US President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry are expected to visit the region together in late March to try and promote an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. It is amazing to see how American policy has not changed in 20 years. Each administration creates expectations regarding a solution to the conflict without reassessing it and asking the basic question: Why have the peace efforts failed so far?
It seems that the American approach is: There is a problem (the conflict), so there must be a solution. What's the solution? Two states. Why hasn't the solution been implemented until now? Apparently because we haven't put enough effort into it. What's the conclusion? We have to try harder.
This conclusion is obviously wrong. The solution has not been implemented yet because both sides don't really want it. For both sides the cost of adopting the solution is much greater than the benefit. From Israel's perspective, the solution has two main problems: One is the great security risk involved in withdrawing to the 1967 borders, along with the possibility that the other side will not keep its promises.
Israel fears that after it withdraws Hamas, or an even worse regime, will rise to power in the West Bank and simply ignore the peace agreement. The other price is the evacuation of at least 120,000 Israelis. The political, social and economic cost would be huge. The direct compensation for the settlers alone would amount to 120 billion shekels (about $32 billion). Where would this money come from? And what about the Palestinian side?
The American assumption may sound reasonable, but it is completely false. According to this assumption, the Palestinians want to free themselves of the "occupation" and establish a small independent state in the West Bank and Gaza. The first part is true, but the second part is not. The Palestinians were never willing to make do with a small state of their own. They want "justice," revenge, recognition as victims and above all - the "right of return."
The Palestinians do not really want a small and divided state, and therefore are not willing to pay the price for it: A commitment to declare an end to the conflict, promising not to make any other demands in the future and recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. When the desire is not genuine, there will not be a willingness on the part of the Palestinians to make "painful compromises," which are necessary for achieving peace.
So what should be done? The Americans must take a few steps back and reexamine their basic assumptions. Most importantly, they should try to determine what is really important for the various players: Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, etc. They should also determine whether the "two states" solution is the only one. Many people believe it is a bad solution, as it has a "zero–sum game" element to it. Perhaps there are other solutions.
Should the Americans insist on the old paradigm, Israel must continue to play the game: Agree to return to the negotiation table without preconditions and recognize that the peace process is a positive thing. Will the process bring peace? Probably not, but that is not the most important thing. The most important thing is that we will not be blamed for its failure.
Giora Eiland is a retired IDF major-general and former head of the National Security Council