Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Aiming for Israeli-Palestinian Peace

by Elliott Abrams
January 15, 2014


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.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by David W. Lincoln

    As long as the interests of Christians in Israel are enhanced, or, at the very least, not harmed – shouldn’t that be the most important criterion as to whether “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” is given to whatever is cooked up by the “striped pants set” as Ike called them.

  • Posted by Emile Tubiana

    It is amazing that Kerry wants to quickly accomplish a peace agreement, while negotiations have been going on for over 60 years, and there was always ill will from the Palestinians. Israel cannot risk to be faced with another Hamas-like situation, which has shown that it cannot be properly controlled. Unfortunately, it was Bush who advised Sharon to relinquish the Gaza strip, which eventually lead to the takeover by Hamas and against the PLO by killing some of Abbas’s people. Even if the US gives its guarantee, it cannot be trusted, as until now, it has not been able to guarantee either Egypt of Iraq, and even less so Syria and Lebanon.
    After 65 years, Israel cannot trust the Palestinians with the unreliable track record they have. I only hear claims, while Israel could have served as a good example for the Arabs as to how to integrate this population.
    As long as we, the Americans are dictating the way, we cannot hope that any meaningful solution could be found, as negotiations should be held only between the concerned parties, if and when they are ready for it. We just have to see the example of Egypt, where America pushed for the Muslim Brotherhood to take over (see Obama’s Cairo speech, at which occasion he had visited the Muslim Brotherhood and paid no respect to the country’s president Hosni Mubarek, who has kept the Middle East stable for 30 years). Obviously the population was not ready to be governed by Islamic law, which lead to the overturn of Morsi, who had prepared Muslim Brotherhood terrorist activities in the Sinai Peninsula together with the Hamas and aimed against the Egyptian Army.
    I wonder if your Policy Innovation Memo will come to the attention of Mr. Kerry.

  • Posted by DAN

    More diplomatic Gobbledygook from another “friend of Israel.” Note, I’m not saying Mr. Abrams is stupid. On the contrary, keeping the moribund “peace process” on life support guarantees he’ll have his sinecure well into the future.

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