In September and October 2008, the RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy conducted a series of exercises to help policymakers in the new U.S. administration more effectively address the challenges of the Arab-Israeli conflict (and of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular) as a key component of the broader effort to secure stability in the Middle East. We sought to achieve this objective by drawing on the insights of leading experts and former government officials through a strategic planning exercise that illuminated (1) key security and other challenges in Arab-Israeli (and related Middle East) relationships, (2) derivative linkages and threats to U.S. regional and international security interests, and (3) alternative strategies the new administration could pursue in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian problem and other regional issues. In May 2009, a subset of the initial exercise participants reconvened to reassess the results from the 2008 exercises in light of then-current circumstances in the region.
Two dominant sentiments emerged from the deliberations of the highly diverse group of exercise participants based on the hypothetical challenges presented and on the alternative strategies for the region: (1) the extraordinary importance of the Arab-Israeli conflict and (2) the conclusion that the new administration cannot put Arab-Israeli peacemaking on the back burner. The May 2009 roundtable discussion unequivocally reaffirmed the broad consensus from the fall 2008 exercises: The Arab-Israeli conflict should be a top national security priority, and substantial progress remains possible.
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The Exercise: “The Day After . . . in Jerusalem”