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Navigating the Nexus: Charting a Course to Peace in the Middle East - A Bold Opinion on the Feasible Path Ahead


In her capacity as a nonresident senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Ambassador Miriam Sapiro offers a perspective shaped by her extensive experience, including roles at the National Security Council, as a negotiator for the Bosnia Peace Accords, and as Deputy US Trade Representative. Her insights, expressed in this commentary on CNN, shed light on the recent tragic events in Israel and emphasize the urgent need for a lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Sapiro draws parallels between the current situation in the Middle East and the challenges faced during the Bosnian conflict in the 1990s. Emphasizing the critical role of US leadership, she reflects on President Biden's recent visit to Israel and advocates for a template similar to the one that played a pivotal role in brokering peace in Bosnia. The grim circumstances in the Balkans in 1995, marked by ethnic conflict and violence, provide a backdrop to Sapiro's firsthand experience as part of the US team leading talks that ultimately resulted in the Dayton Agreement.

Highlighting the importance of intervention when all other options fail, Sapiro details the strategic use of aggressive diplomacy and the threat of NATO airstrikes to bring the Bosnian Serbs to the negotiating table. The agreement on guiding principles for peace negotiations, reached in Dayton, Ohio, serves as a historical precedent for a potential pathway to peace in the Middle East.

As the humanitarian crisis intensifies and the specter of wider escalation looms, Ambassador Miriam Sapiro advocates for a concerted effort to move beyond the current bloodshed. Her commentary serves as a call to action, drawing on past successes to envision a viable path toward a comprehensive settlement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the quest for peace in Bosnia, the US took a resolute stance, ensuring that all parties, including Serbia, Croatia, and the Bosnian Muslims, understood the substantial costs of non-cooperation. Drawing parallels to the current Middle East crisis, Ambassador Miriam Sapiro emphasizes the necessity of a firm hand and robust US leadership for any potential peace deal.

Reflecting on the Bosnian experience, Sapiro notes that direct engagement with the top Bosnian Serbs was avoided due to their role in atrocities, with their interests represented by Belgrade. Similarly, she suggests that Hamas' leadership would not be welcome at the negotiating table in potential Mideast peace talks.

The success in Bosnia was attributed, in part, to strong incentives for parties to reach a deal and disincentives for failure. Sapiro advocates for a similar approach in the Middle East, proposing incentives like genuine reconstruction of Gaza, infrastructure development in both Gaza and the West Bank, and increased access within the West Bank, along with road links to Gaza.

Furthermore, Sapiro underscores the importance of involving European, Arab, and other stakeholders in the Balkans, highlighting their roles in reconstruction, training, and integration. In the context of Mideast peace, she emphasizes the need to identify crucial roles for Israel's neighbors and the broader international community, including exploring the willingness of Saudi Arabia to recognize Israel.

To galvanize regional support, Sapiro suggests the formation of a Mideast contact group, akin to the Bosnia Contact Group, with core members including Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. Qatar, given its constructive role in mediation, could be included if it acts positively. The overarching goal is to mobilize a regional coalition, akin to past efforts in Bosnia, to facilitate a comprehensive peace agreement in the Middle East.

The recent Hamas attack raises questions about the United States' ability to navigate internal tensions while maintaining its role as an indispensable international partner, a concept emphasized by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Despite domestic challenges, the U.S. remains pivotal, as illustrated by its indispensable role in the Bosnia conflict.

The potential for renewed peace efforts in the Middle East hinges on Israel's ability to dismantle Hamas' infrastructure while securing ongoing support from regional allies and the U.S. The success of this objective remains uncertain, and the duration of the conflict in Gaza poses a risk to Israel's regional and international support. Sustaining backing is crucial for isolating Hamas financially, militarily, and politically.

Amid the complex dynamics, countries like Egypt and Gulf nations face shared concerns regarding the threats posed by Iran and groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. This shared interest should motivate them to contribute to the isolation of Hamas and actively participate in future peace talks.

To maintain international and moral support, Israel must demonstrate a commitment to upholding international humanitarian law, even in the face of an enemy that strategically places military assets near civilian facilities. Urgency in providing aid to Gaza and minimizing civilian casualties is paramount.

The outcome of negotiations will also be influenced by the leadership that emerges in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing coalition, focused on settlement expansion in the West Bank, diverged from the two-state solution outlined in the Oslo Accords. The nature of future leadership in Israel will play a crucial role in the success of peace talks, requiring a departure from policies that hindered cooperation and economic development in the region.

Granting Israeli voices advocating for a comprehensive peace settlement a more influential role in policy formation is crucial. Equally significant is determining who will represent the Palestinians. It's time to explore concrete measures to empower those Palestinians committed to peace and foster the emergence of new, constructive leaders.

Despite the challenges faced by the Palestinian Authority, it's essential to acknowledge the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for peace, security, and dignity. Collaborative efforts from Israel, the United States, the European Union, and notably the Gulf states are needed to address issues such as corruption, create economic opportunities, and establish robust local Palestinian institutions for effective governance, not only in the West Bank but also in Gaza. Neglecting these aspects could lead to a political vacuum exploited by the next iteration of Hamas, backed by Iran.

A concerted commitment from the United States to negotiations, coupled with tangible support from regional actors to counter Hamas and strengthen the Palestinian Authority, alongside the emergence of leaders from both sides supporting a two-state solution, offers hope. By thinking strategically and acting tactically, similar to the eventual progress in Bosnia, there's a potential for sowing the seeds of a better future and a chance for peace in the Middle East.

In conclusion, the path to lasting peace in the Middle East demands a nuanced and collaborative approach. Granting Israeli voices advocating for comprehensive peace a more influential role in policy-making is a critical step, alongside a concerted effort to empower Palestinians committed to peace and cultivate new, constructive leadership. Despite the challenges faced by the Palestinian Authority, acknowledging the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for peace, security, and dignity is paramount.

International cooperation, particularly involving Israel, the United States, the European Union, and the Gulf states, is essential in addressing issues such as corruption, fostering economic opportunities, and building strong local Palestinian institutions. Neglecting these aspects risks leaving a political vacuum that could be exploited by the next iteration of Hamas with support from Iran.

The prospect of peace in the Middle East lies in a strong U.S. commitment to negotiations, supported by tangible efforts from regional players to counter Hamas and strengthen the Palestinian Authority. The emergence of leaders from both sides who endorse a two-state solution further enhances this hopeful trajectory. By adopting a strategic mindset and implementing tactical measures, akin to the successful model in Bosnia, the region stands a chance at sowing the seeds for a better future and achieving lasting peace.