The White House has announced that President Barack Obama will visit Jerusalem in March his first presidential trip to Israel and the first overseas visit of his second term.
This trip, which will also include the West Bank and Jordan, will be crucial for Obama, whose Mideast policy is in tatters. He'll be trying to warm up his cool relations with Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, and to focus on Iran and Syria. But Obama will also need to put forward new ideas for resurrecting the Israel-Palestinian peace process, a task on the order of raising Lazarus from the dead.
So here's a suggestion for the president:
Listen to the proposals of Amos Yadlin, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence, who now heads one of Israel's top academic think tanks, the Institute for National Strategic Studies. If Bibi rejects these proposals, press him to reconsider. Even better, adopt these ideas as your own.
"My recommendation," says Yadlin, "is that the new Israeli government would submit a proposal to the Palestinians along the lines of the Clinton parameters, the Olmert parameters," meaning Israel accepts a Palestinian state, basically along the 1967 borders, minus certain Jewish settlement blocs, plus some piece of Jerusalem.
Yadlin was referring to parameters for a peace settlement put forward by President Bill Clinton in late 2000, and by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008 negotiations with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). In both proposals, Palestinians would receive land in compensation for Israel's annexation of Jewish settlements just across the 1967 border.
In return, says Yadlin, the Palestinians must concede the end of their claims against Israel and that Palestinian refugees would return only to (the new state of) Palestine. The Palestinians would have to guarantee that their country could not become a base for attack against Israel.
"I remind you that Abu Mazen never said yes" to the offer by Olmert, Yadlin added, speaking on a conference call organized by the New Israel Forum. (Of course, Yasser Arafat never endorsed the Clinton parameters, either.)
"But I think we have to put it again on the table," Yadlin continued, even though he believes an accord is unlikely. "If I am wrong," he said, "and the Palestinians agree, great. If I am right, and they will never agree, we win the blame game, and we can go to the next stage." In that case, he believes Israel would have international support for a unilateral withdrawal from most of the West Bank, keeping about 10 percent "until the Palestinians decide to make peace."
Now you may ask, if Yadlin is so pessimistic, what's the point of putting forward these proposals, especially when the entire region is in turmoil? And why should Obama endorse such a plan?
I'll offer three critical reasons:
As Yadlin knows, the failure to negotiate a two-state solution will eventually produce a Palestinian majority in Greater Israel. If Israel gives the Palestinians the vote, that will end the Jewish state of Israel; if it doesn't, the Israeli government will have to maintain an apartheid-like occupation over a majority population of Arabs that will undermine its own democracy, and its legitimacy around the world.
The only plausible endgame as Yadlin also knows would hew to the Clinton/Olmert parameters. Yet Netanyahu's aggressive expansion of Jewish settlement on the West Bank is rapidly making those parameters irrelevant by binding that territory to Israel. At this point, the only way to keep the peace process is for all sides to clarify the endgame which would require that settlements be curbed.
With the entire region in turmoil, it will be too risky for Israel to anoint a new, shaky Palestinian state in the short term. But if the Israeli government endorsed the Clinton/Olmert parameters (and slowed settlements), this would signal its intent to act as soon as the region is more stable. Such a move would strengthen Abu Mazen, undercut Hamas and prevent a third intifada, while putting the onus on the Palestinians to agree to the framework. It would also ensure that Israel did not become an international pariah.
It's probably useless to hope that Bibi will endorse such a plan. Some of his likely coalition partners want to annex much of the West Bank, and he has made clear his opposition to a viable Palestinian state. As for Obama, domestic politics have penalized him for even mentioning Israel's 1967 borders.
Still, Yadlin, who has no shortage of guts in 1981, he flew one of the planes that bombed Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor intends to push his plan this year.
"I'm not naive enough to think my government would adopt it," he says, "but I believe it is the only way if we want a Jewish, democratic, secure and legitimate Israel."
If Obama wants to keep the peace process out of history's dustbin, he would do well to promote Yadlin's plan.