Halevy doubts chance of final deal with Palestinians

Ex-Mossad head: Interim agreement would be most workable; says, "To end conflict, we need to bring an end to mutual demands on both sides."

Efraim Halevy 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Efraim Halevy 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The most feasible peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority would involve interim borders, and though a final peace treaty would be desirable, it is unlikely that one could be implemented, former Mossad chief and national security adviser Efraim Halevy told reporters on Thursday.
At a meeting in Jerusalem with members of the Foreign Press Association, Halevy, who currently heads the Shasha Center for Strategic Studies at the Hebrew University’s School of Public Policy and Government, outlined some of the reasons that he believes stand in the way of an agreement being concluded.
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Most of his remarks were based on a study carried out by a seven-member research team at the Shasha Center, which analyzed all the variants related to a sustainable agreement and came up with a set of principles, scenarios and recommendations for future borders between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The findings were recently published in English and Hebrew, in a booklet that is being distributed to decision-makers in Israel and abroad.
The chances of realizing an ultimate peace treaty are low, said Halevy, who underscored that even if such a treaty were to be signed, it would take years to implement, and that regime changes on both sides of the divide, as well as in Europe and the United States, would mean that the people who signed the agreement would not be the ones to implement it, as a result of which the agreement would take on a different character and might even be stalled.
Another option was a dual border, which is essentially a political and security border. There was a moderate probability of realizing that option, but Halevy doubted that the weak and divided PA was capable of being a partner to such a process.
Yet another option was a Palestinian state within interim borders, and a special arrangement for Jerusalem. Here again, the probability of realization was characterized as moderate.
“If there is an interim border, the exact delineation will in future be of less gravity to both sides,” said Halevy.
The final option was no borders, on the path to a bi-national state – an option he said was possible, but not desirable to either side.
The team concluded that in this instance, the probability of realization was moderate-to-high, because Israeli governance was weak, and the government had little desire to advance toward an agreement. The PA, it said, is weak and undivided and unable to reach an agreement under the threat of Hamas; and Hamas, which is moderate to powerful, could resort to terrorism to torpedo any agreement.
There is powerful support on the part of both the Israeli and the Palestinian public for two states for two peoples, said Halevy, but there is also distrust on both sides, and settler opposition to evacuation is sufficiently powerful to stymie any agreement.
Halevy did not have a high opinion of the influence of the superpowers, which he said were “strong on statements but weak on power.”
Given the existing circumstances, the best option, according to Halevy, is one of interim borders. It is the most feasible, and would be most acceptable if a commitment were put in writing that this was not the final word, he said. His team believes that the penalty that each side would pay for no solution is so high that any other solution would be preferable.
“There are signs of the Green Line beginning to fade into the distance, and this a threat to an Israeli Jewish democratic state,” he said. “If there is no solution and the PA has to come to its constituents and say, ‘We have nothing to offer you,’ we may see the end of the PA.”
Halevy pointed out wryly that 190 hands in the United Nations might be raised for the PA to have a state, “but if it’s not operable, and there are no mechanisms for a solution, this is political bankruptcy. In that case, the PA may say, ‘We have to settle for less.’” Halevy, who was an integral member of the Israeli team in the peace negotiations with Jordan, expressed dislike for expressions that left themselves open to several interpretations. One such expression is “defensible borders,” but most borders in the Middle East are not defensible, noted Halevy. Another expression is “end of conflict,” used by the previous government.
“What does it mean?” Halevy asked, pointing to the fact that Israel had signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. “Can it be said that we have an end of conflict?” According to Halevy, “what we need to do is not bring an end to the conflict, but to bring an end to mutual demands on both sides. The end of the conflict will come about when you have a state of normalcy among people on both sides.”
Halevy said it was an interesting phenomenon that 40,000 Palestinians had used Facebook to support the call for a third intifada, but if they were all given Kalashnikovs tomorrow and told to go war, “I don’t know how many would.”
It was too early to determine the effects that Twitter and Facebook would have on the Palestinians, he continued, but he did not think there would be a copycat development of what happened in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
Nonetheless, there is pressure on the PA to do something, he said. “If nothing happens by September, it will be too late. We don’t have time to mess around any longer.”
The Quartet has designated September as the deadline for the conclusion of negotiations.
Convulsions in the region have accelerated the pace of events, he said, adding, “We have lost the advantage of time.”
Halevy declined to voice an opinion on the nature of future relations between Egypt and Israel, other than to say that it was interesting to see the way in which all the candidates for Egypt’s presidency were expressing themselves on the peace treaty, and that contrary to past elections, the outcome was not a foregone conclusion. He doubted that the new regime would go to war with Israel, mainly because it was not in a position to go to war and simultaneously achieve the objectives of the revolution.
If there is a change, it will be with regard to Gaza, because the existing situation there cannot be sustained, he said.
In the past, Halevy has advocated Israel’s talking to Hamas, but he said he felt that now was not the time to do so.
“We should create a situation in which Hamas is part of the solution and not part of the problem,” he said.
Turning to Iran and its reaction to the events in the region, Halevy said Tehran was wary, watchful, nervous and exercising caution.
He also noted that al-Qaida “was caught off guard” by stirrings in the region, and that this has had an impact on international terror.
“The number one loser in all this is al- Qaida, which has suffered a major setback as a result of what has happened in the Arab world,” he said.
The Shasha Center team spent two years researching the study project. It was directed by Prof. Shlomo Hassan, who has written extensively on sociopolitical and geopolitical issues as well as on urban, regional and strategic planning.
Besides Halevy, team members included former Finance Ministry director-general Avi Ben-Bassat, a professor of economics and a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute; Uri Ne’eman, who headed the Mossad’s research division and served in the intelligence community for more than 30 years; Jerusalem Post columnist David Newman, who is dean of the Humanities and Social Sciences faculty at Ben-Gurion University; Ambassador Robbie Sabel, a visiting professor at HU’s Faculty of Law and Department of International Relations; and Prof. Avraham Sela of the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations.
Halevy emphasized that the study had no relation to what was happening in the higher reaches of the government.