Israelis and Palestinians are facing their most difficult negotiation since Menachem Begin flew west to face Egyptian President Anwar Sadat a generation ago at
Sadly, the final hurdles that diplomats, chief among them Secretary of State
Of course, the Palestinians have recognized the state of Israel during negotiations under prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin,
But for those interested in moving forward, it seems a worthy exercise to try to satisfy this requirement.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the first or the most intractable faced by Western diplomacy. In 1972, the question of Taiwan stood in the way of a Sino-American rapprochement. But
In that negotiation, as in the Holy Land today, there was a fierce battle over definitions. Mao's mainland government insisted on stating that "the People's Republic of China is the sole legal government of China… [and] the liberation of Taiwan is China's internal affair."
But the able diplomats on the U.S. negotiating team proposed language for a joint Washington-Beijing declaration that became the operative component of what we call the Shanghai Communique: "The U.S. acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China."
Following this declaration in February 1972, all sides eventually agreed to defer the core issues of the conflict so as to begin a dialogue on how they might one day come together, opening the lines of communication, trade and investment across the strait, all of which has been knitting the Chinese people back together in a web of constructive interaction. There are still many problems across the strait, but Nixon's achievement, enabled by creative diplomacy, opened a new chapter in Asia.
For Israelis and Palestinians, a version of the Shanghai formula, orchestrated by the U.S. and other Western nations, could address Netanyahu's concerns by allowing him and his Palestinian partner,
Further, Israelis recognize the Palestinian state with the understanding that it is the right of its citizens to define its national character. Likewise, Palestinians recognize the state of Israel and that it is for the Israelis to define their national character. Neither side should interfere in the internal affairs of the other in this process.
Netanyahu may not fully agree with such a formulation, but the task of creative diplomats will be to find the means for political expression with which each leader can defend the historical narrative and definitions of domestic constituencies.
The genius of the Shanghai Communique was that it deferred the red-hot issues of war and legitimacy to an unspecified future. Taiwan initially denounced the document as an American sellout and a surrender to "Red" China. But its leaders came around to the wisdom of engaging its mainland rival on trade, commerce and investment as long as the U.S. guaranteed the island's security by selling Taiwan defensive arms.
Deferral is the key ingredient for Middle East peace. Let both sides recognize each other as states, and leave the full expression of national character and the future to its citizens, where it belongs.