Can track II diplomacy help bring peace?.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With the world’s attention focused on North Korea, Iran, Syria, terrorist attacks in Europe, and hurricanes in the Caribbean and the US South, little attention is being paid to the Israeli-Palestinians conflict, which in any case, most people have written off as an intractable conflict with no solution on the horizon.
For those on Israel’s Right, these are ideal conditions to expand settlements and even propose outlandish laws to annex parts of the West Bank or transfer Israeli Arab citizens from Israel With the ongoing diplomatic stalemate and no Track I (government-to-government) negotiations taking place between Israel and the Palestinians, a vacuum has been created which is quickly being filled by right-wing initiatives aimed at burying the two-state solution, forever.
In his speech at the Arava Institute’s Cross-Border Environmental Cooperation Conference last month, former US special envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross said that while most Palestinians and Israelis still see the two-state solution as the only way to guarantee their national identities, the majority of Palestinians do not believe that Israel will ever give up the West Bank, and the majority of Israelis believe that the Palestinians will never accept Israel’s right to exist.
Under these conditions of a complete lack of trust, no US or European peace initiative has a chance of gaining support in the region. While the vacuum created by a lack of a peace process offers opportunities to those opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel, it could also offer opportunities to those who still believe that the two-state solution is the only realistic resolution of the conflict.
Ambassador Ross suggested that there is now an important opportunity for Track II initiatives that could lead to agreements on the ground and improvement in the lives of people in the region. Track II refers to the discussions that usually take place parallel to Track I negotiations, between non-government actors and even some government officials.
The recent cross-border Environmental Cooperation Conference held at the Arava Institute, Kibbutz Ketura, brought together Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian academics, NGOs and policy-makers focusing on wastewater treatment and reuse in the West Bank, renewable energy, charcoal production pollution in the northern West Bank, climate change, and the looming humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
While none of the discussions targeted major stumbling blocks to peace in the region such as, Jerusalem, refugees, the settlements, borders, etc., they did offer real solutions to on-the-ground problems that require coordination, agreement and a measure of trust in order to be implemented and improve lives.
Though small, such confidence building measures can revive a belief in negotiations and restore public faith among both Palestinians and Israelis that there is a partner for peace.
Nongovernmental organizations, which work cross-border between Israel and Palestine on the environment, health, education, research, sports and culture, as well as businesses, have an important role to play in proving to the public that peace is possible. The media have an important role to play in highlighting these cross-border initiatives, and government officials and diplomats must work behind the scenes in order to ensure that such initiatives succeed if we are ever going to renew a peace process that leads to real peace.The writer is the executive director of the Arava Institute.