The sigh of relief in many quarters of Israel when it was announced that the peace process had virtually collapsed could be heard all over the country. Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), our favorite “non-partner,” has, in the eyes of many, finally given us the definitive proof that peace is impossible.
He dared to sign 15 international covenants, most of them human rights-related, as the president of Palestine.
Abbas indeed committed a tactical error and did not comply with the agreement with the US and Israel. Good tactics and public relations were never the forte of the Palestinians. Yet one must admit that our side hardly showed any real intention to adhere to the agreement that stipulated serious negotiations on permanent status. In the nine months of negotiations, Israelis, unlike the Palestinians, did not show a concrete opening position on the future borders, or show its view of the future map. Instead our minister of housing (Uri Ariel) was let loose to enhance ongoing settlement construction as a declared obstruction to a two-state solution.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was the latest commitment on construction in Gilo.
To make progress on permanent status, one needs to want one. Binyamin Netanyahu does not. Making the necessary historic decisions would risk his coalition and his right-wing base. That is too high a price to pay. The prime minister excelled in the game of finding an alibi for evading peace – banking on the improbability of Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Had Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin posed the same conditions to Anwar Sadat and King Hussein, we still would have no peace with Egypt and Jordan.
The Palestinians in the negotiations did not show much goodwill either. There were, though, on their side some important beginnings on necessary historic concessions, mainly on the critical issue of the right of return. A just and agreed solution for the Palestinian refugee problem, proposed also by the Arab Peace Initiative, gives Israel the veto on the issue. On the borders and in east Jerusalem, there seems to be very little flexibility on their side. They see in accepting the 1967 borders their historic concession, as it leaves them with 23 percent of historical Palestine. For that reason, the settlements are viewed as a strategic threat to the establishment of their state. All our government needs to do for the continuation of the talks (and to free Jonathan Pollard) is to put in place a full settlement freeze. Yet Netanyahu chooses settlements over a settlement.
There is much to be learned from this period. It is clear that without a historic will to reach permanent status in a reasonable time frame, there will not be one. Therefore, one needs to redefine the purpose of negotiations – to a framework agreement on permanent status and then a detailed interim agreement leading to the implementation of permanent status within a clear timeline. The principles of the framework have to be very clear and the timeline guaranteed by the United States. On the principles of permanent status, certain positions have been made clear by both sides.
The Palestinians will not accept an agreement without the following elements:
• The backing of the Arab League, especially Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia (based on the Arab Peace Initiative); • The border will be based on the 1967 lines with moderate, parallel land swaps (for settlement blocs); • East Jerusalem will be the Palestinian capital (except for the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall); • Security arrangements cannot infringe upon Palestinian sovereignty.
Israel will not accept a permanent-status agreement without:
• Stringent security measures on the borders, with an IDF presence along the Jordan River, as well as demilitarization of the Palestinian state, and full anti-terror cooperation in the West Bank and Gaza; • A great majority of settlers, at least three quarters, will be in settlements annexed to sovereign Israel, as part of the agreed land swaps; • Sovereignty over all Jewish neighborhoods and holy sites in Jerusalem, with little willingness to compromise on east Jerusalem (except for Muslim religious rights in the mosques); • The agreement must lead to mutual nation-state recognition (for the Jewish homeland and the Palestinian homeland) and to an end to conflict and claims; • No right of return to the State of Israel.
These are not insurmountable gaps if there is political will, real leadership and courage. A bridge can be built, even given these redlines, between the Israeli need for security and the Palestinian need for statehood. Most probably at least 60% of the two societies would be in favor of a reasonable compromise between these positions. Yet both leaderships lack the necessary vision, courage and political maneuverability to take the necessary difficult decision for such a historic compromise.
Israel has not even decided for itself what its concrete aims are for the end of the negotiations. A reasonable two-state solution is of existential interest to Israel. The alternative undermines our very identity and morality and leads us to a full collision course with the Palestinians, the Arab world, the United States and all important parts of the international community. The current attitude is leading in this dangerous direction. We have adopted an occupation mentality also in peacemaking – wanting to dictate the terms and if the Palestinians don’t behave accordingly, we will “punish” them.
Yet it may not be too late, and even Netanyahu may come to his senses and diverge from the suicidal drive of the settlers. In this case, the only way to make progress with the current government is a combination of a framework of principles on permanent status – implemented first by a significant interim agreement – leading to full implementation according to a guaranteed timeline.
The framework agreement should have as the basis terms of references that all sides can live with – the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, the Obama policy speech of 2011 and Israel’s plan for security arrangements. The document should be American, adhered to in principle by the parties and the Quartet.
It should mention the border based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps (for settlement blocs close to the Green Line), a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem, security arrangements on the borders and border crossings with a temporary IDF presence along the Jordan River, a just and agreed settlement for the Palestinian refugee problem, mutual nation-state recognition, an end to the conflict and mutual claims, normalization of relations between the Arab states and Israel, and economic upgrades for Israel and Palestine by the European Union.
Part of such an American document should be a clear timeline leading up to permanent status that includes an interim agreement to be reached within one year, in parallel to the acceptance of Palestine as a full member state at the United Nations and a permanent-status agreement within two years, with a three-year implementation period. During the period of negotiations, there must be a full freeze of settlement construction (except for in municipal Jerusalem).
The interim agreement should create an irreversible reality for a two-state solution, leaving for final discussion the most difficult issues (based on the framework document). It should be composed of the following elements: • The declaration of an independent Palestinian state with a border and capital based on the 1967 lines (with agreed land swaps) and its acceptance by the Security Council as a United Nations member state; • By then, the map of the Palestinian Authority should fundamentally change – 10% of Area B (Palestinian civilian control) should join Area A (full Palestinian jurisdiction) and 60% (not the settlements) of Area C (Israeli jurisdiction) should join Area B, which would create Palestinian jurisdiction on 75% of the West Bank; • A stringent security plan for the prevention of terror (including from Gaza); • The IDF will be prohibited from entering Area A; • The religious status quo in Jerusalem will be maintained for the interim period. The Orient House will come under Palestinian jurisdiction; • Two Palestinian neighborhoods (Shuafat and Beit Hanina) in east Jerusalem will become part of the Palestinian Authority as Area B; • Incitement and anti-normalization will be forbidden; • A gradual normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab countries (especially in the area of tourism and consular relations); • An economic package by the Quartet for the development of the Palestinian economy and a nation-building process for the establishment of accountable, modern status institutions; • A people-to-people program between Israel and Palestine in the areas of city twinship, youth exchange and social networking.
It would have been preferable to move directly to permanent status, but given the current positions of the parties, it seems impossible. An interim agreement is only possible with international community guarantees for a timeline to permanent status.
The critical need now is for a change toward a dynamic of conflict resolution, leading to a twostate solution and peace.
In the words of Heraclitus: “There is nothing permanent except for change.”
The writer is honorary president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
Barbara Hurwitz edited this column.