After the first day of the Middle East peace conference in Madrid, Secretary of State James A. Baker remarked: “We have to crawl before we walk, and we have to walk before we run. Today I think we all began to crawl.” The secretary’s statement recognizes that the peace conference got off to a slow and rocky start. The best that can be said about it is that the parties met face to face in direct talks, and that the process continues.
That, in itself, is a singular achievement, but the opening round in Madrid in most respects was a depressing display of polemics and histrionics. The parties spelled out maximalist positions, lost an opportunity to reach out to their opponents’ publics or to change attitudes, and talked past each other in an effort to convince the world of their claims. They did not try to grapple with the substance of the problems, and gave only scant evidence of a willingness to compromise. Negotiations, of course, never start with concessions, but the opening round of the Madrid conference inspired little confidence in the ability of the parties to make quick progress in future bilateral talks.
The contrast between the opening Madrid conference and the book No Trumpets, No Drums by Mark Heller and Sari Nusseibeh could not be greater. Two scholars—one Israeli and one Palestinian—have engaged in a nonpolemical and serious effort to spell out the details of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. Their book isthe product of intense and often uneasy discussions over a period of months. Despite early setbacks, the authors saw their project through to completion. They were helped in part by two Americans on the staff of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, who had first brought them together.
The authors’ proposed settlement is a compromise that represents their best judgment of the minimal requirements of each side for a durable peace. They outline a two-state solution—the state of Israel living eventually alongside a small Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza—with constraints on the Palestinians’ exercise of sovereignty within their state. Through their agreement and ensuing friendship, the authors provide an example of what is possible through dialogue.
Heller and Nusseibeh have broken many taboos in the Middle East with this joint effort. They did not come to their conclusions easily. Both see risks in the course they advocate, and the opposition of many on both sides. They recognize that for themselves, as well as for political leaders, the preferred choice is not to accommodate—it is to hold out for longstanding aims in the hope that they might yet someday be realized. Yet they see only one alternative to a compromise involving a two-state solution: a continued stalemate which, they both believe, has greater risks than their proposal for a negotiated peace. Their project was a success because they both agreed that the status quo is unsatisfactory, that a better future is possible, that polemics are unhelpful, and that a settlement can be achieved if there is a willingness to try to accommodate your adversary. There are many lessons for politicians in their experience.
The authors have moved beyond the suggestions of most of the voluminous academic studies on how to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict. In advocating a two-state solution, they present considerable detail on the outlines of such a solution and on some of the many practical steps needed to implement an agreement. They discuss the nature of a transitional period for the West Bank and Gaza before a final settlement is reached, and they concentrate on most of the tough issues that negotiations will have to address—security arrangements, the demarcation of borders, refugees, Israeli settlements, water issues, and Jerusalem.
The book will unfortunately be most valuable for those who are already convinced of the necessity of a compromise. Far more people and governments outside the region are likely to support the Heller-Nusseibeh proposal than those inside it. Israelis and Palestinians each remain burdened by a history that gives them sufficient reason never to accept a two-state compromise. I suspect, moreover, that government officials who read this book will be most impressed by the broad sweep of the scholar’s imagination compared to the narrow concerns of the policy-maker. Heller and Nusseibeh have outlined a compromise peace settlement, while foreign ministers and their top advisers are expending enormous efforts trying to decide the location of the next meeting of the parties that came to Madrid at the end of October.
What the authors have not done in this book is to answer the question: How do you get there from here? They have put forward practical, down-to-earth proposals (the kind that politicians always accuse academics of not providing). But they have not addressed the question of how to create the political will on each side for peace. How do you change public attitudes and motivate political leaders to lead toward compromise? How do politicians get their constituencies to approve this type of solution? How do you persuade the parties that current arrangements are unsatisfactory, and that accommodation and compromise are essential? How can individuals and groups in the region be convinced that the risks of peacemaking are less than the risks of the status quo? Answers to these questions on “means” are a pre-requisite for progress toward the “ends” outlined by the authors. It is the lack of progress on “means” that leads the secretary of state, when he speaks of Middle East peace, to use the image of a child crawling.
Heller and Nusseibeh have mainly dealt in this book with Israeli-Palestinian issues, and therefore say little about other issues central to a comprehensive settlement—the proliferation of sophisticated weaponry in the Middle East and the need for regional arms control, and the links between an Israeli-Palestinian agreement and an agreement between Arab states and Israel, especially an Israeli-Syrian agreement, which might prove the most difficult. These too are critical issues that will affect progress between Israelis and Palestiniansas well as the durability of any peace settlement the Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinians may reach. But these comments on some of the other central debates in the peace process should not distract us from what the authors have accomplished.
No Trumpets, No Drums offers readers the hope that in the end reason will prevail in the Middle East and that the parties to the negotiations, just as Heller and Nusseibeh have done, will reach agreement on the outlines of a common future. In many ways, the process of getting from Madrid to a peace settlement must parallel the process the authors experienced to complete the book. Several observations should be made.
First, Heller and Nusseibeh took several months to reduce their differences to a minimum and to reach their compromises. In the current talks, we are looking at a lengthy negotiating process which will likely take a year or longer. The process will likely have many starts and stops, and some detours. The obstacles are significant: creating confidence in the peace talks, keeping the parties engaged and not discouraged, getting the parties interested in developing compromises, and ensuring that outsiders do not want peace more than the parties themselves. These are exactly the problems Heller and Nusseibeh had to face.
Second, if the peace process started in Madrid entails a process similar to that engaged in by the authors, the negotiations will have to evolve and come to share with the authors a critical premise: that compromise is necessary to achieve real peace. Today, many leaders in the Middle East appear more comfortable with the status quo than with the risks entailed in a compromise.
Heller and Nusseibeh start by agreeing on a two-state solution and then consider how to carry out this solution during the coming years. The parties in Madrid start with no agreement. Rather, they aim to negotiate an interim period of several years for Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza. The Madrid process envisages the completion of this initial series of negotiations on autonomy without prejudging what a final settlement might entail.
Heller and Nusseibeh are also ahead of US policy today. Current US policy precludes support for creation of an independent Palestinian state. The thesis of their book raises tough questions for American policymakers. Is it possible that a solution can be found by the parties that ultimately allows for a Palestinian state with restricted sovereignty? If the parties reach an agreement, why should the United States preclude a solution involving an independent Palestinian state? Is the United States now ruling out that possibility? In many respects, the answers to these questions rely on what is yet to come—the decisions and compromises that the parties may reach themselves.
Third, Heller and Nusseibeh have much that is specific to say about the nature of the proposed Palestinian state. The solution the authors advocate represents a clear compromise on both sides; Israelis would agree to a Palestinian state, and Palestinians would agree to restricted sovereignty and limited freedom of action. As far as Palestinian military forces are concerned, for example,
the underlying principle would be that they waive the capacity to distract the IDF [Israel Defense Force] from its primary mission—foiling a possible invasion by other Arab armies. This would obviously mean a prohibition on any weapons enabling a Palestinian army to participate in combined offensive operations—i.e., tanks, artillery, and surface-to-surface missiles. But it would also imply a ban on equipment classified as “defensive”—such as antitank missiles, antiaircraft missiles, and fortifications of any kind—which could be used to slow down an Israeli advance long enough for main-force units from other Arab states to secure vital strongpoints, especially the mountain ridge, in the West Bank. The basic mission of the army would be to enforce the domestic authority of the government, and for this mission, a force not exceeding three brigades (divided between the West Bank and Gaza in a ratio of 2:1) would suffice. This force would be equipped with personal weapons, armored cars, light mortars, and necessary communications and transportation infrastructure.
There is little evidence that anything approaching a majority of Israelis and Palestinians would agree today to the authors’ proposed solutions. The facts suggest that the intentions of the parties will have to be tested over time before the type of solution Heller and Nusseibeh advocate could be accepted.
For Israel, the key question is whether or not the types of constraints on a proposed Palestinian state mentioned in this book canmake the two-state solution minimally acceptable to Israeli leaders and to a majority of Israelis. Most Israelis are likely to favor a more lengthy transitional period in which agreements are implemented in stages and under which Israel continues to have a military presence. They are likely to say that additional measures must be taken that will limit risks and build confidence. Besides strict limitations on any Palestinian military force that may exist following an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, the authors agree that Israel: 1) needs assurances that no other military force will be stationed there; 2) must have the ability to monitor compliance with those assurances through early-warning installation and other means; and 3) must be able to neutralize quickly any violation of those assurances.
For Palestinians, the question will be whether the details of limited sovereignty will be acceptable to a majority of Palestinians, will satisfy their legitimate political aspirations, and will give promise for real improvements in, and greater control over, their lives in the West Bank and Gaza.
Heller and Nusseibeh are pragmatic in their approach to many other issues—refugees, borders, water issues, Jerusalem, and Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. They say there can be no settlement that does not allow for resettlement of the Palestinian refugees and that does not accept the principle of the right of return. But they also agree that not all Palestinians can return, and that any compensation paid by Israel to Palestinians who do not return must be related to compensation to Jews for properties lost in the Arab world.
The authors were not able to agree on precise borders between the two states, but they did agree that minor rectifications of the pre-1967 borders might be needed. They call for “a maximum degree of porosity or permeability across the borders.” They do not expect Israel, Jordan, and a Palestinian state to become a Middle East Benelux soon, but they observe that when goods, services, capital, and people flow freely across borders, the question of borders becomes less contentious.
Water issues can be resolved, the authors note, once the parties work together. If decisions are left to water experts, backed by capital investment and regional cooperation, far more water resources can be generated for a Palestinian state than are currently available—without curtailing Israeli use. They write:
It is estimated that the average total annual rainfall in the West Bank is approximately 2,900 MCM [million cubic meters]. Even with a high rate of evapotranspiration (2,000 MCM) and runoff (64 MCM), the West Bank is still left with an overall water balance of 836 MCM, which is far in excess of present utilization rates by Palestinians, and still in excess of present utilization rates of West Bank waters by Palestinians and Israelis combined. Much of this potential excess can be exploited by a capital-intensive program to improve the capture, storage, distribution, and utilization of water….
In short, a Palestinian state can potentially have far more water resources at its disposal than are currently available to Palestinians in the West Bank, even without curtailing the use that Israel makes of shared aquifers for agriculture within the Green Line.
The authors agree that Jerusalem must remain a united and integrated city. They offer a compromise which reflects the demography of the city, but which raises questions of whether it can work in the real world. The issue of sovereignty would be “obfuscated” in a two-layer system. First, “Israel’s Jerusalem and Palestine’s Jerusalem” would each have “a separate municipal council that will govern intercrossing and intersecting neighborhoods…. Israel’s Jerusalem will be its capital, while Palestine’s Jerusalem will be its capital, housing the seat of its government.” At the same time, a “metropolitan” municipal authority will be “elected by all residents of Jerusalem” and would assume wide functions, including control of water, sanitation, traffic and a “Jerusalem police force.”
On Israeli settlements, the authors agree that what happened in the Sinai will not happen in the West Bank: settlers will not be forced to evacuate. The authors believe that those settlers in Jewish communities who wish to remain in a Palestinian state
can indeed have a measure of municipal autonomy, similar to the status of Arab municipalities in Israel, which still falls under the overall jurisdiction of the central state authority. It may even be possible to have arrangements whereby the Israeli government is authorized…to subsidize services or construction required by that community, just as various Arab benefactors may beable to provide financial assistance to Arab communities in Israel.
Finally, there is the question of the role of the United States and other outside powers. The solution the parties reach is not something the United States or others can dictate. An imposed peace is no peace at all, whether it is imposed on the West Bank and Gaza or on Yugoslavia. Heller and Nusseibeh agree, judging from the role they map out for extraregional powers. The authors see a role for the United States and others in helping to facilitate negotiations and to mediate disputes, and in reinforcement of agreements eventually reached between the parties through
additional monitoring and verification of provisions, credible guarantees of support for an aggrieved party in the event of a violation, and general assistance for economic and political stabilization.
The authors do not doubt US willingness to undertake such responsibilities. But that is not the question. The results so far suggest that, if progress is to be made, an even greater and more active US participation will be required. If left alone, the parties will accomplish very little. Secretary Baker’s work has only just begun. The Arabs and Israelis are unlikely to reach an agreement without continuous US participation. A more aggressive involvement for the United States will be needed than the authors suggest.
The United States has already invested enormous time, effort, and resources in just getting the parties to Madrid. Yet in the new international environment, it is not clear if it is in the US interest to continue to devote such a large proportion of its foreign policy energies to this endeavor. The end of the cold war and the aftermath of the Gulf war have reduced the importance of the Middle East in global competition.
It is an open question whether the United States will continue to see it as essential to commit extensive time and resources to peace talks in the Middle East if the parties are reluctant to accommodate one another. The United States cannot make an open commitment of the time of the secretary of state. It is difficult to envision an indefinite continuation by the United States of the energies put into the initial Madrid meetings. If Israelis and Palestinians do not seize this opportunity for progress toward peace, they risk losing the attention of the international community. They will be left with each other and their stalemate, without the good offices of the United States or any other acceptable party. This may be a last chance for peace.
Mark Heller suggests early in the book that the two-state solution he and Sari Nusseibeh support is “the least undesirable choice from a short and not very appealing list of options.” That is not a ringing endorsement for the course he advocates, but it is an honest expression of where he has arrived in his thinking. No Trumpets, No Drums is a good map, among others, for Palestinians and Israelis once they come to the conclusion that compromise is essential. When the negotiators are finally ready to walk, and then run, the authors give them a destination and a goal. For that they are deserving of our thanks and praise.
December 19, 1991