Solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and peace in the Middle East will follow. This has been the cornerstone of American policy in the region. The concept can be traced back to the Eisenhower administration in the 1950’s. The problem is, it’s a myth. Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, scholars of both the history and the cultural diversity of the region, detail the missteps, the political motivations, and the subterfuge that have coalesced to create the “illusion” that the two-state solution, once implemented, would restore stability to the area.
Most would doubt that this topic makes for a great read. Middle East policy has been the subject of countless articles penned by a myriad of intellectuals and politicians; so many, most glaze over or throw up their hands in frustration upon the mere mention. In the hands of Ross and Makovsky, however, the topic is gripping and reads like a political thriller. The authors put you inside the Nixon White House while war rages in 1973, and the casualty count rises while Kissinger and his boss try to arrange for a partial victory — not by the Israelis — by the Egyptians! They provide detailed historical evidence indicating that every country in the Arab block will act in their own self interest regardless of the fate of the Palestinians. Negotiate a peace taking this reality into account, the authors argue convincingly, and there just might be a chance for that peace to last.
How have you seen the political movements grow and change over the years? Are there specific events that you can point to that have had a dramatic effect on public sentiment?
The good news is that moderaters on both sides are more realistic about what is needed to attain peace. The bad news is that extremist parties have grown and are determined to torpedo peace. As such, it is the best of times and the worst of times.
Do you think that the right of return, settlement growth and East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian State can be treated individually or do they come as a package? If they can be divided, dealing with one issue at a time, which one do you feel is the bigger impediment to a peace agreement?
While many believe the heart of this conflict is land, ironically, this is the area where the two sides are closest and should definitely be the focus of negotiations. Issues like Jerusalem and refugees are related to the self-definition of the parties, and they will be harder to resolve. Yes, we need bottom-up focus on institutions to engage in nation-building, but it could not substitute for top-down focus on the political issues.
The Israeli government just experienced an election that brought the right side of the political spectrum to power. Why do you feel this happened and how do you see the future of Israeli and Palestinian politics in the face of this outcome?
There is a lack of consensus within both Israeli and Palestinian societies. The key is to find areas of convergence and demonstrate
that it is negotiation and not violence that achieves results.
What would be more beneficial to Israeli-Palestinian relations: a united, power-sharing government between Fatah and Hamas or a divided Palestinian entity with Fatah at the bargaining table?
As one leading Palestinian said to me, “people say talk to Hamas, but what will you talk to them about? There is no common agenda at all.” The implicit premise of those who believe that you can bring Hamas to the table is that they are animated by power so they can be co-opted if they get a piece of pie. I actually believe they have a very coherent, if abhorrent, worldview. We do not do ourselves or them any favors if we short-change that worldview. Moreover, we undermine the moderates whom we want to help as they will appear as quislings in such a scenario.