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opinion | geoffrey h. lewis

Time for an Obama peace plan in Mideast

IT IS TIME for a bold new strategy for addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: President Obama should set forth a plan of his own for resolving the conflict. He should do so immediately and forcefully, before there is further deterioration on the ground.

Sadly, the effort to get the parties to negotiate a resolution themselves seems to be going nowhere. Indeed, this round of talks appears to be over. This week, the Israeli security cabinet voted to end negotiations, citing Fatah’s reconciliation with Hamas, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls a terrorist organization.

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But even before that, there were challenges. Israel hadn’t released a fourth group of Palestinian prisoners. The Palestinians, meanwhile, had moved toward further engagement with the United Nations, something that Israel considers provocative.

Peace talks have collapsed before, of course. But this failure would carry a note of finality. Anyone who has followed the various attempts to achieve a two-state solution has heard concerns that a peace agreement must be reached before the facts on the ground and increased enmity between the two sides make such a resolution impossible. This time, that lament seems real. Should the Obama/Kerry initiative fail, the United States and the global community will likely shelve attempts to broker an agreement for the foreseeable future.

In formulating his own plan, Obama wouldn’t have to start from scratch. There is wide agreement on what a fair resolution would look like. The Clinton Parameters, the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, and the Geneva Initiative of 2003 all set forth similar contours. The president need only put his mark on a plan incorporating those parameters and then seek the support of the global community to see it through. He is in a unique position to do so, given the nine months he and Kerry have spent listening to the desires, concerns, anger, and hope of both sides.

Obama himself has said several times that tough decisions must be made, and political risks taken, by each side if peace is to be achieved. Yet by all accounts, the parties remain far apart on the core issues of the conflict, including boundaries, the status of Jerusalem, the refugees, and post-treaty security arrangements. Thus, the imperative for an Obama/Kerry plan. In short, the president should follow the advice he has given the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Once his plan is formulated, Obama should dispatch Secretary Kerry to the region to brief Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Perhaps Bill Clinton could accompany Kerry, given his popularity there. Meanwhile, Obama could enlist former secretary of state James Baker to help bring Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states aboard. That move would lend the initiative both a bipartisan and regional imprimatur. He should send a third emissary to brief EU leaders.

The plan could also be considered, and hopefully endorsed, by the United Nations and other relevant groups, such as the Quartet and the Arab League. Obama could then invite the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to the White House, not to force them to accept the plan but rather to negotiate based upon it. The United States and the world community could also provide incentives to both sides to make the signing of a peace treaty more attractive and to help ensure that agreement would work.

Yes, this bold display of presidential leadership could well fail. And yet, it’s worth trying. It would demonstrate to the world this country’s commitment to resolving the enduring conflict. It would help restore the United States to its role as honest broker.

And it could provide our last chance of reaching an agreement, something that the two sides seemingly cannot do on their own, but which many in the region believe is eminently achievable.

Geoffrey H. Lewis, a lawyer in Wellesley, has been active in a number of Jewish community organizations and is currently affiliated with the Geneva Initiative, an Israeli-Palestinian effort to end the conflict.
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