These are the facts: negotiations between the government of Israel and the
Palestine Liberation Organization are taking place. There are two negotiators on
the Israeli side (Attorney Dr. Yitzhak Molcho and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni).
There are two negotiators on the Palestinian side (Dr. Saeb Erekat and Dr.
Mohammed Shtayeh). There is one US mediator/facilitator (Ambassador Dr. Martin
Indyk). The negotiations are being directed and guided by Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
majority (perhaps all) of the ministers in the Israeli government are in the
dark – they do not know what is going on behind the closed doors of the
The majority (perhaps all) of the ministers in the
Palestinian government are in the dark and have no idea what is happening behind
the closed doors. The agreed spokesman for the talks is the US State Department
and Secretary of State John Kerry himself.
Various anonymous sources have
“leaked” information about the negotiations. I would venture to say that the
overwhelming majority of news that has been published about the negotiations
from the anonymous sources is false. I would say (and I don’t think I am wrong)
that those who are speaking, don’t know, and those who know, are not
A rather well known Israeli journalist asked me yesterday if I
thought the negotiations were being harmed by the lack of transparency. I think
she was surprised by my very decisive answer – no, quite the
There is no other way to conduct Israeli-Palestinian
negotiations given the present political constellations on both sides in the
public eye. Neither Netanyahu nor Abbas could carry on any serious negotiations
with the other side if they were transparent. They would be spending all of
their time negotiating with their own political parties.
If and when they
reach an agreement, they will both go back to their constituencies to gain their
vote of confidence – either through referenda, votes in the governments or
parliaments or even new elections.
Until reaching an agreement, the
negotiations must be carried out in full secrecy. Let’s face it, this is not the
first time the parties are negotiating all of the issues. Everyone on both sides
is quite aware of what the issues are and what the margins of negotiating space
that each side are.
If the negotiations are serious, and it seems that
they are, all of the issues will be on the table.
There will be no
agreement until there is agreement on all of the core issues: Palestinian
statehood and the nature of its sovereignty, the delineation of borders between
the states and their management, security arrangements, the question of Gaza and
its place in the agreement, the future of Jerusalem, the future of the
Palestinian refugee issue, economic relations, water and natural resources,
fostering a culture of peace and combatting incitement, and agreeing to the end
of the conflict and all claims.
Each single issue is complex on its own.
Together there are a lot of very complex and difficult decisions that have to be
I firmly believe that there are solutions for all of these issues.
We have enough knowledge and experience not to make the same errors that were
made last time around.
We have the capacity to learn from mistakes and to
come up with better ways to ensure the full implementation of treaty
obligations. We know that the agreement must be implemented over time and based
on measurable and verifiable performance ensuring that each side is living up to
its commitments and responsibilities.
Security issues are going to be
paramount in the agreement.
I do not support the placement of foreign
peacekeeping troops. I believe that the parties must live up to their security
responsibilities and there can be no agreement unless those are taken with 100
Israelis and Palestinians are going to have to
cooperate on security issues more than ever before.
Both sides have an
interest to confront extremists and terrorists so that they are not empowered to
work against the interests of the Israeli and Palestinian
Israeli-Jordanian security cooperation, which today exists along
the Jordan River, will have to be expanded to include the third component of
Palestinian security forces making up a trilateral security mechanism on the
No agreement will survive continued Israeli security
incursions into the areas controlled by Israel, nor the need for Israel to make
those incursions. The Palestinian security forces are going to have to fulfill
their responsibilities to ensure that no terrorism emerges from their
It would be wise for Israel and the Palestinians to begin to
create the system of sharing intelligence information and rather than entering
Palestinian towns, cities and refugee camps now to arrest suspects, the
Palestinian security forces should be doing the job and if the information is
true, the Palestinians arrested should face their penalties inside the
By the way, Palestinian prisons already have
hundreds of Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners and even prisoners from the
al-Aksa Brigades, which claims affiliation with Fatah. Israel should know now,
before withdrawing from more territories and enabling the creation of sovereign
Palestinian areas, whether the Palestinian leadership is really serious about
making peace with Israel.
This is much more important than any kind of
declarations and statements that Palestinian leaders are being asked to
There is no doubt that as negotiations progress and agreements on
key issues are reached, the political will of the parties to create new
realities on the ground will increase. There is also little doubt that improved
realities on the ground now could very much improve the atmosphere within the
negotiating room making the possibilities for reaching agreements better. This
is a kind of magical circle. It is hard to break it and neither side is anxious
to take the first step.
There is another approach which could be tried as
well – it is called the “if, then” game. Each side could be asked by the
American mediator to present a number of “if, then” statements. For example,
Israel could say, “if the Palestinians demonstrate 100% effort in security,
acting effectively on Israeli intelligence information, Israel will cease its
incursions into areas under Palestinian security control.” The Palestinians
could say, “if Israel agrees to economic development projects in Area “C” under
full Israeli control, Palestinians will end their boycott of Israeli settlement
These are only theoretical examples. The point is that
creative thinking is necessary to help to enable an agreement.
reach an agreement is not in the interest of either side and the consequences of
failure or likely to be quite negative.
We must focus on success and put
into practice the tools for increasing its chances.
Gershon Baskin is the
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 is forthcoming from
The Toby Press.