ATbar The Changing American Role in the Peace Process - What can we expect from Barak’s election?
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The Changing American Role in the Peace Process - What can we expect from Barak’s election?

19/07/1999 | by Ganor, Boaz (Prof.)  

Toward the end of Natanyahu’s term as Prime Minister of Israel, particularly after the signing of the Wye Agreement, the Americans’ role in the Israeli-Palestinian Peace process underwent a change. This change entailed a shift from the role of “honest broker” to that of active partner. The United States became the arbitrator charged with determining whether the parties were fulfilling their obligations, and in particular, whether the Palestinian Authority was doing its best to thwart terror attacks against Israel.

From the Israeli point of view, the Americans’ new role in the Peace process has both advantages and disadvantages. On the negative side, the increased American involvement reflects a decline in the direct contact between Israel and the Palestinians. America's Role.JPG

Moreover, although the American government has so far appeared to fulfill a constructive, and objective, role as an honest broker between the parties, the truth of the matter is that the American arbitration has not really been put to the test, due to the lack of large-scale terror attacks. In the face of such an attack, it is fair to assume that the American interest and desire to advance the peace process “at all costs,” may lead them to cut corners, turning a blind eye or toning down the issue of Palestinian Authority’s responsibility for preventing the attack.

On the other hand, by the end of Natanyahu’s term as Prime Minister, considerable importance was attached to the Americans’ role as an arbitrator between the parties. The question was, and remains, how to motivate Arafat to use his influence to thwart terror attacks in Israel—whether by destroying the fundamentalist infrastructure of Hamas and Islamic Jihad within Palestinian Authority territory or by persuading the leaders of the organizations not to carry out attacks.

Israel’s former Prime Minister, the late Yitzhak Rabin, adopted a strategy of “advancing the peace process as if there were no terror attacks and fighting terror as if there were no peace process.” This policy was a mistake, in that it created a situation whereby terror attacks did not endanger the national Palestinian interests (removing Israel from the occupied areas and establishing a Palestinian state) and therefore there was no motivation for the Palestinian Authority to genuinely work to combat terrorism. In this respect, Rabin employed a “carrot-and-stick” policy, only without the “stick.”

Former Prime Minister Netanyahu amended this error by sending a clear message to the Palestinian Authority that “there is a political price to be paid for terror,” that in effect, terror attacks would harm the Palestinians’ national interests. However, Netanyahu went to the opposite extreme. Even in the absence of large-scale terror attacks, the peace process was in no danger of going anywhere! Thus Netanyahu used only the “stick,” with no political “carrot” being offered to the Palestinians.

This situation naturally did not motivate Arafat to combat terrorism. In essence, the furnishing of this motivation was left to the Americans. Although Arafat had given up on his Israeli partner, he passionately wished to satisfy his new American partner and he knew that large-scale terror attacks would harm Palestinian interests. Thwarting the terror attacks was therefore intended to satisfy, not the Israeli side in the negotiations, but the American side.

The new Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, has also declared a“stick-and-carrot” approach regarding Palestinian counter-terrorist policies. In the absence of attacks, the peace process will go forward, while any large-scale terror attacks will result in delays in the implementation of agreements and hence, a delay in the realization of Palestinian national goals.

The proper use of the “stick-and-carrot” policy would thus seem to make the Americans’ active arbitrating role redundant. However, in the event of a resumption of major terror attacks, Israel would be compelled to fall back on the “stick” part of the policy, by suspending the implementation of the agreements. In such a case, American support for this political “stick-and-carrot” policy would play a role in motivating the Palestinian Authority to actively work to thwart terrorist attacks. Thus, a clear American support of the policy would help to keep the peace, resulting in a reduction of terrorist activity while promoting the implementation of the agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.