There won’t be many more opportunities to make it work. That is the growing consensus. Even if the public does not sense it, there is a real urgency; we must move toward reaching an agreement. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolvable. There are solutions to all problems. In addition to the multiple rounds of Track I negotiations that have taken place since Madrid in 1991, there have also been thousands of hours of informal Track II negotiations in which a couple of hundred Israeli and Palestinian experts have participated and have reached understandings and “shelf agreements.”
Many of the experts have been at this a lot longer than the official negotiators. We have had the opportunity to take a step back and analyze the failed peace process and come away with many lessons learned that are important to share so that chances of success are increased. Everyone is skeptical about this. The negotiators themselves do not have great confidence that an agreement is possible. They must lay down their pessimism, skepticism and negative attitudes. They must face the task of reaching an agreement, looking beyond the momentary snapshot of domestic political realities.
This may be the last chance to reach an agreement – there should be no
other way to perceive the current reality. The job at hand is not to
outsmart the other side or to get a better deal than the other side; the
challenge is to reach an agreement that will build lasting
relationships based on mutual interests that will improve the lot of
both peoples living in this land. Failure to reach an agreement would be
a crime against both peoples.
Everything is on the table – borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees,
mutual recognition, water, economy and any other issue that either side
wishes to raise.
The agreement will be a package deal in which there are trade-offs and
that is why they cannot be negotiated separately. Binyamin Netanyahu and
Mahmoud Abbas, assisted by George Mitchell, will have to produce a
declaration of principles that will determine the general framework.
Details can be dealt with in committees of experts, but the main issues
need to be decided by the leaders.
NETANYAHU HAS already verbalized the main concerns for Israel –
Palestinian militarization, control of external borders, airspace,
electromagnetic spectrum and real recognition of Israel as the
nation-state of the Jewish people. Palestinians too have raised their
main concerns – borders, settlements, real sovereignty and freedom from
Israeli control. Jerusalem is a concern for both sides, but the issue on
which there is the most extreme contention is refugees.
All these issues are interconnected. Borders cannot be determined without detailing security arrangements.
Borders and security arrangements lead directly to Jerusalem. Jerusalem
is the core identity issue, which leads directly to mutual recognition.
Water and economics are both related to borders, control over land and
planning, border arrangements and security. All these issues are
connected to a timetable both for negotiations and for implementation.
The following are some principles and words of advice for the
negotiators: • First reach a declaration of principles that frames all
the core issues and accepts the idea that the agreement must be complete
and comprehensive, although implementation can be incremental over an
agreedupon time frame.
• Agree to include US monitors on the implementation of agreements, and
US dispute resolvers. There will be disagreements all the time once the
schedule of implementation is reached, so there must be a reliable and
trusted “judge” who can determine how best to resolve them. The greatest
confidence-building measure in any conflict is the implementation of
agreements. No artificial confidence-building measures will ever repair
the damage done when agreements are not implemented.
• Each side should prepare a document detailing all of its concerns and
threat perceptions. Those documents are the real road map. They must be
treated with absolute integrity. There is no room to argue about them;
the challenge is to find solutions and ways to remove them from the
list. All of Israel’s security concerns must be addressed by the
Palestinians (and the American team) with the utmost sincerity. There
will be no agreement unless Israel feels its security needs will be met.
Israel, though, must be told that there is more than one way to answer
these security threats. The Palestinians must say they will accept all
of Israel’s security threat perceptions and concerns and agree to all
reasonable solutions while also being sure that the occupation of their
lands will end and they will enjoy the maximum sovereignty possible.
Likewise, Israel must accept all of the Palestinians concerns and threat
perceptions and not argue with them but work with them and the
Americans to find solutions.
• Don’t run away from the tough issues. There is an inclination to take
Jerusalem and refugees off the table until the end. This is a mistake.
There can be no agreement without Jerusalem and refugees. Putting off
the discussion will not make their resolution more likely.
Putting them on the table from the outset will increase the level of seriousness that both sides display.
Both sides will say harsh things that will be difficult for the other
side to hear. Both sides must make a commitment that they are not
leaving the table just because they disagree. The American mediators
must be firm on this point and must continuously translate the positions
of both sides into a wider and more in-depth analysis of interests and
needs that go far beyond the stated positions.
• The sides should agree to work with a “single-text” negotiation
methodology. There should not be an Israeli text and a Palestinian text.
The American team should take on the role of drafting the unified text,
and that American text should become the focal point of the
negotiations. The Americans should begin the task of drafting the
declaration of principles already after the first few rounds of talks.
• The principle of “no agreement until all has been agreed” should be
dumped. There are areas where reaching agreements on specific issues can
begin to positively change realities on the ground and increase public
support for the process. It can also help to prepare the public on both
sides for some of the painful concessions that they will have to absorb.
If there are agreements on issues concerning borders, this will have a
direct impact on some of the settlements that will be annexed to Israel.
Once there is agreement on that, settlement building can resume within
those areas. If there is agreement on areas where Israel will withdraw,
those areas can be transferred to the control of the Palestinian
Authority and it can begin development work in those areas. This does
not have to wait until full agreement is reached.
• The issues of incitement, education and a culture of peace must be
dealt with directly and immediately, and must be detached from the wider
political discussion. Changing the public environment and discourse
will have an immediate impact and demonstrate a real willingness and
readiness to live together in peace. The last time this was attempted,
during Annapolis, the committee dealing with a culture of peace trapped
itself into linking progress to the broader political process, so when
the political talks reached an impasse, the culture of peace talks
Making progress on mutual agreements to review curricula and textbooks,
to use publicly funded cultural institutions to foster a culture of
peace, to confront accusations and problems of incitement on both sides
will demonstrate that peacemaking this time is significantly more
positive than at any other time in the past.
• Place mutual recognition in a “safe deposit box” entrusted to the
American mediator. Palestinians will not recognize Israel upfront as the
nation-state of the Jewish people. This simply will not happen – for
them, it relates directly to the refugee issue and to the status of the
Arab citizens of Israel. For Israel this has become a conditio sine qua
non or “without which there is nothing.”
For the Palestinians it has become a nonstarter.
One of the ways to break this Gordian knot is to turn it into a deposit,
just as Yitzhak Rabin did on the question of withdrawal from the Golan
Heights. It would read something like “when full agreement is reached on
all of the issues regarding Palestinian statehood and the end of
occupation, the State of Palestine will be willing to recognize the
State of Israel as the nationstate of the Jewish people, with guarantees
of full equality for the Palestinian national minority in the State of
Israel and the Jewish national minority in the State of Palestine.”
I HAVE much more advice to offer the negotiators, and I will do that in
coming weeks and months on a regular basis through direct back channels.
Some of those thoughts I will share here. I invite constructive
feedback and additional thoughts from all (this is not an invitation for
hate mail) – [email protected]The writer is co-CEO of the
Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org) and
an elected member of the leadership of Israel’s Green Movement