1. What were the motivating factors for publishing this book?
Since the end of the Cold War—when the strategic environment seemed so promising for Mideast peace—failures in U.S. diplomacy have far outweighed successes. Understanding why our track record has been so poor, and applying those lessons for future negotiators, were the twin motivating factors behind this project. The existing memoirs and insider accounts are incomplete. Moreover, none of the numerous analytical works offer a dispassionate, prescriptive account.
For these reasons, the United States Institute of Peace placed a great deal of importance on appraising the U.S. negotiating experience and recruited five of America's top experts as part of its Study Group on Arab-Israeli Peacemaking
. Under the leadership of Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, one of our country's most experienced Mideast negotiators, the Study Group conducted over 100 consultations and interviews with leading figures from the United States and the region. This book represents the findings from this path-breaking research effort.
2. Why is the United States so indispensable in Arab-Israeli peace negotiations, and what is its role?
Dramatic asymmetries—of power, and of negotiating tactics—demand a robust third-party role. Power dynamics in this conflict are deeply unbalanced, leaving the parties unable to reach viable negotiated arrangements on their own. The eventual collapse of the Oslo process—which was initiated and defined by the parties without U.S. intervention—best exemplifies the general rule that, left on their own, the parties cannot address the deep, structural impediments to peace.
As the principal outside actor, and as Israel's most trusted ally and patron, it is the task of the United States to facilitate, mediate, and to some degree arbitrate and oversee the negotiations. Washington's challenge continues to be to cut through the asymmetries and help the parties address each other’s needs.
3. The next president will inherit a Middle East riven with conflict and instability. Where does the Arab-Israeli conflict fall within the larger international milieu that the next president faces?
The president must confront the urgency of the U.S. troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, a looming confrontation with Iran, issues of energy security, and the uncertain world of international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Rebuilding alliances and shoring up the resolve of the international community to continue the struggle against terrorism will surely be among the president’s highest priorities. In this respect, those voices calling for greater involvement in Arab-Israeli peacemaking could be drowned out in the swirl of policy debates and personnel choices that confront the next and future administrations. But this environment need not deter the next president from devoting energy and time to the Arab-Israeli peace process; indeed, it may well be the right context to press for action on that front.
The Arab-Israeli arena is a crucial element of the strategic environment, and successful diplomacy there can create opportunities for the United States elsewhere in the region. If the president fails early on to establish the Middle East peace process as a priority, sooner or later the conflict will flare up and further complicate U.S. objectives.
It will be up to the president to prioritize Arab-Israeli peacemaking, empower a foreign policy team that shares this view, and ensure that there is a senior focal point and a strong, experienced team within the administration to carry out its policy. Most critically, the next president needs to draw the correct lessons from our many past achievements, as well as from the failures of recent years.
4. Does this conflict intersect with the larger question of Islamist militancy?
Among the most prominent challenges for the next president will be the strength of militant Islam and the determination of some to attack the United States and the West. The Arab-Israeli conflict has not been immune to it, and in some ways has incubated and stimulated it. The emergence of Hezbollah in the early 1980s, the rise to prominence of Hamas in the 1990s and its accession to power in Palestine in 2006, and the appearance of al Qaeda affiliates among Palestinians in Lebanon demonstrate that the festering Arab-Israeli conflict can fuel forces of ever-greater radicalism. This factor alone will present future administrations with policy challenges unmatched by any predecessor.
Among the broader publics throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds, this conflict remains one of the most evocative issues troubling relations with the United States and the West.
5. What course of action should the next administration take?
The book's concluding chapter has a number of recommendations:
- The president needs to adopt a hands-on policy from the beginning of his/her term. The Arab-Israeli question ought to figure prominently in an early presidential speech, sending a loud and clear signal that the issue is high on the agenda.
- From the first day in office, the president ought to charge those responsible for Middle East policy with developing a portfolio with developing a comprehensive and durable strategy not just to manage the conflict, but to end it. Such a strategy must include concrete proposals for monitoring and judging compliance by all sides.
- The United States should lock in the gains of earlier negotiations, especially before public support in the region erodes or events on the ground further undermine prospects for a peaceful settlement.
- The next administration should make certain that any scheduled conferences or summits are well-prepared for and part of a larger strategy—it should avoid the temptation to substitute photo opportunities for real diplomacy.
- Washington should invest in nontraditional diplomacy. Nontraditional diplomacy is a low-cost, low-risk complement to the formal negotiating process, and given the distance between the parties and the turmoil of recent years, these activities—including private political and diplomatic contacts, military and security dialogues, youth and interreligious programming, and health, business, scientific, and cultural activities—have taken on even greater importance.
6. How does the close relationship between the U.S. and Israel affect our ability to broker Arab-Israeli peace?
The study group heard a variety of perspectives on issues ranging from the role of Israel in trying to shape U.S. policy to the deference that some policymakers pay to Israeli domestic political concerns. Israel plays an outsized role in U.S. politics and diplomacy; it is a fact of life that transcends party politics and carries over from one administration to the next. The study group’s Arab interlocutors emphasized that part of what makes the U.S. role so vital is its "special relationship" with Israel.
To the degree that Israel can rely on the constancy of U.S. support for its security and ultimate survival, it will be more willing to take risks for peace. What the next president needs to consider is not the nature of the U.S. strategic relationship with Israel—this should be self-evident to anyone familiar with the history of the Middle East and politics and policy in Washington—but rather how to use the U.S.-Israeli relationship beneficially in the cause of peace.
The United States sees itself to this day as an honest broker in the Middle East, and U.S. diplomats honestly try to be fair in mediating between Arabs and Israelis. The next president will need to ensure that the manner in which the United States conducts our diplomacy results in the peoples of the region sharing this perception.