Former Mideast peace negotiators slam past failures

Beilin: PM may still withdraw from parts of West Bank; Arens: Negotiation advocates in fantasy land.

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January 20, 2016 00:58
3 minute read.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (R) shakes hands with ex-justice minister Yossi Beilin

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (R) shakes hands with former justice minister Yossi Beilin. (photo credit: REUTERS)

A range of former Israeli, Palestinian, and US peace process negotiators on Tuesday slammed failed ideas used in past rounds of talks, while exploring some potential approaches that could shape managing the conflict going forward.

Speaking at the INSS Conference in Tel Aviv, former negotiator and minister Yossi Beilin repudiated US Secretary of State John Kerry’s 2014 tactic of trying to reach a comprehensive deal in only nine months.

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“Kerry’s biggest mistake was trying to reach a final deal in nine months when no one who was an expert here thought this was possible.

He broke his head against the wall and despite setting low expectations… things still blew up into violence,” said Beilin.

Former foreign minister and peace negotiator Tzipi Livni slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current policies of what she characterized as non-action, saying “What is the conflict doing to us? What are the government’s policies doing to us? The more the conflict impacts us, the more we ignore it.”

“What some government officials want, they are just not saying it out loud... is one binational state,” she said. “You want to move from peace negotiations to managing the conflict, fine, but you still need a goal and a vision for managing” – implying Netanyahu does not have a vision.

On this criticism, Livni found an unlikely ally in the form of former internal affairs minister Gideon Sa’ar, who criticized Netanyahu for inaction, but then pivoted to discussing new ideas that Livni would not likely endorse.

Sa’ar said that “the bilateral foundation that operated the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for two decades is no longer valid… it is even hard to come up with a common general direction,” and that in its place the country must push for “a regional process.”

Sa’ar’s new idea was that while many have kicked around the phrase of a “regional peace process,” until now they have only been looking at working with moderate Arab allies “on a tactical level, when instead [what is needed] is [more fundamental] strategic understandings resting on a joint concept of the future.”

Livni likewise offered solutions in lieu of a full negotiated peace, including giving the Palestinians control of new land in Area C of the West Bank.

Moving from critic to optimist, Beilin said he still believed there was a significant likelihood of Netanyahu making some kind of unilateral withdrawal.

He referred to a recent appearance Netanyahu made in the US in which he first used language suggesting he was leaning toward a unilateral withdrawal, but soon after qualified his statement as other potential unilateral measures after criticism from his coalition partners on the Right.

Beilin said sarcastically, “What do we think that he meant, that he’s going to unilaterally respond to terrorism,” expressing his belief that despite the qualifications, Netanyahu could not have been referring to anything “unilateral” besides a withdrawal, since Israel already acts against terrorism and no other alternative explanations make sense.

The idea of a Jewish minority in a future State of Palestine was also floated from an unexpected source.

Despite public opposition from the Palestinian Authority in 2014 to having Jewish citizens in a future State of Palestine, when former Palestinian negotiator Hiba Husseini was asked by a moderator, she offered that during earlier negotiations, the PA “understood it would be difficult to remove so many settlers.”

Accordingly, negotiators introduced “land swaps and allowing a Jewish minority [in Palestine]… as a long-term rational approach to resolving the conflict, it was not viewed as implausible” said Husseini.

Following several panelists offering ideas for moving forward with peace with the Palestinians, former defense minister Moshe Arens poured cold water on the idea, stating, “You are all living in a fantasy land. Abu Mazen cannot cut a deal, implement it or survive it.”


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