Egypt has more to lose than to gain if it abrogates the peace treaty with Israel, international law expert Prof. Ruth Lapidot told the annual Jerusalem convention of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on Wednesday.

Lapidot noted that under international law, Egypt is obligated to abide by treaties in line with the principles of the continuity of states regardless of changes in the regime. Continuity of states means that the country and the people remain the same even if the government changes, she explained.

There are certain conditions under which a state can repudiate a treaty, she said, for example the complete disregard of its essential provisions by one of the parties.

The only issue on which Egypt may have cause for complaint, Lapidot observed, was the limitations on its forces in Sinai. The Egyptians don’t like this concept, but settled for this wording in preference to demilitarization of the peninsula. But this is not an issue that can spearhead the breaking of a treaty. It is an issue that can be negotiated, she insisted. In fact the treaty provides for peaceful negotiation of disputes.

Prof. Shlomo Avineri, professor of political science at the Hebrew University and a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry, spoke of the possibility of a peace treaty with the Palestinian Authority.

Eventually there will be a peace treaty based on a two-nation solution, and more or less along the pre-1967 borders, he said, “but it won’t happen any time soon.”

Avineri doubted whether the Netanyahu administration could make any further headway with the PA than the “moderate Olmert administration.” Moreover he said, the Olmert government had been committed to a two-state solution in a very explicit way. Both Olmert and PA President Mahmoud Abbas had an interest in seeing a positive outcome to the negotiations, said Avineri, who speculated that if Olmert had succeeded, he would probably still be prime minister and the “cloud” hanging over his head would have taken a back seat.

For Abbas, a positive outcome would have been interpreted as a coup over Hamas.

What can be learned from the failure of a “more moderate government” is that the gaps on both sides run deep said Avineri, citing borders and settlements, Jerusalem, refugees and security as the most pertinent points of difference.

Although logical solutions might come up in academic discussions, in reality they wouldn’t work, Avineri said.

He cited a scenario whereby Israel had control of the Western Wall while Palestinians controlled the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. If Jews violated the regulations on the Temple Mount or Palestinians threw rocks at Jews praying at the Western Wall, which police force – the Israeli or the Palestinian – would be responsible for restoring order without creating an international incident, Avineri asked.

It was very difficult to find an acceptable solution, because at the end of the day, sovereignty defined who had the legitimate right to use force, he said.

Avineri considered it a mistake on Israel’s part to be “obsessed” with a final-status agreement, and pointed to conflict areas in other parts of the world where there is no final-status agreement but there are partial agreements and in some cases unilateral measures. He said Israel should adopt this method of progress and suggested that in this context it should continue to take down roadblocks so as to allow Palestinians greater freedom of movement and should stop settlement construction in the West Bank, so as to not exacerbate the issue.

“We need a paradigm change from conflict resolution to conflict management, because this is the only realistic thing that is achievable,” Avineri said.

He and Dore Gold, the president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a former adviser to Prime Ministers Binyamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, though on different sides of the political fence, agreed that Israeli negotiators who for more than a decade repeated the refrain that the two sides had never been so close to a peace agreement, were deluding themselves and the public.

This delusion also permeated a series of American administrations, and part of the problem with President Barack Obama, according to Gold, was that his administration received conventional wisdom that has been circulating around Washington for a long time. Obama thinks that if Israel stops building settlements and takes a few other steps, this will put an end to the conflict, but Abbas has said in interviews with both the American and the Israeli media that the gaps are too large in every area.

This being the case, Gold asked why one American government after another went after a prize that couldn’t be achieved.

His answer: back channel diplomacy.

The Americans brought the Palestinians and the Israelis together – usually in Scandinavian hotels, he said, and there was a lot of eating and drinking and good feeling.

But there was little likelihood of things that were said in Stockholm being repeated at Camp David.

“When you talk to American diplomats, no one wants to sound pessimistic. If you give a harsh reading of reality, you might be blamed for destroying the peace talks,” he said.

Gold was less optimistic than Avineri about the possibility of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Referring to the four problem issues mentioned by Avineri, Gold said: “The notion that these are all bridgeable issues is wrong. The notion that Israel will withdraw to the ’67 lines is not in the cards, and the sooner the international community understands that, the better off we’re going to be.”

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