We don’t really know how to relate to the conflicting reports in the media about
the peace talks.
The leaks from the Palestinian side are constantly
reporting that there is no progress. They further claim that they never agreed
to a release of prisoners in exchange for Israeli settlement
The leaks from the Israeli side are talking about new Israeli
conditions such as annexing settlements which are outside the settlement blocs
or building a wall along the Jordan River.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni
continues to refuse to comment, only noting that they have all agreed that the
only official statements will come from the US side. Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas told the Fatah revolutionary council that there has been
no progress and that the talks are deadlocked.
Now there are also new
rumors about an impending American plan for bridging proposals to be put on the
table in December or January.
Leaks, statements and announcements are all
part of the negotiations.
The use and misuse of information is a common
practice in trying to apply pressure on the other side. The negotiators are not
immune to public pressure and to atmospheric altercations fabricated to create a
sense of crisis.
The public statements and actions taken by both sides do
have an effect on the talks and right now it would not be far-fetched to assume
that mood inside the room has turned sour. The announcement of new settlement
building, home demolitions in Jerusalem, talk of plans to allow Jewish prayer on
the Temple Mount, deeply affect the rise of pessimism among the
Palestinian calls that al Aqsa is in danger, the
celebration of terrorists released from Israeli prisons, rumors of the
negotiators resigning and threats to end the talks have the same negative impact
on the Israeli side.
Together they all have the potential power to lead
to violence and to explode any chances of reaching a negotiated
Secretary of State John Kerry’s most recent visit and round of
talks with both sides is certainly aimed at snapping the whip (or a magic wand)
at both sides to get them to calm down and refrain from statements and actions
that could end the talks before their time.
There is too often the sense
that each side is doing a favor to the Americans (or to the other side) just by
agreeing to negotiate. Israel and Palestine are only doing a favor to themselves
by agreeing to negotiate.
It is in the national strategic interest of
both sides to be in the room and to reach a negotiated end to the
It is time that both sides begin to act according to its own
There are certain axiomatic certainties that must be
understood, internalized, memorized and articulated by both sides. These
include: • The only solution to the conflict is two states for two
• Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people and Palestine is
the homeland of the Palestinian people.
The minority populations in both
states must be guaranteed full freedom and equality.
• All the permanent
status issues need to be resolved in order for there to be peace, including
borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees, mutual recognition of national rights,
ending incitement and fostering a culture of peace.
• The capitals of
both states will be in Jerusalem. Jerusalem must remain an open city with access
• All people will have full and free access to all of the Holy
Places and sites.
• If there is no security there will be no agreement.
Each side must take 100 percent responsibility for providing security and for
fighting terrorism and violence.
• Israel has very legitimate security
concerns that the Palestinians must accommodate or there will be no
• Palestine has very legitimate concerns regarding its
sovereignty and ending the occupation, without this there will be no
• Security cooperation between the parties is an essential
element of the agreement.
• Due to the lack of trust between the parties
and because of past experience there must be trusted third party monitors
verifying implementation of the agreements.
It would be very helpful if
each side would take a few action-oriented steps that could help to improve the
negotiating atmosphere, rather than the business-as-usual statements and actions
that further destroy trust.
Those steps do not have to be completely
reciprocal and mutual, although knowing the parties they will probably not be
done until the Americans negotiate an agreement on their undertaking.
negotiations do not have to take place as a kindergarten classroom arguing which
side has to take the first step. Steps taken independently that could improve
the atmosphere would pay off inside the negotiating room and therefore do not
have to be dependent on reciprocity.
A clear statement by Netanyahu that
Israel is seeking a full comprehensive agreement and not a longterm interim
agreement could be an easy step to make.
A clear statement by Abbas that
the Palestinians are seeking a full comprehensive agreement that would put an
end to the conflict and all claims by the Palestinians (something he has already
said in the past) could be a reciprocal step that would have positive
Greater Israeli cooperation and attention to concrete plans for
Palestinian economic development is both a Palestinian need and interest and an
Israeli need and interest. Much can be done to advance the Palestinian economy
An invitation by Netanyahu to Abbas to address the
Knesset and an invitation by Abbas to Netanyahu to address the Fatah central
council – these are also possible and positive. A mutual agreement to transmit
Israeli television news once a day with Arabic subtitles and Palestinian
television news with Hebrew subtitles could create a situation whereby both
sides might become more considerate of what the other side thinks when the view
each other’s news.
There are many examples of positive steps that could
be taken. Building peace requires that the negotiators reach the best deal
possible. That becomes more possible when both sides demonstrate the same amount
of positive will and actions to positively influence the atmosphere outside of
the negotiating room.
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.
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