WASHINGTON — With much fanfare, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has unilaterally declared that Israel will temporarily freeze settlement construction in the West Bank, but notably, not in East Jerusalem, for 10 months. This gesture reminds me of the temporary truces that groups such as Hamas make when they unilaterally declare that they’ll do the right thing, such as enacting a truce, but only for a limited time.
Netanyahu’s gesture was probably the final Israeli response this year to American efforts, led by Special Envoy George Mitchell, to bring about a true settlement freeze in order to advance President Obama’s goal of restarting peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Let’s call this Mitchell version 1.0. Unfortunately, this effort has run its course without achieving the goal of restarting peace talks, let alone achieving peace.
So where do President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and Mitchell go from here?
This is a moment of deep reflection for advocates of the peace process. The Obama administration has pressed Netanyahu hard. He has bent slightly. The Obama administration has pressed the Palestinians and the Arab states as well. They have tamped down on violence and incitement and uttered nice words, but have not taken the plunge that Obama has asked for.
So now it’s time for the Mitchell team to get creative. Interestingly, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently offered one attempt to test those creative waters. On Nov. 25, included within her otherwise unremarkable response to Netanyahu’s settlements announcement, Clinton said that she supported “… an independent and viable (Palestinian) state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps.”
This subtle, yet public American pronouncement that there should be land swaps in order to create a two-state solution, was a new twist and should not be overlooked.
More interestingly, the response to this Clinton trial balloon — silence by the parties — should raise eyebrows. Clinton went further publicly than any other American official has gone in defining what a solution should begin to look like, and there was no significant negative fallout.
This should give the administration the confidence to turn it up a notch. It’s now time for Mitchell version 2.0.
Mitchell 2.0 should be based upon the premise that, as Israeli and Palestinian leaders have often proclaimed, it is in both Israel’s interest to see a peaceful end to the conflict that leads to internationally recognized and secure borders for the Jewish state, and in the Palestinians’ interest to have their own internationally recognized state. Mitchell 2.0 should also be grounded in the idea that it is in America’s national security interest to improve our relationship with both the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Mitchell 2.0 must therefore be built upon the successes of Mitchell 1.0, which effectively demonstrated to all the parties that the United States is serious about ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that it will engage in this process in a sustained manner.
At its core, Mitchell 2.0 should be about changing American tactics in order to create new movement in the peace process.
What Mitchell 1.0 made clear was that despite the fact that all of the parties talk about ending the conflict, they need a different American approach to effectively negotiate a deal. While Mitchell 1.0 effectively changed the political dynamics regarding the conflict, it needs to go further.
Mitchell 2.0 should therefore be about putting an American peace plan on the table in order to resolve the conflict.
This is where Clinton’s trial balloon about “land swaps” comes in. Her language was taken from the “Clinton Parameters” that developed during the late 2000 negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians under American auspices. These parameters called for a two-state solution that, amongst multiple issues, called for land swaps between Israel and Palestine so that roughly 95 percent of the equivalent territory of the West Bank (plus Gaza), including the swapped land, would become Palestine.
Revolutionary at the time, these parameters are now generally accepted both by experts and by multiple Israeli and Palestinian leaders as the way to achieve a two-state solution to the conflict.
It is now time for clarity about the endgame. If this is where Clinton is heading, by putting an American plan on the table that lays out the parameters for a two-state solution, then Mitchell will be empowered to advocate for what has largely been understood as the most realistic and practical solution for many years.
Our country’s relationship with the Arab world needs to turn a new page, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stands out as unfinished business that must be resolved.
It is therefore time to unleash Mitchell version 2.0 to achieve this goal. It is time for the American plan.
(Joel Rubin, deputy director and chief operating officer of the National Security Network in Washington, D.C., and a Pittsburgh native, can be reached at email@example.com. His views are his own and not necessarily those of the National Security Network.)