We are less than 11 weeks away from the target date that US Secretary of State John Kerry allocated for this round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. While no one expected that the parties would be able to reach a permanent-status agreement ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of over 100 years in nine months, there remains the possibility that there will be enough substance on the table to continue to negotiate beyond the end of April.
It is clear that Israel will prefer to continue the negotiating process regardless of the quality and quantity of substance on the table because for Israel being in negotiations is the best possible situation, especially vis-à-vis the increasingly impatient international community. As long as the parties are talking, Israel can continue to say that its hand is outstretched in peace to its neighbors. The Palestinians, on the other hand, if the substance on the table is shallow and ambiguous will prefer to declare that the talks have reached a dead end and that now it is time for the international community to weigh in.
The Palestinians have no problem playing the “underdog” card and will probably gain more sympathy and support in the international community, including growing segments of the American population, because they are the weaker party. Israel is a strong state with a strong economy and strong democracy. Palestine, on the other hand, most of the world will say, is occupied by Israel. Palestinians are denied their freedom, many are living in poverty and a large majority of the world has recognized their right to a state of their own on a part of the land between the river and the sea. It is hard to portray to the world that Israel is the victim at this point in the conflict and that the Palestinians are at fault for not finding a solution to the conflict.
Israel will be blamed for the failure of negotiations, regardless. Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz can spend his NIS 100 million on preparing Israel’s public diplomacy case around the world, but even with double or triple that budget, he will not be able to explain to the world why Israel is demanding that the Palestinians recognize it as the state of the Jewish people when over 20% of its citizens are Palestinian Arabs.
Israel will not be able to explain why it has moved about 600,000 of its citizens onto land it conquered in 1967, even if we call it Judea and Samaria and say that God gave it to us. Israel will not be able to explain why it must control the external borders of a neighboring sovereign state or why it rejects NATO troops in the territory of that state, patrolling there to keep the peace.
As long as the Palestinians refrain from violence and do not return to the suicide bombers of the second intifada they will gain the support of most of the world, and Israel will lose it. As the Palestinians increase their own international diplomacy and continue to present Israel as the denier of their freedom and liberation, there is little that Israel will be able to do to convince the world, even Israel’s best friends, that Israel is not at fault.
Enough has been said about the increasing boycotts, and as Secretary Kerry has emphasized, it is not a threat, and the US and other friends of Israel will reject them – but the world will not and they will come, whether we like it or not. The Palestinians will also join international conventions and organizations and there too Israel will face a war of diplomacy which it will not be able to win. The most significant of these is the International Criminal Court (ICC), governed by the Rome Statute under which Israel’s elected leaders and senior officers may be brought to trial for breaches of international law with the focus being building settlements in the territories conquered by Israel in 1967.
Israel will most definitely reject the standing of the Court and its legitimacy to put Israeli leaders on trial. That will have no impact whatsoever on the court’s possible decision to indict those Israeli leaders and officers. Every country which is a signatory to the Rome Statutes will be obligated to arrest those leaders if they set foot within their jurisdiction. This is not fiction, it is not a threat and it is not something that this writer would support in any way. But this is a scenario which could very well become reality in the not-too-distant future.
All of the Israeli government committees and meetings, and hundreds of millions of shekels spent on public diplomacy will not change the reality that will unfold if Israel is blamed for the failure of the negotiations – which it will be.
There is only one way that Israel can avoid this scenario and that is to find the way to make the compromises with the Palestinians that will bring us to an acceptable agreement. All of Israel’s risk factors can be mitigated. Implementation of the agreement over time, based on performance, predicated on real security, linked to ending incitement and to creating a culture of peace – all of this can be part of the agreement that can be reached.
The basics of the agreement are well known to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and there is no escaping that – 22% of the land for the Palestinian state, territorial swaps of about 4% the size of the West Bank leaving about 80% of the settlers where they are under Israel sovereignty, as well as all of the Israeli Arabs who will remain where they are under Israeli sovereignty; two capitals in Jerusalem – an open, undivided city where sovereignty is determined by demography, holy sites open to all with suitable arrangements on control of the sites by the relevant communities; Palestinian refugees being treated fairly with dignity and mainly going home to their nation state and receiving compensation for lost properties; security arrangements based mostly on deep security cooperation and regional arrangements with neighboring states that are engaged in developing regional stability and fighting terrorism, and a true commitment to developing cooperation across borders to the mutual benefit of both sides.
Israel and the Palestinians can put enough substance on the table in the remaining 11 weeks to continue the negotiations toward a full peace agreement, or the negotiations will end and we will face the fallout. And the fallout will come –no threat, just a sober assessment.
The author is co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book
Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew, and
The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press.