Peace Doesn’t Require A Plan

I’m thinking of redecorating my house and wall papering the entire thing with Yossi Beilin’s peace plans. Beilin is a good man, a tireless advocate of peace, but shares the delusion of many that the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict has eluded everyone simply because no one has devised a brilliant enough plan. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For those with short memories, which is almost everyone who pontificates about the Middle East, let’s harken all the way back to 1995 when Mr. Beilin reached an agreement with a fellow named Abu Mazen. Like the current Geneva Initiative, it contained some good ideas, but what happened to that master stroke? Well, first Abu Mazen disavowed most of it, and then, when he had the opportunity to pursue the brilliant vision last summer as Prime Minister, he seemed to have forgotten the whole thing.

Two years later, Beilin reached another agreement, this time with one of the leaders of the opposition Likud Party, Michael Eitan. In it, Beilin repudiated much of what he had agreed to with Abu Mazen and though this agreement had the blessing of then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it too withered on the vine.

I don’t mean to pick on Beilin; the same critique can be lodged against most current and former members of the State Department. What none of these folks can accept is that they do not have the power to make peace. The absence of peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors is not due to the lack of a plan; it is because Arab leaders have not accepted the State of Israel.

It’s common today to hear critics of President Bush complain that the problem is the Administration’s lack of engagement. The United States, they say, needs to be more active in the peace process, and to put forth its own peace plan or ram the road map down Israel’s throat. Apparently these folks have forgotten the Rogers Plan, the Reagan Plan, the Baker Plan, the Clinton Plan, and all the rest. In fact, virtually every U.S. administration has authored a plan and not one has ever succeeded.

The two successful cases where Israel reached agreements with Arab nations were not the result of peace plans; rather they were the product of the vision of courageous Arab leaders — Anwar Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan. They demonstrated by word and deed they were committed to peace and thereby convinced the Israeli people they could take risks, and Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin showed the courage to trade something tangible — land — for the intangible promise of peace.

Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton offered plans to the Palestinians just three years ago. As Clinton’s chief negotiator Dennis Ross has noted, the problem was not the details of the offers, which could have been negotiated, it was Yasser Arafat’s unwillingness to end the conflict.

Now Ariel Sharon has offered to make painful concessions. The government has agreed to give away part of the Jewish people’s ancestral home so the Palestinians can have a state, but no Palestinian leader has shown the courage to follow the path of Sadat and Hussein and grant Israel peace in exchange for any amount of land.

Outsiders, whether they are opposition politicians, academics, or international organizations, have often floated ideas for how to bring about Middle East peace. It is easy to reach agreements in the abstract when the parties are not accountable for their decisions and have neither the power nor the obligation to implement them.

Elements of third-party proposals can be incorporated in peace talks, but the only people who can reach meaningful agreements are the democratically elected Prime Minister of Israel and the appointed Prime Minister of the Palestinians (which, for now, requires the unlikely blessing of Yasser Arafat).

Ironically, the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute will inevitably resemble one of the very first plans proposed nearly 70 years ago. In 1937, Lord Peel figured out the only conceivable way the two peoples could live together was to create two states. If the Palestinians had been willing to accept that plan, or almost any of the dozens of others offered since that time, they would have long ago had an independent state larger than the one they will ultimately establish.