Ten Commandments for Mideast Peace: Three Former Peace Negotiators for Israel, the U.S., and Palestine Lay out a Common Plan That Could Provide the Basis for an Israeli-Palestinian Final Settlement. All That's Required Is Some Political Courage and Leadership

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IT HAS BARELY BEEN NOTICED, BUT THERE HAS BEEN A change for the better in the Bush administration's thinking--or at least talking--about the Middle East. For the first time in six years, Washington is putting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations near the top of its agenda. For the first time, it wants those negotiations to address the fundamental political issues that divide the two sides and has begun to evoke the need to lay out what the administration calls a political horizon. And for the first time, it seems willing to take a risk. There was even a whiff of Bill Clinton in this most un-Clintonesque of administrations when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggested that dealing with provisional issues would be just as difficult as dealing with permanent ones, and hardly as rewarding.

This news is long in the waiting, but it's good news nonetheless. Movement on the peace process is important on its own merits, but--more important from a U.S. perspective--there are critical benefits to America's national security as well. The United States faces greater challenges today from the Middle East than perhaps at any other time in its history, yet it purposefully deprives itself of a major asset in that struggle when it walks away from Arab-Israeli diplomacy. A fair and energetic U.S. role would help restore America's battered credibility abroad, bolster pragmatic forces throughout the region, deprive violent groups of an easy recruiting tool, and help achieve broader objectives in the Middle East. Not everything in the region would be cured as a result of a credible Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but virtually nothing can be cured without it.

During the 1990s and into the early 2000s, the three of us worked on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for our respective peace teams--Israeli, American, and Palestinian. Much has changed since those days, little of it for the better. Still, many lessons remain--from the failures no less than from successes-of that previous experience. Whether the Bush administration carries through on its self-proclaimed objectives (and there is some reason to doubt it will) or whether the task of reinvigorating peace efforts falls to the next president, we herewith offer 10 recommendations regarding what the United States ought to do--and what it ought to avoid.

[1] IT'S THE ENDGAME, STUPID.

The time for interim agreements--agreements that, as in the 1990s, defined incremental steps both parties should take--is long past. Because they satisfy neither side's essential needs, and because both sides know that the final compromises still await, partial agreements tend to diminish what they seek to augment, if what they seek to augment is mutual confidence. The temptation--always present, seldom resisted--is to create new facts on the ground that are prejudicial to a permanent-status deal. Though it won't be easy, America's primary focus should be on resolving the conflict through a comprehensive settlement.

When the Oslo Accords were signed, Israelis and Palestinians imagined it would take five years of gradual steps before they could resolve all outstanding issues. At last count, they were marking the seventh anniversary of that long-missed deadline. The delay is frustrating, perpetuates hardship, adds to obstacles on the ground, and fuels regional tensions. Yet it does even more than that: Over time, it is killing faith among both peoples in the possibility of a viable two-state solution. The loss of hope, in turn, risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Israelis and the Palestinians, given their weak leaderships, are unlikely to reach an agreement on their own. That means that the United States must put forward, at the right time, more specific ideas on a permanent settlement, describing the desired trade-offs and possible compromises. This should not be rushed, should not be proposed without sufficient international support, and should not be done out of desperation that all else has failed. …