With Israeli-Palestinian negotiations nonexistent for most of the last four years, informal talks between academics, public figures and former military and civil officials from both sides are once again currently taking place, often backed by the European Union.

When there are no formal negotiations to speak of, informal talks tend to flourish, said one participant in the informal dialogues collectively known as Track II diplomacy.

According to officials involved in the dialogues, which are being held discreetly, a number of different groups are looking at so-called final-status “core issues” – such as Jerusalem and security – to formulate recommendations of incremental steps that could be implemented to improve the atmosphere between the two sides.

The officials said there has been a lowering of the bar in the discussions from the late ’80s and early ’90s, when the Track II, or back channel, talks led to the Oslo Accords. Now, the officials said, there is much less talk about sweeping, comprehensive agreements, and more about small steps that could – if implemented – help rebuild trust between the two sides.

One of the officials involved said that if in the past the underlying principle of Israeli- Palestinian negotiations was that nothing was agreed upon until everything was agreed, now a different philosophy is emerging in some of these dialogues – that what is agreed upon should be implemented right away to rebuild confidence and show the skeptical publics on both sides that progress is achievable.

While the government is not behind these initiatives, the official said it is aware of at least some of the dialogues and kept abreast of the discussions. The official said that the initiatives can be beneficial to the government down the line because if and when talks are restarted, some of the ideas that have been fleshed out in the informal meetings could be ready to be implemented immediately on the ground.

Brig.-Gen. (res.) Udi Dekel, appointed by then-prime minister Ehud Olmert to lead negotiations with the Palestinians following the 2007 Annapolis meeting, is taking part in one of these dialogues: an ongoing EU-funded project dealing with the way a two-state solution would impact regional security and the regional balance of power.

Dekel’s working group is part of a trilateral (Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian) research project led and managed by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue at Netanya Academic College, in partnership with Palestinian and Jordanian partners organizations, under the auspices of the EU’s “Partnership for Peace” Program.

The overall goal of the project is to present the regional implications of the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Dekel, who said that neither the Palestinian nor Jordanian participants wanted their names revealed at this time, met them in Jordan and is working with them on a regular basis on the project via the Internet. The idea, he explained, was to posit that an Israeli-Palestinian agreement had already been reached and that a Palestinian state was already a reality, and to then look at various models of regional cooperation.

“Our premise is that we already have an agreement, so the question is what kind of regional cooperation can we talk about,” Dekel said, admitting that the initial premise – about an agreement – is a giant leap.

Nevertheless, he said, the exercise is worthwhile because by positing a final structure, or how cooperation could look years down the line, policy makers may be better able to figure out the tactics needed to get there.

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