Diplomacy is the art of the possible.
Peace after bitter conflict seems to be the art of the impossible. This is definitely true in our region, which has seen a century of wars, bloodshed, hatred, suspicion, loss, terror, occupation, rejection and endless victims. And yet peace is a necessity.
Without it there is no life, national identities are in danger, as is every individual, and children do not see the light of hope. How then can a bridge be built over these troubled waters into a future of peaceful coexistence? Traditional diplomatic negotiations may create a legal agreement to resolve conflicting views and interests. But a legal peace agreement is not peace.
Peace is a transformation that needs the courageous leadership of government and the legitimacy and participation of the people. Therefore when it comes to peacemaking, diplomacy needs to be redefined and include all three relevant levels: peace diplomacy of leaders, peace diplomacy of negotiators and public peace diplomacy.
The diplomacy of leaders on peace must be based on strategic decision-making to turn the country from attaining its interests by conflict and war to achieving them through peace and cooperation. Ongoing contact with the leadership on the other side is an important part of peace diplomacy – a direct line of communication leading to joint definitions of common interests. It demands an ability to negotiate the most difficult of issues, and to have the courage to compromise, burying the narratives of the past, and creating a narrative for the future.
Leadership diplomacy in peace is not only vis-à-vis the former enemy, but also in relation to the region and to the world. It requires a regional peace diplomacy that begins with cooperation, mainly in the fields of economy and security, and strives for the creation of new regional structures and institutions.
Internationally, peace diplomacy of leaders needs to take into account the globalized and interconnected world in which we live. For a country to flourish, it needs to belong to the respected family of nations.
Countries that thrive on lingering conflict are generally not accepted into this club, and their nations cannot reap the fruits of globalization.
Peace negotiation diplomacy is more about the actual bridging of divides on positions and issues that are at the root of the conflict, or that have resulted from it. Peace negotiators must have a direct line to their leaders and enjoy their trust. They must be aware and convinced of the basic interests that they represent and ensure. At the same time, peace diplomacy is about building bridges of interests between enemies, with eyes set more on the future than on the past.
To achieve this, the negotiators should attempt to form a common language with the negotiating partner.
Trust can only develop on long-term goals, and that is critical to the success of negotiations, as on the short-term issues, negotiations are about much maneuvering, manipulations, hiding red lines and deadlines, a complex Byzantine chess game. Creativity is at the core of good negotiation diplomacy. Negotiation is neither a Persian market nor a surgical operation, it’s not about dividing the price or asset in half, it’s about linking an array of compromises into a mosaic of common interests.
As for public diplomacy in peacemaking, it is today no less important than negotiation diplomacy. We live in an age in which people are more and better informed than ever. No peace process can survive and no peace agreement can be accepted without the agreement of the majority of the people. This forces decision- makers and negotiators to engage in public diplomacy. It is about engaging not only governments in conflict resolution, but also their constituencies. It should not be confused with public relations, it is far more important as it aims to have the public participate in the peace process. If the societies do not feel that they have a say in the process, that they are stakeholders and beneficiaries of it, no peace will be sustainable.
Public diplomacy is therefore a new form of diplomacy, parallel to classic diplomacy, and it is happening between governments and people, as well as between societies. The Americans are the first to comprehend this transformation in diplomacy.
John Kerry has an assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy and that section of the State Department is engaged in our current peace process. President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel was above all a public diplomacy offensive.
For peace to happen and succeed, all three levels of diplomacy must act effectively and in harmony with each other. This is definitely the case in the current peace process in the region. The diplomacy of leaders is all-important, yet not too promising.
Bibi Netanyahu knows that a two-state solution is inevitable if we want to preserve our Jewish and democratic nature, as well as our strategic alliance with the United States. He knows the realistic price for peace. Yet he lacks, for now, the statesmanship and courage to make the necessary historic decisions for the long-term good of the country.
Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) knows that without peace with Israel, an independent Palestinian state is very unlikely. He also knows that he must compromise on the right of return. Yet he also lacks the stature to make the historic leap, at least for now. These gentlemen utterly distrust each other, yet must engage for a prolonged period to define common interests and gradually build trust.
In this regional vacuum, the United States leadership enters with a visionary president and a dynamic secretary of state. They seem to be willing to engage relentlessly in this tormented, thankless Middle East.
The negotiation diplomats, Tzipi Livni, Yitzhak Molcho, Saed Erekat and Muhammad Shtayeh are very good, intelligent, pragmatic people.
They will have to build a bridge between their loyalty to their national cause and their loyalty to their leaders.
This is the most daunting task in negotiating. Secret diplomacy is key and so is a professional, not political, attitude to the issues. Creativity must be the name of the game (which is well known to Martin Indyk).
These two levels of diplomacy leave us today with an opportunity, yet with little hope, due to the hesitancy of the leaders. It is here where public opinion in Israel and in Palestine will matter, as both leaders listen to their constituencies given their fundamental aspirations for popularity.
Therefore the missing link to a successful process is public diplomacy by Israel, Palestine and the United States, galvanizing the constituencies to the peace process, with its difficult compromises yet many dividends.
So far the public aspect of the process has been a failure.
In Israel, the discourse to the public is dishonest. There is no straight talk to the people about the absolute necessity of a peace settlement; something most, if not all, of our defense establishment is in favor of for security reasons. People are led to believe that the government’s agreement to enter negotiations was made because of a need to appease the Americans and as a test to prove traditional Arab rejectionism. There is no effort to enter into dialogue with Palestinian public opinion, to tell Palestinians that our interest is security, not occupation, that there is a vibrant, successful Israel beyond the settlements.
The Palestinians are not much better.
Their leadership also speaks of the peace process in the terminology of conflict – struggle and jihad instead of reconciliation. They too look like they are being pulled by the ear to the table by Kerry. They do not talk to the Israeli public to convince it that their aim is to live side-by-side in security.
The leaders on both sides are, in their public discourse, creating the greatest obstacles to success and making the failure of peace a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Therefore good public diplomacy is of the essence and should be composed of the following elements: a frank dialogue with the people about the purpose of peace and, no less so, about the alternative to peace; a process of humanization of the enemy after the dehumanization of war (the obvious must be understood – Israelis and Palestinians alike are humans); encouragement of people-to-people relations between the two societies, making it part of the peace and reconciliation process; the outlining of peace dividends that can be gained; the essential involvement and vital role of youth from both sides as they are the political barometer of both societies, engaging also via social networks.
The only ones who engage in constructive public diplomacy are the Americans, directly addressing the fears and hopes of the two societies, inspired by Obama’s Jerusalem speech. They also engage with social network-based regional peace movements such as YaLa-Young Leaders, with 400,000 members from all over the Middle East. These youth are engaging in an Arab-Israeli peace campaign under the motto “No More Excuses – Support a Peace Agreement Now.”
They communicate among themselves and with the American administration. Their message should at least be listened to, as indeed there are “no more excuses.”
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords. Barbara Hurwitz edited this column.