The Ross Plan

This is really much more Dennis Ross' field than mine, so I'd be interested to hear what others have to say about it, but I think the Israel-Palestine agenda he outlined in a column yesterday is a little insane. Check it out:

Priority number one should be a comprehensive ceasefire between Israelis and Palestinians (as opposed to complete resolution of the conflict). This is one area in which even Hamas is likely to share an interest with Israel, in no small part because it could use the respite. Even though this would involve negotiation between Olmert and Abbas (and Abbas would have to ensure that Hamas implements its terms), an effort that forged specific understandings--the Palestinian Authority would halt attacks against Israelis and stop weapons-smugglers; Israel would make no further incursions or arrests--might work.

But a ceasefire is a diplomatic means, not an end in itself. A second priority should be to foster a dialogue between Israelis, Palestinians, and the larger Arab world about the responsibilities of a Palestinian state once it is finally created. How will it interact with Israel and the outside world? The dialogue could hammer out specifics about how normalized Israel-Palestine relations could evolve in stages--and not exist merely at the end of the rainbow.

A third priority--and ultimately the one that will determine the legacy of the Bush administration's statecraft in the Middle East--should be to ensure that Fatah gains strength against Hamas. Fatah must clean up its act, and the Unites States should help. Make no mistake about it, if Hamas wins the next elections in two years (for president and legislative council), the conflict will be transformed from a national conflict into a religious conflict. If that happens, we'll be out of the peace-making business for a long time, and Islamists will be able to dominate the most evocative issue in the region.

This seems badly, badly flawed to me and indeed, overwhelmingly likely to produce the following outcome:

  1. Olmert and Abbas make a cease-fire agreement.
  2. Someone from Hamas violates the cease-fire agreement.
  3. Israel re-occupies the territories.
  4. This discredits Abbas an ineffective in improving the condition of Palestinians.
  5. Hamas wins the election.
  6. Dennis Ross proclaims that conflict has been "transformed between a national conflict into a religious conflict" and America must get "out of the peace-making business for a long time.

As Ross says, the upshot of this will be that "Islamists will be able to dominate the most evocative issue in the region." A great victory for Iran, al-Qaeda, Hamas, Israeli settlers, etc., unfortunate for Israel, bad for the United States, and terrible for the Palestinians. But so why is Ross proposing it?

Any conflict-resolution scenario needs to cope with potential spoilers, which is an intrinsically difficult task. The one thing you really can't do, however, is signal to the spoilers in advance that a single provocation is likely to derail implementation and derail it in a manner likely to bring the spoilers to power. You're just setting yourself up for failure.