Is the current glitch in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations a sign of
breakdown or part of the normal ebb and flow of any difficult negotiations?
Breakdowns, threats of leaving the table, the resignation of negotiators – these
are all common tactics employed in negotiations, particularly those with a set
time to them. If nine months have been pre-determined as the time line, then why
produce an agreement in anything less than that?
The last days, hours, even
minutes on the ticking clock are the best moment to squeeze additional
concessions from your opponent before signing on the dotted line.
in the peace negotiations are entirely predictable and should be entirely
understood as part of the process. However, this does not mean that there are
not genuine causes for the current breakdown. There are, they have been provided
by both sides, they should be expected and nonetheless avoided because they are
also potentially dangerous.
The United States as the convener and
mediator of the current round of talks should definitely be prepared to put its
bridging proposals on the table.
The US must be willing to use its
influence and power, hard and soft, to provide the means for guaranteeing the
implementation of the proposed agreement in all of its aspects. The bridging
proposals by definition will propose compromises to the positions presented by
both sides and both sides will have to make significant concessions for there to
be an agreement.
If the parties, one of both, refuse to accept the US
bridging proposals, the US better be prepared with “Plan B,” because without it
there will be a genuine crisis with potentially enormously harmful
Some ideas have already been floating around. There is a
possibility for another interim agreement. Personally, I think it is a bad idea,
but if it will mitigate violence, it should be strongly considered. There is the
possibility of beginning to implement agenda items that have already been agreed
to, such as a water agreement, a new economic agreement, or other aspects that
are probably on the table now and should be advanced.
THIS WOULD move us
away from the principle “that nothing is agreed until it is all agreed.” This
has been the guiding principle of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations until now,
but it does not have to remain the guiding principle.
If we can agree on
some issues, let’s see which of them can also be brought into implementation
phase. This is one way of creating a better negotiating environment that could
help to enable agreement on the more contentious issues.
As we approach
the midpoint of the nine-month period allocated we should also begin thinking
about the scenarios that failure of the negotiations could lead to. We should be
doing this even the more so because there are very few people on both sides who
can imagine success from the negotiations.
Failure to reach an agreement
will only increase the real need for an agreement.
for independence and freedom will not disappear. Israel’s need for real security
will not be answered by the absence of an agreement. Most likely Palestinian
nationalistic demands will increase, as will Israeli security needs.
Secretary of State John Kerry said that failure to reach an agreement could lead
to the next round of violence, he was not sanctioning the use of violence nor
was he threatening. That statement reflects the real possibility whose
undercurrent we are already witnessing.
It is quite clear that
Palestinian society and its leaders do not want another intifada.
pain and suffering of the second intifada are still very vivid memories (on both
sides). The deaths of thousands of people, the destruction of billions of
dollars in property and infrastructure, and the total loss of law and order that
was the outcome of the second intifada for Palestinians must be avoided at all
The second intifada produced absolutely no positive political
results. Violence will not help to create peace.
Violence did force
Israel to withdraw twice in the past – from Lebanon and from Gaza. The end
results of withdrawal in response to violence and without political agreements
led to political disasters for Israel, the Palestinians and the region in both
So everything must be done to mitigate violence. This is
completely clear. But what can be done that will achieve that result?
we must ensure that the Palestinian economy will not collapse. The next round of
violence will be born from the failure of negotiations and launched from the
frustration and despair of a collapsing economy.
It is important not to
misread this – Palestinians are not interested in a better, more prosperous
occupation. They want their freedom and independence, and money will not buy off
their national aspirations or national pride.
The economy has the power
to delay, but not to postpone forever the eventual emergence of the next round
The Palestinians are most likely going to move the conflict
arena into the international community. This is what Kerry meant when referring
to Israel’s growing isolation. The world will largely support the Palestinians,
as long as they refrain from violence. The main arena will be the United Nations
and its many agencies and institutions. The support of the world for justice for
the Palestinians will be ever-present.
ISRAEL WILL most likely respond by
using means of retaliation against the Palestinian leadership and the people.
Israel has many tools it can use. It could prevent the flow of Palestinian labor
into Israel. Israel could freeze the transfer of customs and VAT taxes that it
collects for the Palestinians. Israel could reduce the flow of electricity in
the West Bank which is now almost 100 percent dependent on this source of
energy. Israel could prevent gasoline and diesel fuel from entering Palestinian
areas. Israel could disrupt the flow of building materials and other
Israel has total control over the Palestinian economy and it could
that control as a means of pressure. But that could also easily strike the match
that will light the explosion of the next round of violence.
also try to use the international arena as the place to set the parameters for
the next attempt to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. A UN Security
Council resolution that would embody the principles of the two states for two
peoples solution into international law would serve Israel’s interests as well
as the Palestinians.
That resolution could also contain the principles
for protecting Israel’s interests, its need for defensible borders and the right
of self-defense which is already embodied in the Charter of the United
The decision makers on both sides and in the international
community who are concerned and working for peace must spend some time and
energy pre-empting the violence by proposing constructive steps that can,
despite the potential failure of this round of negotiations, move us
The conflict is not going anywhere – neither are the Israelis
nor the Palestinians.
The solution that answers the national interests of
both sides and their aspirations will remain the two-states for two-peoples
solution – that will also not change – it will only become more difficult to
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.