring in the regional powers - the Arabs - or the Europeans.


A French UNIFIL II unit takes up a position in southern
Lebanon in August 2006. (Mark Garten/UN photo)

I strongly believe that the solution to the Arab-Israeli problem, and the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, which is at the core of the problem, lies in the Europeans and the Americans being able to develop a common vision for the Middle East. At the moment neither a common vision nor a common strategy exists. If I may for a moment be poetic, I think that the trans-Atlantic alliance that was broken in Baghdad must be redressed in Jerusalem - that is, if the Europeans and Americans are capable of agreeing, instead of the Quartet members arguing among them-selves.
The problem is that the Palestinian issue has never been a priority for the current Bush Administration; whereas it is a priority for the Europeans, for two reasons: First, there are large Muslim communities in Europe, which makes the Middle East a domestic political issue for the Europeans. Second, there are much more profound, if not as immediate, political constraints stemming from Europe's history and the place that the Jewish and the Palestinian problem occupy in the European mind.
This is where America's "hard" power and Europe's "soft" power need to converge, to work together with regional powers to coax the parties - the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Israelis and the Syrians - into a solution. There is no problem in the Middle East or probably in the world today that has a bilateral solution. Does Iraq have a bilateral solution? Without involving the Syrians or the Iranians, how can we possibly solve the Iraqi problem?
The Madrid Peace Conference 15 years ago was based on the strategic concept of connectedness. Then-U.S. President George H.W. Bush understood that you cannot solve the problems of the Outer Middle East without addressing the problems of the Inner Middle East. This is why it was the exact same coalition that went to war against Iraq in 1991 that convened the Madrid Peace Conference and unleashed the Israeli-Arab peace process.
What needs to be done, in my view, is to reconvene an international peace conference. What an international peace conference would have to do is to put the parameters of a final settlement on the table. As I suggested some time ago in an article2, perhaps the Security Council needs to spell out what "two (states) for two (peoples)" means. When Shimon Peres was negotiating with Abu Ala (Ahmad Qurei) during the first Sharon government they started to discuss the concept of a provisional Palestinian state, Abu Ala said, "OK, provisional is provisional. What about the final Palestinian state? On what will it be based?" Peres said, "242," and Abu Ala said, "No, '242' at this stage is too ambiguous."
What the Security Council needs to do, therefore, is to spell out what "242" is. This is a small piece of land that we have here, for both Israelis and Palestinians. We have too much history and too little geography, and when it comes to the final settlement, it is the minor differences that count, not the big issues. We can agree on 99% of the land yet differ on 1%, and this is what could torpedo the entire process in the end. Then there are the various nuances that must be put in place - with regard to the Temple Mount, etc. We need to put on the table a translation of what we mean by "242" because if you say to the parties, "On the basis of "242" I can assure you of certain failure. There is no possibility at all of the parties reaching a settlement on the basis of "242" because the disagreements start there. Constructive ambiguity is fine at the beginning of the process, but at the final stage, it is no good. I believe that an international conference needs to put before the parties a much more precise and elaborate platform for a peace agreement.
Fifteen years ago when we went to Madrid, we spoke of "land for peace." But the Israelis never believed they would have to give back all the land, while the Arabs perhaps did not think they might have to offer "all the peace." Now, everyone knows what we mean by "land," and everyone knows what we mean by "peace." These definitions need to be put on paper and endorsed by the parties, and the parties need to be coaxed into accepting them. The Americans and the Europeans, as well as the Arabs, have sufficient leverage to bring them together.
One last word about the Arab Peace Initiative (sometimes known as the Saudi Initiative): This is part of the regionalization not of the conflict but of the solution. Whenever one mentions to the Israelis a solution through the international community, people say, "No, no, no, we don't want to internationalize the conflict." But who wants to internationalize the conflict? We are talking about internationalizing the solution, not the conflict. The question is: How do we internationalize the solution, when the parties are incapable of reaching a settlement themselves?
What the Arab Peace Initiative did was - and I don't know how the Palestinians feel about this, but this is the bottom line - they took away from the Palestinians the monopoly on the solution. They said, "Listen, it's not for Palestinian Authority President Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) to decide, not for Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh or for Hamas's Khaled Mash'al. We the Arab world say, 'This is our solution,' and if you go with the solution, we will have a final settlement between Israel and the entire Arab world, and if the Palestinians don't like it, that's their problem. Then the Palestinian problem will be encapsulated in an environment of Israeli-Arab peace."
So multilateralism is the course that is gaining ground. And when I hear Prime Minister Ehud Olmert saying that he would like to see Abu Mazen and that Abu Mazen would be surprised by what he would get, I am afraid that with all the good will that Mr. Olmert might be able to muster he will not be able to meet Abu Mazen's minimum requirements.
We all know what the solution is, and we need to involve the international community in realizing it, and thereby also securing the international legitimacy of the settlement to safeguard it against future revisionist strategies by either side.


1- A Khalil Shikaki poll was published in the Palestine-Israel Journal, Vol. XIII, No. 3, pp. 52-56.
2- International Herald Tribune, "Middle East: The Security Council May Hold the Key," November 13, 2003.

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