Reciprocity, mutuality – key to Mid-East peacemaking

Encountering peace: An open letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

By
September 26, 2011 23:49
Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Dear President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu, welcome home to both of you. You both did a fine job at the UN and made your peoples feel proud. You represented the cause of your peoples’ struggle for existence and peace with great honor. You can both claim victory and come home to a hero’s welcome.

Isn’t it amazing how much parallelism can be drawn from understanding the public opinion on both sides? Both peoples are convinced that they want peace and are even more convinced that there is no partner for peace on the other side. Both sides really have no strategic option other than reaching a negotiated agreement, but both sides are quite convinced that it is not possible (because of the other side). Both sides know the parameters of peace and more or less what a peace agreement will look like, but neither side is willing to put a real offer on the table that could be accepted by the other.

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After 20 years of peace process and continued failure to agree on a permanent status deal we have ended up where we are – a kind of stalemate – with each side quite willing to claim victory – particularly after the recent speeches in the UN. But what kind of victory is it when we all lose hope that peace can ever exist? The Palestinian move in the UN, while far from successful, has made it quite clear that the overwhelming majority of the international community continues to support the two states for two peoples solution, and believes that this conflict needs to and can be resolved now. This is a victory for both peoples.

Even though Palestine has not yet achieved full membership in the UN, it is clearly on the way. Palestine will probably achieve an upgraded status of non-member state observer in the UN, allowing it to apply for membership in a broad range of international organizations, institutions and conventions.

This is greatly empowering and in some way does level the playing field, even if in the slightest way. But the real power the Palestinians will gain is the power not to play its new card.

PALESTINE’S MEMBERSHIP in the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice would be a valuable upgrading of its status. It could pursue a set of legal actions against Israelis and against the State of Israel that could be most unpleasant and would certainly do great damage to the possibility of resolving of the conflict through negotiation.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, you have always emphasized that you firmly believe in reciprocity and mutuality in the relations between the parties; “they give, they get; they don’t give, they don’t get.” Here is the perfect opportunity for this principle to be put into practice. Palestine will offer to freeze all legal actions against the State of Israel and all BDS – boycotts (academic, cultural and economic), divestments and sanctions – for a period of one year while negotiations take place, and Israel will offer to freeze all settlement building during that same period. Reciprocity.

In order to make this opportunity more appealing and more feasible I suggest several tactical improvements to the negotiations that will improve the chances of success.

Trust has disappeared from the process which was supposed to build trust (that was the basic premise of the Oslo process) primarily because there were substantive breaches to agreements committed by both sides. No artificial confidence building measures can repair the damage done when parties fail to implement their obligations. That is why in the field of mediation the concept of building a tradition of reaching and implementing agreements has been developed.

Once agreeing on the mutual and reciprocal freezes the next stage is to sit down to discuss borders and security arrangements. First, it is possible to immediately agree on parts of the border where the separation barrier has been constructed on the Green Line. In the areas where there are no conflicts, indicate that on a joint map.

Next, Israel should develop a map of the areas inside of sovereign Israel that it is willing to swap in exchange for areas that it seeks to annex. Palestine should develop its proposal for those settlements or settlement blocs that it is willing to have Israel annex.

Integrate those two maps, crack out the numbers and see what progress has been made.

Reaching parts of the agreements on the way towards a full agreement is progress, and should be seen that way.

When agreements on those areas have been reached and exchanges can be agreed on, Israel would be allowed to continue building in those areas. This is especially clear with regard to some parts of Jerusalem – it should be quite clear that Ramat Eshkol and French Hill (just as an example) will not be part of the Palestinian state; new building there should not endanger a breakdown in negotiations. In keeping with the principle of reciprocity, when the Palestinians agree that a specific area will be annexed to Israel and building there can be resumed, Israel should then immediately relinquish control over equal territories within the West Bank which are designated “area c” (which constitutes 62 percent of the West Bank) and allow Palestinian building, development and control to begin there. Reciprocity.

Palestinians have continuously stated that they are willing to discuss Israel’s real security needs and to find solutions to them that can be mutually acceptable. The discussions on security issues should be open and frank and Israel should be prepared to explain, in detail, all of its threat perceptions and the ways that it proposes to meet them. Israel should be prepared to listen to alternative solutions and proposals put on the table by Palestinians and by other leading military and security experts, from the United States or elsewhere, who can be enlisted to the process. The mission should be viewed as problem solving and the solutions provided should be explored and examined honestly and in good faith. The Palestinians do not have an interest in a breakdown of security after they have established their state with Israel’s agreement. They, too, don’t have an interest in becoming a frontline base for Iran.

President Abbas also has a keen interest in having a regime in Gaza that will support and adhere to a negotiated peace treaty. It is not true, as some Israeli analysts have stated, that 50% of the Palestinians do not support Abbas.

A wide majority of the people of Gaza supported Abbas’s move to the United Nations and were equally moved by his impassioned appeal and the reception he received from the community of nations. A majority of people in Gaza do not support Hamas and do not want to be under a Hamas regime.

YOU BOTH know that you must return to the table and that real, honest, good-faith negotiations must take place to resolve this conflict – which is resolvable. This is a historic moment. It is possible to reach agreement within one year and there are no better people than you to do it. The Quartet statement was less than satisfactory.

The US president is deeply embroiled in his own domestic politics and will not be of great service during the coming year.

There is no time to waste. Stagnation is bad for us all. Stagnation creates frustration and frustration can lead to violence.

Both sides have the power to engage in mutually harmful steps that will only produce great human agony and suffering.

We don’t need reciprocity of rhetorical threats and verbal escalation that could lead to another chapter of reciprocal violence.

So Mr. Netanyahu, don’t threaten to take unilateral actions like annexation or stopping the transference of Palestinian tax revenues. Tell your ministers to stop threatening to cancel the Oslo agreements.

This serves no positive purpose. And Mr. Abbas, don’t threaten to dismantle the Palestinian Authority. This is not really possible and would definitely not serve the interests of your people. The Palestinian Authority has only one direction to move towards – that is in its upgrading to become the Government of the State of Palestine.

Both of you also have the power to adopt a peace directive – there is nothing more important that you can do for your people.

Now, it is time to engage in reciprocal, empowering steps that will improve the chances of reaching peace, not the opposite.

Show us all that this can be done.

The writer is the founder and co-director of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, he hosts a weekly radio show in Hebrew on All for Peace radio, and is a voluntary columnist for The Jerusalem Post.


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