The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has become a bad play. It is obvious that all the parties are just acting out the same old scenes, with the same old tired cliches - and that no one believes any of it anymore. There is no romance, no sex, no excitement, no urgency - not even a sense of importance anymore. The only thing driving the peace process today is inertia and diplomatic habit. Yes, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has left the realm of diplomacy. It is now more of a calisthenic, like weight-lifting or sit-ups, something diplomats do to stay in shape, but not because they believe anything is going to happen. And yet, as much as we, the audience, know this to be true, we can never quite abandon hope for peace in the Holy Land. It is our habit. Indeed, as I ranted about this to a Jordanian friend the other day, he said it all reminded him of an old story.
"These two guys are watching a cowboy and Indian movie. And in the opening scene, an Indian is hiding behind a rock about to ambush the handsome cowboy," he explained. "'I bet that Indian is going to kill that cowboy,' one guy says to the other. 'Never happen,' his friend answers. 'The cowboy is not going to be killed in the opening scene.' 'I'll bet you $10 he gets killed,' the guy says. 'I'll take that bet,' says his friend.
"Sure enough, a few minutes later, the cowboy is killed, and the friend pays the $10. After the movie is over the guy says to his friend: 'Look, I have to give you back your $10. I'd actually seen this movie before. I knew what was going to happen.' His friend answers: 'No, you can keep the $10. I'd seen the movie, too. I just thought it would end differently this time.'"
This peace process movie is not going to end differently just because we keep playing the same reel. It is time for a radically new approach. And I mean radical. I mean something no U.S. administration has ever dared to do: Take down our "Peace-Processing-Is-Us" sign and just go home.
Right now we want it more than the parties. They all have other priorities today. And by constantly injecting ourselves, we've become their Novocain. We relieve all the political pain from the Arab and Israeli decision-makers by creating the impression in the minds of their publics that something serious is happening. "Look, the U.S. secretary of state is here. Look, she's standing by my side. Look, I'm doing something important! Take our picture. Put it on the news. We're on the verge of something really big, and I am indispensable to it." This enables the respective leaders to continue with their real priorities - which are all about holding power or pursuing ideological obsessions - while pretending to advance peace, without paying any political price.
Let's just get out of the picture. Let all these leaders stand in front of their own people and tell them the truth: "My fellow citizens: Nothing is happening; nothing is going to happen. It's just you and me and the problem we own."
Indeed, it's time for us to dust off James Baker's line: "When you're serious, give us a call: 202-456-1414. Ask for Barack. Otherwise, stay out of our lives. We have our own country to fix."
The fact is, the only time America has been able to advance peace - post-Yom Kippur War, Camp David, post-Lebanon war, Madrid and Oslo - has been when the parties felt enough pain for different reasons that they invited our diplomacy, and we had statesmen - Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter, George Shultz, James Baker and Bill Clinton - savvy enough to seize those moments.
Today, the Arabs, Israel and the Palestinians are clearly not feeling enough pain to do anything hard for peace with each other - a mood best summed up by a phrase making the rounds at the State Department: The Palestinian leadership "wants a deal with Israel without any negotiations" and Israel's leadership "wants negotiations with the Palestinians without any deal."
It is obvious that this Israeli government believes it can have peace with the Palestinians and keep the West Bank, this Palestinian Authority still can't decide whether to reconcile with the Jewish state or criminalize it and this Hamas leadership would rather let Palestinians live forever in the hellish squalor that is Gaza than give up its crazy fantasy of an Islamic Republic in Palestine.
If we are still begging Israel to stop building settlements, which is so manifestly idiotic, and the Palestinians to come to negotiations, which is so manifestly in their interest, and the Saudis to just give Israel a wink, which is so manifestly pathetic, we are in the wrong place. It's time to call a halt to this dysfunctional "peace process," which is only damaging the Obama team's credibility.
If the status quo is this tolerable for the parties, then I say, let them enjoy it. I just don't want to subsidize it or anesthetize it anymore. We need to fix America. If and when they get serious, they'll find us. And when they do, we should put a detailed U.S. plan for a two-state solution, with borders, on the table. Let's fight about something big.