If and when Israel and the Palestinians eventually succeed in overcoming the nagging obstacle of preconditions for entry into negotiations, still being pressed principally by the Palestinian leadership, the question will then arise as to whether the prevailing atmosphere, both between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as between Israel, the EU and the UN, is such as to enable genuine, unfettered and bonafide negotiations.
Clearly, the present atmosphere cannot really be seen to be encouraging for any such genuine negotiation.
With Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas repeatedly trying to question and undermine Israel’s Jewish heritage in the area, running to the UN and attempting to bypass negotiations, as well as threatening prosecution against Israel’s leaders, with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat incessantly, on a daily basis, seeking any and every media outlet as well as international organization in order to rant against Israel and its leadership and manipulate the international media with lies and deliberately misleading interpretations of the negotiating issues – one might assume, correctly, that these people simply do not really want, nor do they intend to engage Israeli negotiators in any genuine negotiation.
How, in all sincerity, can Saeb Erekat presume to face his Israeli counterparts opposite the negotiating table after his daily demagogic rants against them? However, not only are the Palestinians acting to undermine any potential negotiating atmosphere, the European Union, and principally its foreign affairs representative Catherine Ashton, backed by several EU leaders and ministers, are totally engaged in and fixated on, to the exclusion of virtually every genuinely vital international issue, actively predetermining negotiating issues by advancing their policy of labeling agricultural and other produce from Israel’s settlements, and financing international and local NGO groups openly hostile to Israel, that openly advocate boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
The UN is no less active as a platform for blatantly biased actions singling out Israel and prejudging some of the central negotiating issues, such as the attempt to predetermine the 1967 lines as a border, and to predetermine the issue of final status of the territories.
Israel itself must also realize that a genuine negotiating ambiance requires complete trust on its part, including, once negotiations proceed, a strict control on activities affecting issues under active negotiation, including new settlement construction.
Even US Secretary of State John Kerry’s own veiled hints of a September deadline for negotiations only sow false and unrealistic expectations, as if, in September, Abbas’ annual Palestinian UN public relations ritual could substantively change anything. This September illusion must be scotched before any negotiation can begin.
Clearly, prior to any possible return to a negotiating mode, a number of key principles, in the form of a code of conduct or negotiating rules, need to be accepted by the negotiating parties as well as by those other parties connected with the negotiation, such as the EU, UN, US and others (i.e., “accompanying parties”). Without a clear acceptance of this code of conduct, it will be impossible to establish or restore even a minimum basis of mutual trust and respect in order to conduct genuine and bona fide negotiations in a reasonable negotiating ambiance.
Such a “Code of Conduct” would read as follows: With a view to ensuring ongoing good faith and mutual trust and confidence for the negotiating process, both the negotiating sides as well as all accompanying parties (UN, EU, US and others) undertake to abide by the following principles of negotiating conduct: 1. The leaders and negotiators of both sides undertake to cease all media appearances, interviews, public statements and social media messaging relating to the content and progress of the negotiations, including derogatory comments, criticism of the other, its leadership, policies, negotiating positions and negotiators.
2. During the negotiating process neither side will initiate any action or sanction in any international, governmental or non-governmental organizations, committees, tribunals or other bodies aimed at, or likely to result in bypassing, prejudging or undermining the issues under negotiation or prejudicing the leaders of the other side.
3. Neither side will initiate, support or encourage any economic boycott, sanction or divestment activity against the other, and the accompanying parties will act to uphold this principle within their own governmental and public domains.
4. While negotiating any particular issue, each party will avoid actions, decisions, resolutions or determinations that might prejudice or prejudge the outcome of the negotiation of that issue.
5. The accompanying parties will refrain from and actively prevent any political or economic action, initiative, resolution, sanction, statement or other measure that might influence the outcome of the negotiation, prejudge a negotiating issue or prejudice a negotiating party.
6. Both negotiating sides will, throughout the negotiating process, refrain from dictating or demanding preconditions for entry into, the continuation of or the completion of negotiations on any topic or in general.
7. Both negotiating sides as well as the accompanying parties will seek, through their public statements, interviews and publications, to ensure ongoing public support for and encouragement of the negotiation.
7. The negotiating parties will ensure free and unfettered movement by representatives of the other side to all locations in which negotiations are held.
8. Every effort will be made by the negotiating sides to avoid unilateral cessation of the negotiation, and any issue that could potentially cause such cessation will be discussed and clarified between them and with the accompanying parties.
Without a solemn undertaking by all involved parties to abide by such a code of conduct and thereby to produce the necessary ambiance for genuine, sincere, serious and bona fide negotiations, the chances of success will be slim.
Time will tell.
The author, former legal adviser to Israel’s Foreign Ministry and ambassador to Canada, is presently director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.