The benefits of ‘Obama parameters’

Dr. Nimrod Goren October 2016
Op-eds / The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process

US President Barack Obama is already in his final 100 days in office. When president Bill Clinton was in a similar situation, in the year 2000, he chose to present his parameters for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since then, the Clinton Parameters have become an integral part of any efforts to promote the peace process. However, in the 16 years that have passed, regional realities have changed, new policy issues have gained traction and reality on the ground has been altered. Peace has not yet been obtained. The Clinton Parameters need to be brought up to date, and President Obama may do so between the US presidential elections and the inauguration of the next president.

This issue is still being debated in Washington.

Meanwhile in Jerusalem, steps are already being taken to jeopardize such a move. The Netanyahu government sees President Obama’s final days in office as a source of concern. Netanyahu is asking the US administration to refrain from any final move regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Foreign Ministry is discussing how to confront this new “danger.”

There are, however, benefits to be gained from the presentation of new American parameters for the two-state solution. While they are not expected to bring an immediate breakthrough toward peace, such parameters will convey a clear message regarding the American position on how the Israeli- Palestinian should be resolved, and will highlight the consistency of the American position over the years.

There are also more concrete benefits to be gained, on both the international and domestic Israeli fronts, as identified by the Mitvim Institute: Clarity regarding the final-status agreement – parameters would supply the clarity that is presently lacking regarding the way to resolve the core issues of the conflict. The deeper and more detailed they are, the more clarity they will provide regarding the path to a final-status agreement.

Without clear parameters, the chances for the success of any diplomatic move regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – multilateral, bilateral, or unilateral – are much lower. A presentation of parameters is important with or without the upcoming presidential transition juncture. Even if President Obama avoids such a move, the next president should present clear parameters, preferably in the first year in office.

Renewed momentum for the two-state solution – The stagnation in the peace process leads to skepticism regarding the feasibility of the two-state solution. The “two-state solution” concept becomes empty of meaning when different politicians assign substantively different meanings to it. Parameters will help instill renewed meaning into this concept, and assist in changing the tide against it. There is also a need to update the key international documents connected to the peace process, most of which are over a dozen years old.

Updating the Clinton Parameters can be an important first step in such a process, and can contribute to harnessing an Israeli and Palestinian young public that searches for invigorated new ways to resolve the conflict.

Provide support for future negotiations – Parameters can help bypass additional useless rounds of Israeli- Palestinian negotiations that involve empty words alone, devoid of meaning. Parameters can serve as an “entrance ticket” to future negotiations.

The parties will be required to demonstrate a positive attitude toward them before negotiations even begin, to demonstrate that they have serious intentions. True, this may make it more difficult to begin the negotiations. However, if both parties have the political will to resolve the conflict, then the creation of a framework, a conceptual “anchor” and an objective for the talks will support the negotiations once they begin.

Deepen international involvement in the peace process – The Clinton Parameters remained, in their time, a solely American plan. If President Obama should present his own parameters, it would be an opportunity to create international consensus regarding them which, in turn, would enhance the parameters’ legitimacy.

Over the past two years, various attempts have been made to create a new international architecture to advance the peace process. However, none of these has been followed through or found to be effective.

Parameters could help here – if they go beyond the speech of an American president and are ratified by the United Nations Security Council or a relevant international forum like the Quartet or an international peace conference.

Sharpen the Israeli discourse regarding the two-state solution – The Israeli discourse regarding the two-state solution includes contradictions and knowledge gaps. Positions regarding it in the large parties tend to be fuzzy and unclear, with general, abstract statements lacking clear political content.

Parameters could help change this. They would clarify what the US really means when it talks about a two-state solution. Israeli opposition parties could adopt the parameters as a clear alternative to the current government’s policy; peace organizations could benefit from the fact that the parameters would banish much of the existing public opaqueness regarding the gist of a future peace agreement; and the Israeli public, most of which is interested in being a part of globalization processes, will understand more precisely what the international community requires from Israel in order to enjoy a fresh start among the nations.

Advance the Israeli quest for recognition – Parameters can be an opportunity for Israel to gain recognition for its Jewish character. Even though the essential need for such a recognition is disputable, the majority of Israelis seek it. Senior US administration officials have already responded favorably to Israel’s quest for such recognition, and it can thus be assumed that the parameters will express this as well. In addition, parameters are expected to emphasize the option of international recognition of west Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (and of east Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine) with the attainment of the two-state solution. In this way, the parameters will not only present demands of Israel, but also show Israel’s public some of the advantages embodied in achieving peace.

(originally published in the Jerusalem Post)

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