The Tough Task of Middle East Peace

The National Interest - February 27, 2013

Prof. Shai Feldman is Judith and Sidney Swartz Director of the Crown Center

Secretary of State John Kerry is said to be urging President Obama to consider launching a new U.S. effort to end the paralysis that currently plagues Israeli-Palestinian relations. It is not clear whether the president supports this idea, but his scheduled trip to Israel in March also includes a stop in Ramallah. This has spurred speculation that Obama is not dismissive of the proposed U.S. reengagement in Arab-Israeli peacemaking. Indeed, recently this possibility seems to have led to visits to Washington by Benjamin Netanyahu’s envoy for talks with the Palestinians, Itzhak Molcho, and his Palestinian counterpart, Saeb Erekat.

While they should not be discouraged, the president and Secretary Kerry should ponder what a successful effort in this realm might require. Indeed, even the first steps in such a journey will breed huge expectations. And if they are not met because the task will prove too taxing, there will be great disappointment, resulting not only in another setback to U.S. standing in the Middle East but also the possibility of a new eruption of Arab-Israeli violence.

Assuming that the Obama administration decides that a breakthrough in Palestinian-Israeli relations is important not only for its own sake, but also for addressing other U.S. national interests in the Middle East, what would it take to achieve such a breakthrough? The long history of the efforts to resolve the Arab-Israel conflict—and particularly its Palestinian-Israeli dimension—yields at least eight different requirements for success: ...