Clinton, Barak, Arafat at Camp David 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Win McNamee)
Meeting with American Jews and non-Jews on college campuses, synagogues and
churches all across America is always a refreshing opportunity to see how much
interest our small country attracts. It is also quite disturbing how divisive
the issue of support for Israel has become.
The divisions are not between
Jews and non-Jews, but within each community there are conflicts between those
who are pro-Israeli versus those who are pro-Palestinian.
interesting are the differing interpretations between those who consider
themselves to be friends of Israel on the meaning of that friendship.
all of my talks I always leave a large amount of time for questions, of which
there are many, and not unsurprising to me the questions asked in the United
States and not unlike those asked in Israel.
Q: The Palestinians breached
every agreement they ever signed with Israel, how can we trust them?
and the PLO, representing the Palestinian people, signed five
agreements. Every one of those agreements was breached by both sides.
Neither side fulfilled its obligations, and the breaches were substantive in all
of the agreements.
It is historically incorrect to assume that the
failure of some 20 years of the Israeli- Palestinian peace process is the story
of “good guys” against “bad guys.”
The failure to include an
implementable dispute resolution mechanism in the process meant that when there
were breaches of the agreements, or disputes regarding their interpretation,
there was almost no way to repair the damage. The failure to deal with breaches
in real time, when they took place, meant that many of these misunderstandings
(deliberate or otherwise) ended up turning into full-fledged political crises at
the highest levels, often having to involve presidents and prime ministers from
the international community.
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Breaches upon breaches piled up and created
a total breakdown. The failure of both sides to implement in good faith and to
repair the damage in real time led to a total collapse of trust between the
parties. The basic idea of an interim period (of five years) was to develop the
trust that would be required to negotiate the main issues in
That trust never developed – quite the opposite. Today,
objectively speaking, there is absolutely no reason why Israel and Palestine
should trust each other – they have completely earned the mistrust that exists
Q: So, if there is no trust how can a negotiated agreement
A: The thinking until this past year was that there needs to be a
trusted third party who could mediate and negotiate between the parties. The
accepted third party is the United States. Even though the Palestinians do not
believe that the US is an impartial mediator, they accept this role for the
United States because they understand that the US is the only effective
This special status is granted to the US by the Palestinians
because they understand that only the US can provide the security guarantees
that might ease Israel’s concerns, and that the US is the only party which can
apply effective pressure on the government of Israel. Now, however, with a US
presidential election in full swing, there is recognition that the US cannot
play an effective role until after the November elections.
Barack Obama wins a second term, he could begin on a new Middle East mediation
effort immediately after the elections. If the Republican candidate wins the
elections, that person will not take over the administration until January 20,
2013, and then it will likely take an additional six months before the new
administration’s policy directives are fine tuned. My question is: do we have
the time to wait?
Q: Without an effective mediator in the coming months, is it
at all possible to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace?
A: It seems that neither
side is particularly anxious to advance real peace. The Palestinians have
demanded pre-conditions to negotiations that Israel refuses to accept. Both
sides say that the position of the other is a clear indication that neither side
is really willing to negotiate.
There is no possibility for progress
without negotiations, yet while both sides recognize this truth it seems that
the complete absence of trust, what I call the “trust deficiency,” is more
powerful than the desire to reach an agreement at this time. This is enhanced by
the complete belief on both sides of the conflict that there is no partner for
peace on the other side. Both sides say that they want peace, and both sides
blame the other for lack of any progress.
Q: With the current state of
internal politics on both sides, the divided Palestinian camp and the right-wing
religious coalition in Israel, is it even possible to consider that progress
towards peace is possible?
A: Both leaders have been negotiating over their
shoulders with their own public, either in the talks in Jordan, or in public
diplomacy, rather than negotiating with each other. It is clear that both sides
are concerned with the viability of their ability to govern with the current
political constellations on both sides. This is why there is zero chance of
success in a negotiation which is public or in the public’s eyes.
only chance for progress in this situation is a secret back channel for
If an agreement could be reached, it could only be done in
secret. Abbas has already pledged to his people that if he were to reach an
agreement with Israel he would bring it to a referendum. I have no doubt that if
the agreement is fair ends Israeli control over the Palestinian people, an
independent Palestinian state next to Israel and contains the parameters of a
peace deal based on prior negotiations, the large majority of Palestinians will
If Netanyahu were to propose an agreement that would provide
Israel with security and fall within the parameters of accepted concessions from
previous negotiations he could then go to new elections, and I have no doubt
that he would win a landslide victory. Current coalition realities are a lame
excuse for forfeiting the responsibility of leadership.
It would be wise
if the parties adopted the mechanism of negotiations that was used to create the
breakthrough in the negotiations for the release of Gilad Schalit. This
mechanism I call the “joint stakeholders mediation team”. This is what my
counterpart in Hamas, Ghazi Hamad, and I did to enable those negotiations to
reach a positive conclusion. In the total absence of trust between the parties,
we worked as a team with basic trust between us (based on five years of contact)
and the entire process was kept secret.The writer is the co-chairman of
IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for
The Jerusalem Post, a radio host on All for Peace Radio and the initiator and
negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.
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