Encountering Peace: Kerry can succeed

Kerry’s shuttling back and forth between the parties, carrying the sides’ positions on the issues in fact enables the mediator to do just that – mediate and propose bridging solutions to close the gaps.

Peres Abbas and Kerry at WEC 370 (photo credit: World Economic Forum / Benedikt von Loebell)
Peres Abbas and Kerry at WEC 370
(photo credit: World Economic Forum / Benedikt von Loebell)
US Secretary of State John Kerry’s thankless task of trying to recreate a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians is completely absurd when one simply considers that the parties involved should be demanding that the process begin rather than resisting it. The conflicting parties have much more at stake than does the United States. It is in the direct interest of both Israel and the Palestinians to resolve their conflict, as soon as possible. It seems quite abnormal and counterproductive that the two sides keep searching for excuses and reasons not to negotiate rather than the opposite.
Senator George Mitchell failed at the same task as Kerry because he put most of his mediation energy on trying to get the parties into the same room. It seems that Kerry is trying to do the same, though with a lot more energy and enticements. Overall, however, the goal or modus operandi of his strategy seems to be the same – get the parties to sit face-to-face and negotiate.
Kerry is right when he states that negotiations have a dynamic of their own and it is impossible to predict what the final outcome might be once they get started.
His challenge remains, as it has been over the past four years – how to get the negotiations started.
Kerry might also be working on a different, more productive approach. If it is true that he has given the parties “homework” and expects to receive serious answers from them on positions regarding permanent status issues, then it would be correct to say that negotiations are in fact beginning. It is not necessary for the parties to the conflict to be sitting in the same room for negotiations to take place.
Kerry’s shuttling back and forth between the parties, carrying the sides’ positions on the issues in fact enables the mediator to do just that – mediate and propose bridging solutions to close the gaps. While moving back and forth and shaping possible agreements, Kerry seems to be adding additional ingredients to help shape a more positive reality on the ground for both sides.
The economic enticements and incentives are not a replacement for a political process, but an enabling feature that can have positive effects for both sides. Economic improvement for the Palestinians will bring not only economic benefits for them but also benefits for Israel, as Palestinians purchase a large majority of their goods from Israel. It will also serve to prevent deterioration of the security situation on the ground, as economic stability, employment and a more positive financial situation tends to be a stabilizing factor.
Israeli restraint in advancing additional settlement activity while negotiations are underway will not determine Israel’s position on which areas should be annexed in the framework of territorial swaps, and will also be an enabling factor that will improve the negotiating environment.
There is no room for another interim agreement, and Kerry is correct in seeking to reach a comprehensive agreement on all of the issues. As he shuttles back and forth it might be wise to use the negotiating tactic of the “deposits” former secretary of state Warren Christopher received from Yitzhak Rabin on the Golan Heights.
Rabin told Christopher that if Syria would meet Israel’s demands on security and on issues of normalization and real peace then Israel would be willing to withdraw to the June 4, 1967 border on the Golan Heights.
Christopher then used the “Rabin deposit” to seek from the Syrians suitable answers regarding Israel’s demands.
As we know, Rabin was killed and that negotiation then fell through. The methodology could be used once again on the Israeli-Palestinian agenda to help shape an agreement which will require not only territorial swaps between the parties; there will be a need to swap points among the specific issues.
The most common area of swaps and trade-offs that have been proposed over the years is Israeli concessions in Jerusalem in exchange for Palestinian concessions on refugees. The idea is to arrive at a package deal that includes all of the issues and gives each side enough of what it needs so that both sides can live with the agreement that is reached.
Neither side gets all of its demands, but both sides get enough of what they need so that a majority of both peoples are able to support the whole agreement.
If the parties were to negotiate each issue separate from the others, it is very likely that they would not be able to reach a full agreement. Just as in public opinion research, on both sides, we know that if asked about specific concessions on separate specific issues a majority of Israelis and Palestinians reject them. However, when the same concession are part and parcel of a full comprehensive peace agreement that puts an end to the conflict and an end to all claims, the majorities on both sides accept the total agreement.
Success in the mission of negotiating an Israeli-Palestinian agreement requires secret negotiations. The less the public knows the more likely the negotiations can reach positive outcomes. This is extremely frustrating because the public wants to know and the journalists work very hard to disclose what is really happening.
Public negotiations are impossible because neither side has the internal political strength to negotiate freely without having to constantly negotiate with their own side, even with their own camp within their own side.
The publics will have their chance to review and debate the agreement because there must be a democratic process, referendum, elections or whatever democratic process each side determines for itself because the agreement must gain clear, direct legitimacy from each society. Negotiations need not be voted on or vetoed.
That is counter-productive to reaching an agreement.
Few people have confidence that Kerry will succeed. They have history on their side. Israelis and Palestinians should be encouraging Kerry to succeed and should be praying for his success. He is doing it for us, not against us. Peace is in our interest, both sides, and we need him to succeed where all others before him failed. History can actually be a tool to learn from. We don’t have to continue to make the same errors as in the past.
Conflicts between nations and peoples do end and are resolved and genuine peace between our two peoples is a real possibility. After 20 years of negotiations the ingredients of the deal are well known and can be pieced together into an acceptable comprehensive peace agreement. Kerry needs our support and encouragement and we need for him to continue until he reaches an agreement.
The author 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.