The recently enacted stimulus package for reviving the worst U.S. economic recession in decades should serve as a model for reviving the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. The peace process has been in its own recession since the failure of the Taba talks in January 2001. The steady expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank has deepened that recession. By all accounts, Israeli settlements block the implementation of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. The stimulus package should consist of a multi-billion dollar international fund with a first priority of reversing the growth of Israeli settlements and financing the resettlement of Israelis from the West Bank essentially within the 1967 borders. The next application of the fund will be to house Palestinians in the vacant Israeli settlements. The ultimate goal of the stimulus package will be the creation of an economically viable Palestinian state. This proposal will go a long way to ending the occupation, changing the oppressive conditions the Palestinians are enduring and moving towards peace with an Israeli State and a Palestinian State.
Consistent with the Obama Administration's declared objective of engaging in multilateral diplomacy to address troublesome international political issues, the United States should be the lead investor in the fund. Washington should then invite substantial contributions from other parties that have an interest in the peace process, including the Arab League, the European Union, and Russia.
The stimulus package should not encourage another Israeli "unilateral" move, as in Ariel Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza. The package should stimulate a negotiating process that will create new "facts on the ground" that are conducive to the resolution of the "final status" issues. Negotiations over the application of the fund will not be easy. For example, with the assistance of the fund managers the Palestinian Authority under Abu Mazen's leadership and representatives of the next Israeli government will need to work out the details of removing Israeli road blocks to enable Palestinian goods and people to move throughout the West Bank. The parties will also need to negotiate maintaining Israel's security including the movement of IDF forces in and through the West Bank while enabling the Palestinians to extend local security into the former settlements where Palestinians should be settling.
The Obama Administration has already signaled to Israelis, Palestinians and the international community that it is willing to dedicate U.S. prestige as well as resources to reviving Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations. The American "dream team" for this effort includes former Senator George Mitchell, who brings to the negotiating table his reputation as the proponent of the Good Friday Peace Agreement that resolved the intractable ethnic/religious conflict in Northern Ireland. It also includes Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, whose husband, former President Bill Clinton proposed the "Clinton parameters" which could serve as the forerunner of a potential resolution of the intractable Palestinian-Israeli dispute. Establishing the international stimulus package as soon as possible would be a good way to put the dream team and a tangible demonstration of the U.S. commitment to ending the "recession" in the peace process.
No one doubts that there will be potentially violent opposition to the resettlement of Israelis from the West Bank. Extremist factions from Hamas and Islamic Jihad on the one side and religious nationalist settlers on the other will seek to sabotage the stimulus by violent attacks. However, as in the treatment of the "toxic assets" that have contributed to the economic recession, the promoters of the economic stimulus should not let violent extremists poison the political stimulus to reviving peace negotiations.
One can also expect vociferous opposition to the stimulus package from Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party. In the campaign for the recent Israeli elections they loudly declared that they want to maintain the settlements and even allow their "natural expansion"- albeit without promoting the construction of new settlements. As a pre-condition to the negotiation of peace with the Palestinians, Netanyahu proposes the rapid development of the Palestinian economy. Glossed over in this proposal are the realities of the myriads of Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank and the numerous road blocks that serve to secure them, all of which impede the flow of people and goods that cripple Palestinian economic development.
The United States can overcome such opposition by applying pressure to the next Israeli government, whether it be controlled by Likud or shared with Kadima. As a condition to the stimulus package Washington can insist that Israel should stop settlement construction and start the process of removing settlers from the West Bank. Appointing George Mitchell as special envoy to the Middle East was an indication to the Israelis of America's seriousness in insisting on this turnaround. Mitchell was the author of the 2001 Mitchell Report for then President Clinton that, among other things, stipulated that Israel should stop building settlements in the Occupied Territories.
The speed with which President Obama has acted on the Palestinian-Israeli dispute makes it clear that he recognizes its resolution is in the national interest of the United States in order to restore American influence in the region, firm up U.S. alliances in the Arab world and stabilize the Middle East. An international stimulus package to revive peace negotiations would work towards achieving this goal. Resettling the West Bank settlers would halt the dynamic towards a one state outcome that will frustrate the national dreams of both Palestinians and Israelis. It will deny the extremists on both sides their claims to all of the land, claims that condemn the rest of the population to a never ending cycle of violence. It is good for the United States, Israel, the Palestinians, and our friends throughout the region.