Biden should look to his favorite peace deal to make progress with Israel and Palestine
- For decades, world leaders have responded to the
Israel-Palestineconflict with unsuccessful attempts at final status negotiations.
- After recent fighting, the situation requires an end to the 30-year fetishization of a peace process and a focus on peacebuilding.
- John Lyndon is the executive director at the
Alliance for Middle East Peace.
Following the marked rise in violence in
For decades, international leaders have reflexively responded to such volatility with an attempt to convene high level - ultimately unsuccessful - final status negotiations.
It is clear that this moment demands a new framework that drops its 30-year fetishization of a peace process, and focuses instead on peacebuilding.
Now is the right transitory moment for an ambitious bottom-up approach. Benjamin Netanyahu - who has served as prime minister for over 20% of Israel's history - has been dramatically pushed from office. The rule of Mahmoud Abbas-- Chairman of the PLO for 30% of its history - seems at its lowest ever ebb. An era is ending, but a new one is not yet ready to be born.
The plain truth is that this new Israeli coalition, which ranges from the far-right to the left, and from Islamist to Religious Zionist, is structurally incapable of ending the occupation that began 54 years ago.
Yet even with stronger and more committed leaders, it is difficult for diplomacy to work when distrust between Israelis and Palestinians is at an all-time high, with 90% of Palestinians and 79% of Israelis believing it impossible to trust one another.
Enter the Biden Administration. For the first time in decades no one is clamoring for a quixotic US-led effort to deliver a final status agreement. This can and should liberate the Biden team to lower their gaze one rung below such a deal, and lay the sort of foundation that can make peace more likely over the longer term.
This approach has never been properly tested in Israel/Palestine - but it underpinned the most successful US-led peace process in history, and President Biden happened to be one of its most vocal champions.
At the core of this strategy was the International Fund for Ireland (IFI) which the UK's chief negotiator called the "great unsung hero" of the Good Friday Agreement. Then-Sen. Biden called the IFI "a commitment of American aid of which this body can be justly proud."
Starting 12 years before a peace deal, the fund allowed for the incremental but highly scaled approach to conflict resolution.
It invested and leveraged over $2.4B in funding for economic and civic peacebuilding projects, creating the ideas, infrastructure, institutions and cross-community relationships that built trust among Catholics and Protestants, incentivizing their leaders to take the sort of risks that peace depends upon.
These are the civic and political raw materials that generations of Middle East envoys have lacked. Until now.
Last December, the bipartisan Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act (MEPPA) promised $250M over the next five years toward the same sort of civil society and economic programs that proved critical in Northern Ireland.
More than that, there is growing enthusiasm from US allies across the political spectrum to not only join, but expand the effort into a genuine international fund, pooling their resources and expertise.
We know the lessons from Northern Ireland are transferable because we've already seen these projects work in Israel/Palestine. As former UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband said, they were the "only chink of light" during last month's violence.
Peacebuilders organized joint clean-ups of synagogues and mosques that have been desecrated, rallied Arab and Jewish mayors to urge unity and peace between both people, and mounted daily demonstrations and events calling for peace and equality.
One is left wondering what might be different had these ideas, leaders and institutions been invested in at scale 10 or 20 years ago.
It is never too late to do the right thing. The Biden administration now has a legacy-defining opportunity to put the Palestinians and Israelis committed to those values in the driving seat at this moment of transition.
If given political backing and resources they can write this next chapter, and reimagine the parameters that a generation of politicians and diplomats will go on to work within.
John Lyndon is the executive director at the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP).
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