Yossi Beilin deserves credit for the great idea of Birthright trips for young Jewish-American adults. However, despite his good intentions, his Oslo dream of the same era has not had the same success, with Israel still dealing with many of its less desirable consequences.
In an article this month in Israel Hayom, “When has the two-state solution been tried?”, Beilin still remains married to the failed core concept of the Oslo Accords – that a peace agreement comes before the details have been spelled out.
According to Beilin, because Israelis and Palestinians cannot agree on even what the word peace means, or how differently Israelis and Palestinians define a demilitarized Palestinian state, it is better to remain ambiguous in terminology, avoiding specifics that will sink a deal from the start.
From Beilin’s perspective, even the word peace is a “loaded” word for both parties. I would suggest using the term “end of conflict agreement” in its place, where all claims are clearly specified and resolved, to minimize what’s left up for grabs when Israel’s existence is on the line.
Former Labor MK Einat Wilf, who worked with both Beilin and Shimon Peres, wrote in The Atlantic last year, “What doomed the Oslo Accords is also what made them possible... constructive ambiguity.”
According to Wilf, the paradigm of Oslo was that “an interim period of trust-building was required [while] remain[ing] ambiguous about the core issues... rather than force the sides to adopt positions and make concessions… this constructive ambiguity, imbued in each element of the accords, proved to be utterly destructive.”
For those who believe the only way for Israel to remain both democratic and Jewish is through the two-states-for-two-peoples solution, ignoring this core failure of the Oslo Accords without proposing and publicizing a security-centric alternative – which takes into account the painful experiences of Israel’s last 25 years – would be the best way to lose the support of the majority of the Israeli public and many pro-Israel Americans.
Since Oslo, Israelis have lived under the siege of the Second Intifada, witnessed the results of the failed Gaza Disengagement and today are experiencing the aftermath of the Arab Winter, which transformed the Middle East into a much more dangerous and unpredictable place, with Iran on its doorstep.
Would Beilin leave the definition of two states ambiguous, too?
Not a good idea, as two states to the Palestinians means an Arab state and a binational state, without a Jewish state. Can any Israeli leader today from the Right or Left sign a peace agreement that doesn’t spell out what two states specifically means?
According to Wilf, the parties should “approach the negotiations not as a marriage, but as a divorce... spell out every detail. In place of destructive ambiguity, we need constructive specificity.”
Beilin uses the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan as a precedent for a future Palestinian agreement, claiming that those treaties succeeded because their wording was ambiguous, lacking specifics.
However, making peace treaties with nations like Jordan or Egypt is very different from dealing with a Palestinian Authority that has failed to create the foundations of a future state, despite being the highest per capita recipient of aid in the world. Their continued demand for a right of return to Israel and willingness to pay terrorists and their families at the expense of their law abiding citizens, while never preparing their populace for any of the compromises that peace will require, make specifics an imperative, and ambiguity a liability.
When the Palestinian narrative is primarily based on grievance and dispossession, without a positive vision for the future, this is a prescription to doom even the best of plans. Hopefully the plan addresses this conundrum.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat recently said Israel offered more that 100% of the disputed territory with land swaps and east Jerusalem as its capital 11 years ago, during negotiations with prime minister Ehud Olmert. The Palestinian answer was not yes. Yet, this is what the Palestinians have been telling the world that they want. Here, specifics exposed the issue as not territorial, but as intransigently ideological.
The problem is that after years of telling your people that Israel has no right to exist and that Jews are occupiers of your land, that when you are offered what you have demanded and reject the offer, you expose your real goal, which is not an end of conflict agreement.
With the Trump peace plan just around the corner, this is a good time to ask if Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt’s plan has learned the lessons of Oslo.
How specific will they be in their suggestions?
Will specificity without ambiguity suffocate the process before it begins? If individual issues of the plan are not an existential threat to Israel, then a level of flexibility is warranted.
Perhaps the best we can hope for at this time is to empower the Palestinian people economically, with the hope that the years of incitement could be overcome with Palestinian prosperity that will lead them to demand that their leadership evolve to obey the rule of law – offering freedom of speech and press, none of which has been present since Oslo. Only then could an election be contemplated, as a premature election could lead to an Islamist takeover in short order.
If the Palestinian Authority were to transform into a responsible organization, then a peace agreement could be presented with an end of conflict agreement, addressing every issue with as little ambiguity as possible. It would use the wording of UN General Assembly Resolution 181 that acknowledges both an Arab and a Jewish state. Perhaps then, this conflict would reach the level of the cold peace Israel enjoys with Egypt and Jordan today.
The Trump plan might be dead on arrival for this Palestinian leadership, but if it garners some Arab support from Egypt and the Gulf states, it might become a foundational block for the future – a path if not toward full peace, at least to a very long-term ceasefire. It isn’t sexy, and it doesn’t satisfy those who blame Israel’s occupation of the disputed territory as the core problem, but the status quo plus Palestinian economic empowerment may be the only path available at this time.
Whatever the “deal of the century” is, let’s hope that the plan is long on specifics, and short on ambiguity.
The writer is director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the Senate, House and their foreign policy advisers. He is a regular columnist for The Jerusalem Post, and a contributor to i24TV, The Hill, JTA and The Forward.