WASHINGTON (CN) – Former National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones said on Monday there is “reason for optimism” that Israel and Palestine are on track to reach a two-state solution.
Speaking at the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit research organization, Jones added that the Obama administration’s approach to Middle East peace talks has been the most promising effort yet.
“We are at a point where something has to happen,” said Jones, who stepped down as President Obama’s national security adviser in October. “I don’t think it’s likely that we’ll have this convergence between external entities – the Arab world, the Europeans and us – that have this historic sense that this is the moment.”
Stephen Hadley, who served as national security adviser under President George Bush and also spoke at the event, said the past approach of trying to resolve all the issues before coming to any agreement is too difficult.
“You have to have a framework agreement that sets out basic principles on all issues,” Hadley said.
As one example, Hadley suggested that the parties could focus on border and security issues before tackling the creation of a Palestinian state.
He added that working to set up a separate Palestinian state would buy time for the parties to work out issues over the right of return, refugees and Jerusalem.
Jones and Hadley agreed that the United States would have to be the driving force behind an agreement.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas campaigned for president on a platform of reaching peace through negotiation instead of violence, “but that’s five years ago,” Hadley said.
Gen. Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser under Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush, also did not hold out for Israel and Palestine resolving their issues alone.
“They are unlikely ever to be able to come to an agreement by themselves,” said Scowcroft, who co-chairs the Aspen Strategy Group.
With Israeli and Palestinian leaders grappling with opposition groups, Scowcroft said “they’ve got to have a scapegoat.”
Hadley said Israel and Palestine could be urged toward an agreement if Obama presented a comprehensive plan proposing two democratic states – Israel as the home for Jewish people and Israeli citizens, and Palestine as the home for Palestinian people.
Jones said concern over Iran has spurred much of the consensus on Middle East peace talks among Europe, the Arab world and the United States.
“The shadow of Iran lurks ominously on the horizon as a potentially bigger problem for the Arab world,” Jones said.
The possibility of a nuclear Iran could trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and open the door for terrorist organizations to access the technology, Jones said.
“This is a moment that has enormous potential,” he said.
Hadley cited polls that show 60 percent of Palestinians and Israelis want peace.
The speakers discussed how peace between Israel and Palestine would further empower Abbas and help to isolate Iran, forcing it to negotiate over its nuclear capabilities.
“A peace process that is ongoing … is probably one of the best things that we can do to show Iran that its path is the wrong path,” Jones said.
The former security advisers said failure to ratify the New Start Treaty, which calls for a drawdown of nuclear arms in the United States and Russia, would harm gains in the Middle East.
Jones said the Senate’s failure to ratify the treat – which Obama is backing during the lame duck Congress – would be a “blow” to both Obama and the United States on the global stage.
“It is a national security imperative for the United States,” Obama said at a White House meeting on Friday. “We need to ratify New Start to put in place on-the-ground inspections of Russian nuclear arsenals, to reduce our deployed weapons and launchers and to build on our cooperation with Russia – which has helped us put pressure on Iran and helped us to equip our mission in Afghanistan.”
Hadley said he would like to see the treaty passed after the start of the new Congress in January.
“There are all kinds of reasons for passage for this Start treaty, and I shudder to think what would happen if we didn’t get it,” Jones said.
Scowcroft said: “Psychologically, it will hurt the reset with Russia. … There is a gradual thawing here and we ought to encourage it and strengthen it.”