Senior Obama administration officials have discussed whether President Obama should propose his own solution to the intractable conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, including in a recent meeting between the president and seven former and current national security advisers, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
But officials, confirming a report Wednesday on the March 24 session by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, said there has been no decision to offer such a plan, either in the coming months or later this year. Officials said a presidential peace plan — as opposed to “bridging proposals” that would be offered during peace talks between the two sides — has long been considered an option for Obama. But they said the administration, now locked in tense talks with Israel about making confidence-building overtures to the Palestinians, is focused on arranging indirect talks between the two sides.
Some officials said the notion that Obama could offer his own plan might undercut those nascent efforts, because it could lead to a backlash among Israel’s supporters and encourage the Palestinians not to make any concessions to Israel. Israeli officials have long opposed the introduction of an unilateral American plan, while Arab officials have pressed hard for one, saying it is the only way to break the impasse.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who will visit Washington next week, recently told the Wall Street Journal that he will push Obama to offer his own plan because “tremendous tension” in the region over the failure to resolve the conflict has resulted in a “tinderbox that could go off at any time.”
Still, it is notable that Obama would attend a discussion of such a concept with outside advisers. The president had popped into a meeting that national security adviser James L. Jones regularly holds with six of his predecessors at the White House when the subject turned to the Middle East. Brent Scowcroft, a national security adviser to Presidents Gerald R. Ford and George H.W. Bush, made the case for an American-designed proposal and was supported by other participants in the room, including Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, and Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger, national security adviser to President Bill Clinton.
Obama, however, did not tip his hand on whether he supported the idea, participants said.
The basic parameters of a peace deal are well known and would probably closely resemble the “Clinton parameters,” offered by Clinton 10 years ago in the waning days of his presidency: land swaps to compensate the Palestinians for much of the land taken by Jewish settlements in the West Bank; billions of dollars in compensation to the Palestinians for giving up the right to return to their homes in Israel; an Israeli capital in West Jerusalem and a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, with an agreement on oversight of religious sites in the Old City.
Advocates of an American plan say the two parties are incapable of making such concessions themselves; the current Israeli government, for instance, won’t halt Jewish construction in East Jerusalem despite intense U.S. pressure. But detractors say such a plan is only a recipe for putting pressure on Israel, while even some supporters caution that the timing must be right — such as in the midst of viable peace talks — or else the impact of the gesture might be wasted.
A major stumbling block to any peace plan is that 1.5 million people — almost 40 percent of the Palestinian population — live in the Gaza Strip, now controlled by the Hamas militant group, which rejects any peace talks as well as the very existence of Israel. That was not the situation when Clinton offered his proposal, which envisioned a Palestinian state consisting of Gaza and the West Bank, joined by highways.