Are we entering a new beginning for Israeli-Palestinian talks? – opinion

With the understanding that the Abbas era is coming to an end, perhaps that is now beginning to change.

Palestinian and Israeli flags overlook Dome of Rock and Western Wall (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Palestinian and Israeli flags overlook Dome of Rock and Western Wall
In October 2000, in the period during which hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians were being killed in the Second Intifada, I began receiving phone calls from senior Palestinians who had been engaged in meeting with Israelis in the period prior to the time that the official peace process began. They proposed that we organize discreet talks between officials and people of influence on both sides with the aim of ending the violence of the intifada and returning to negotiations. Ron Pundak, may his memory be blessed, the director of the Peres Center for Peace, told me at the same time that he too was receiving similar phone calls.
I recall this now because like then, I am now receiving phone calls from senior Palestinians requesting to organize discreet meetings with senior Israeli officials and those with influence with the aim of renewing the dialogue in the search for a path towards a new vision for a shared future. Some of these people believe that it might still be possible to save the two-state solution. Others suggest that we try to find common principles and views for a different political paradigm. What they all have in common is the possibility that they may become part of the Palestinian leadership in the post-Abbas era, which is in the not very distant future.
It has been many years since a genuine open dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians who have strategic thinking capabilities has taken place. Almost all of the Israeli-Palestinian contacts at senior levels over the past decade have been functional – either between security officials or between business people. The security coordination or economic ties were not ideological and were not motivated by the desire to search for peace. Peace-oriented dialogue has not had “clientele” in a very long time.
On the Israeli side, people of influence or from the government were not interested in a dialogue for peace. Those who were interested did not participate because they were fearful that their superiors in government would not view it with favor. Political leaders proved that they were not interested, even when Abbas offered me a carte blanche to offer an invitation to any Israeli leaders from the Center or right-wing in Israel, they all refused to meet Abbas.
Senior Palestinians, who in the past were deeply engaged in meetings with Israelis for years, also rejected opportunities for re-engagement either because they thought it was futile or because they were fearful of the retributions from the anti-normalization activists in Palestine. The young generation on both sides, except for those perhaps on the fringes, have not participated in any serious process of trying to understand the other side though direct and intensive contact. With the understanding that the Abbas era is coming to an end, perhaps that is now beginning to change.
It is interesting to note that the calls I am receiving are not from people who are part of the current Palestinian Authority regime. They are not from the economic ruling class who have virtual centralized control over the Palestinian economy. These are well-known people, who in the past were directly involved in the Palestinian Authority, but who today could be considered members of the opposition. They do come from circles identified with Fatah, past or present, and some independents.
A MAJORITY of Palestinians in the West Bank are not Fatah or Hamas, they don’t support either of the two main political groups. They number more than 60% of the society with Fatah and Hamas and a few smaller parties dividing the minority 40%. There are today some small political parties and independents but none of them have the organization or resources to be able to run a national campaign.
When elections in Palestine eventually will take place, the political challengers with a chance of winning will be based on the organizations connected to Fatah and Hamas. The Abbas loyalists, supporters of the current regime, will have the chiefs of the security forces behind them and access to money connected to the regime. Some of those people contacting me to renew dialogue and exploration of a new future relations built on developing trust have support within some parts of Fatah as well as some important people temporarily residing outside of Palestine.
I have asked these West Bank people about Gaza and how we can involve people from Gaza in this new dialogue. Hamas is in the midst of their own internal secret and complex elections for the new Hamas politburo – the senior leadership group within the Hamas movement. It is believed that Yahya Sinwar will come out on top. All of the Palestinians who have contacted me recently believe that Sinwar is pragmatic and would support a genuine long-term truce with Israel. They don’t believe that Hamas would engage in any talks with Israel regarding possibilities of peace. They believe that Sinwar’s leadership would enable the exploration of West Bank Palestinians with Israelis for new directions without trying to sabotage the process.
A lot of this also depends on the outcome of the US elections. It is impossible to predict at this point how the outcome, whatever it is, will impact the Israeli-Palestinian future, but either another four years of Trump or a new Biden regime will open new possibilities for shaping the Israeli-Palestinian relationship in the post-Abbas era.
It seems to me, that regardless of the outcome of the US elections, it might be possible to involve the Emirates as partners or sponsors of a new kind of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue in which they could play a very positive role – perhaps more positive than the US has ever played, and perhaps even more balanced than the US was ever capable of playing. Any role for the Emirates in a renewed peace effort between Israel and Palestine would be coordinated with the Saudis and undoubtedly with Egypt and Jordan as well. The peace dividend of the current round of developments of normalization between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan would then turn out to be a lot more than economic investments and weapons deals.
We all have to remember that there will be a post-Abbas era.  There will be a post-Netanyahu era and there will even be a post-Trump era.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press and is now available.