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