In Khalidi’s view, the limits of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process were established in 1978, when Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin laid down markers for the Camp David negotiations. Ever since then, the United States, although occasionally tempted to stray from these rules, has carefully adhered to them and sometimes argued for them even more strenuously than the Israelis. The rules forbid sharing control of Jerusalem, allowing the return of Palestinian refugees driven from their homes during the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967, and granting the Palestinians sovereignty over the occupied territories and their inhabitants. Khalidi argues that the Madrid conference of 1991, the Oslo process of the 1990s, and U.S. President Barack Obama’s peace initiative of 2009 were integral parts of a joint U.S.-Israeli strategy to buy time for the Israelis to expand their settlements in the West Bank and sever East Jerusalem from the Palestinian hinterland. Saudi Arabia could have anchored an Arab counterweight but has acquiesced to the status quo out of concern for its own security. Khalidi’s book is as despairing as it is short; he sees no way out.
Kurtzer’s collection tries valiantly to pierce Khalidi’s gloom. The contributors are mostly veterans of the peace process. They believe in the two-state solution as the least bad alternative to the status quo. They recognize that the odds are against such an outcome but argue that U.S. interests will suffer if the United States does not engage in the effort—at the level of the president, or at least the secretary of state, as Aaron David Miller argues in his essay. But the contributors do not agree on how to reach a viable two-state solution, and most important, they fail to identify how U.S. interests would be harmed by continuing business as usual. They do not address the one-state solution at all, not even to dismiss it. Consequently, one cannot suppress the image of a horse frolicking on a distant hill as these authors ponder an open barn door. Each contribution, however, is full of the wisdom of experience. Marwan Muasher, a former foreign minister of Jordan, emphasizes the need to seek a comprehensive settlement involving all of Israel’s Arab foes. Robert Malley, who served as a special assistant to U.S. President Bill Clinton, stresses that the Oslo process was too focused on solving the problems created by the 1967 Six-Day War, ignoring the deeper problems caused by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Samih Al-Abid and Samir Hileleh, experts on Palestinian economic development, suggest a possible reciprocal recognition, in which Israel would accept the Palestinians’ right of return and, in exchange, the Palestinians would acknowledge the Jewish nature of Israel. Needless to say, it is doubtful that any current Israeli, Palestinian, or American leaders would find this proposal persuasive.
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