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Leapfrogging Barriers to a Two-State Deal

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I'm coming out of the closet as a fan of David Makovsky.

Makovsky is the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow and Director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy -- and for the last couple of years, he has been quietly agitating to get people involved in the Middle East peace business to understand that "sequencing" matters more than anything else right now in the peace process.

Makovsky -- with whom I respectfully disagree on his dismissal of linkage between Iran's growing power and the I/P ulcer -- has been arguing for some time that the best way to actually achieve progress in Israel/Palestine negotiations yielding a safe and secure Israel and a viable and hopefully prosperous Palestine is to definitively resolve "borders" and "security" first.

Makovsky's formula is startling for its simplicity and brilliance -- as it subordinates two of the thorniest problems in the peace process: settlement expansion and Hamas. I believe that Hamas eventually must be a part of the equation, but right now a sensible security formula that pushes two states forward can mitigate the threats that come from Hamas.

And as settlers go, once the lines are decided -- those on one side of the line will know they are in Israel, and those on the other will know that they'll be living in Palestine.

What interests me -- and gives me some reason for optimism right now -- is that in the power DC holiday party circuit ranging from parties thrown both by Hillary Clinton and Joe & Jill Biden respectively last night, or at Politico's party at the Corcoran, or at the reception given by Barack and Michelle Obama for White House correspondents -- there is side chatter going on about a borders/security portal back into Israel/Palestine negotiations. Admittedly, there is chatter going on about Lady Gaga, the life and impact of Richard Holbrooke, and the snowstorm on its way, too -- but Israel/Palestine has not been neglected in cocktail discussions around Christmas trees and menorahs.

And get this:

1. J Street has also been pushing a borders and security first frame.

2. Daniel Levy of the New America Foundation's Middle East Task Force is also about to release a new report that emphasizes borders and security.

3. Martin Indyk who is the foreign policy czar at Brookings has written an important op-ed in the Financial Times endorsing this approach for the most part.

4. The so-called "Elders" of Desmond Tutu, Martti Ahtisaari, Kofi Annan, Lakhdar Brahimi, Gro Brundtland, Graca Machel, Ela Bhatt, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Jimmy Carter, and Mary Robinson have also suggested in point 3 of their recent letter on the Israel/Palestine standoff that "the remaining final status issues can be addressed more effectively once there is an agreement on borders and security."

5. WINEP's David Makovsky has been calling for the same borders and security first strategy before any of the others.

6. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seems to be channeling Richard Holbrooke's tenacious focus on results -- and realizing that the current game is not working and that an approach that involves US-suggested "bridging proposals" that include borders and security may be the way forward.

Clinton recently stated at the 2010 Brookings Saban Forum:

Now, it is no secret that the parties have a long way to go and that they have not yet made the difficult decisions that peace requires. And like many of you, I regret that we have not gotten farther faster in our recent efforts. That is why yesterday and today I met with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and underscored our seriousness about moving forward with refocused goals and expectations.

It is time to grapple with the core issues of the conflict on borders and security; settlements, water and refugees; and on Jerusalem itself. And starting with my meetings this week, that is exactly what we are doing. We will also deepen our strong commitment to supporting the state-building work of the Palestinian Authority and continue to urge the states of the region to develop the content of the Arab Peace Initiative and to work toward implementing its vision.

There is a consensus brewing among progressives in America, big-name foreign policy hands overseas, some neoconservatives, and foreign policy progressive realists that a borders/security strategy is a way to leapfrog over the current impediments to progress.

The formula could be relatively simple - to delineate a border for a Palestinian state that is based on the 67 lines and that allows for landswaps that are equal in size and value to accommodate some of those settlements. A border would of course have to include Jerusalem, but the most sensitive area of the Old City would only be addressed with the other outstanding permanent status issues.

One of the things that really impresses me after a few meetings with Makovsky is his genuine interest in resolving this dispute and getting to two states. Some pretend to be interested in this or that approach to Israel-Palestine negotiations in ways that assure failure. But that is not Makovsky.

The White House should invite David Makovsky and perhaps a few others of the aforementioned in for a talk about sequencing and what it buys for the process. It would be an hour well spent.

Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note. Clemons can be followed on Twitter @SCClemons