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A remarkable, brilliant exercise in public diplomacy

Al-Jazeera has done a great service to Israelis, Palestinians: What our leaders have been hesitant to tell us, has been done for them.

A remarkable, brilliant exercise in public diplomacy
Photo by: AP [file]
Much has been written and said about the recent Al-Jazeera leaks. Pages of articles and analyses scrutinizing the documents; reporting on their content, the timing of their release, the motive behind their publication and the figures behind the negotiating teams are as plentiful as the leaked documents themselves. And both seem to still be flowing.

Given that the earth is now moving under our feet, there is no better time to pause and ponder on where this new development is leading us; or better yet, on where we, the region’s citizens and leaders alike, would like to steer this new development.

Even this simple exercise, however, of assessing where we are now, envisioning where we would like to be in a number of years and contemplating how we are going to get there, requires that we establish what we believe is in our interest as Israelis. While we are a nation which abounds with ideas and ideologies, luckily, polls show that it is still safe to say that the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state lies at the heart of our desires.

WITH THIS in mind, three points are worth considering.

First, the Al-Jazeera leaks have been a remarkable and brilliant exercise in public diplomacy. For Israelis, no better testimony exists to the fact that the Palestinian negotiating team (which, unlike the Israeli counterpart, is comprised of the same core people since the Oslo days) is a serious partner with real and known red lines, creativity and flexibility and a great will to see this conflict solved.

What the Geneva Initiative team invested great resources in – with our recent clips of Palestinian leaders telling Israelis that they are our partners for a peace agreement – has now been communicated, yet again, as the naked truth; without cameras, lighting or makeup.

Second, there is a tremendous gap between what goes on in the negotiating room, what has been said and discussed in these rooms for years and decades and what we are told by our leaders goes on in there. The cat is finally out the bag and nothing will be as it was before. Not when we are told that Jerusalem is off the table (and it is therefore “safe” for Shas to stay in the coalition). And not when we are threatened that the Palestinians insist on not recognizing Israel as a Jewish state so that they can flood us with their refugees (the papers show a number of creative solutions for this issue, none of which involve the annihilation of Israel).

The documents show that the wheel will most likely not be re-invented in trying to solve this conflict and that through the many official and unofficial negotiation rounds, the parameters of an agreement have already been found – they just need to be finalized.

This is perhaps Al Jazeera’s greatest service to Israelis and Palestinians alike: what our leaders have been so hesitant (no to mention afraid) to come out with and tell us, has been done for them. Without frills or fuss. The plain truth. And we are all still here. In this respect, a huge weight has been lifted off our leaders’ shoulders because in the next round of negotiations, we’ll know.

Third, the concept of a “package deal” is one of the keys to solving the conflict. The documents illustrate most poignantly what pragmatics have been reiterating when it comes to negotiations: the tone needs to be changed from a zero-sum game to a win-win situation.

Apart from the obvious fact that Israel has to gain from an end to the conflict, a future agreement will entail clauses where our concessions will override theirs and others where their compromises will supersede ours. The extremists on both sides will always emphasize those instances where their side is required to go the long and painful extra mile.

We, as a public – and now a more informed public – need to (and now clearly can) go that same extra mile to retrieve the full picture. And when that full picture is unveiled, we will see a compromise with painful issues for both sides, but in which both can emerge as winners.

The writer is the director of foreign relations at the Geneva Initiative.


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