What few (and highly flawed) mechanisms the Oslo process of the 1990s and the road map put forward by the international quartet (the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations and Russia) in the early 2000s had for containing violence have long since proved defunct. Needless to say, this formula has been considerably more disadvantageous for the Palestinians than for Israel, which helps explains why Palestinians are seeking action by the U.N. Security Council and possibly even the International Criminal Court.
The absence of even minimal constraints and accountability has left the parties more or less to their own devices, putting developments on the ground and the well-being of both Israelis and Palestinians at the mercy of the power dynamics between the two sides and the wild acts of individuals. The result has been disastrous in both human and political terms — with more than 2,200 Palestinians killed in Gaza (a quarter of them children) and recurring unrest and violence in Jerusalem as well as an endless stream of announcements of further Israeli settlement construction in the last several months.
While there is no going back to the dysfunctional Oslo process or the defunct road map, it may still be possible to salvage the goal of two states living side by side and perhaps even negotiations. However, this will require difficult choices, not only for the Israelis and Palestinians but for the Obama administration as well. First and foremost, any new architecture for the peace process must include genuine mechanisms of accountability as a deterrent to violence by either side and allow for the reintegration of East Jerusalem and Gaza into the process, both of which are integral components of a future Palestinian state.
In the meantime, the United States must work to prevent another serious escalation by pressuring Israel against another catastrophic overreaction. Notwithstanding the brutality of Tuesday’s killing of innocent Israelis, Israel is still the stronger of the two parties and capable of inflicting far more damage on Palestinians. Moreover, another Israeli crackdown on Palestinians like the one that ultimately led to the Gaza war this summer will not bring security to Israelis any more than the murder of innocents in a Jerusalem synagogue will bring freedom to Palestinians.
Allowing for some measure of accountability and a leveling the playing field between Israelis and Palestinians will not be politically popular — certainly not in Washington, where Israel is as much a domestic political issue as a matter of foreign policy. But it is the right thing to do. More important, it may be the only way to prevent further outbreaks of violence and salvage what is left of the two-state solution.