It is quite clear that there will be no negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians as long as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas are in power. The zero level of trust and confidence between two neighboring leaders is at a low point and the amount of hostility that exists between the Israeli public and the Palestinian public leaves little room for negotiations, even if the leaders really wanted to negotiate, and they do not.
Due to the correct perception of regional and world leaders, from the United States and the European Union to China and Russia, that there is a zero chance of any genuine negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, the entire issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is off the international agenda. The US will not lead a new Middle East peace process at any time in the foreseeable future, nor will any member state of the EU.
The regional partners near and far, such as Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco, also understand quite well that there is no chance for possible constructive engagement at this time to bring Israel and the Palestinians to the table.
They are all working overtime, hoping that a new flare-up of violence between Israel and the Palestinians won’t create instability within their own masses and will allow for continued security-related cooperation with Israel while maintaining public support for the Palestinians and especially for al-Quds and al-Aqsa.
But the time will come when Netanyahu or Abbas or both of them will not be ruling anymore. Whether they are perceived as good or bad leaders by their own people, no leader should serve as long as these two gentlemen have been in office. Israel, which considers itself a democracy, should easily understand the words even spoken by Netanyahu by himself in the past that no leader should serve more than two terms in office.
Calls for democracy and fairness for minority groups
The Palestinians demand democracy and elections and with all due respect, Mahmoud Abbas is not the only Palestinian capable and worthy of leading the Palestinian people. Eventually, the Palestinians will also have a new leader. So that day will come when there will be new leaders in the Prime Ministers’ offices in Jerusalem and in the Muqata’a in Ramallah. Those who understand that at some point, Israel and the Palestinians will have to return to the table to negotiate, should be conscious of the need to prepare today for tomorrow.
Despite the desire and actions of some of the ministers in the current Israeli government, there will not be a second Nakba and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians will not leave their homes and become refugees outside of Palestine. Despite the desire of some Palestinians that Israel suddenly disappears or that the Jews will be pushed into the sea, this too will not happen.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not going away and with the passing of time, the possibilities for an amicable solution become more difficult. That is the reality that the next generation of Israeli and Palestinian leaders will have to confront.
WHEN THE time does come and there are new leaders here, there may also be a time when international pressures gain steam and the force of persuasion – carrots and sticks – may be used by the US, the EU, or close and nearby Arab states to bring the two warring parties to the table. But even before that time comes, if it will come, I suggest that people who perceive themselves as potential future leaders of Israel and the Palestinians, and in the region, begin a process of quiet, back-channel discussions and developing acquaintances that could prove to be very useful in the future.
Through these back channels, each side can learn what is essential for their counterparts on the other side to receive in order to gradually change public opinion to be more favorable to getting back to negotiations. A gradual confidence-building process can be developed that could be in the form of public statements or actions that could enhance both the chances of those people rising to positions of power while at the same time rebuilding a sense of hope amongst the people that peace, ending the occupation and ending the conflict could one day become a reality.
I suggest that future Israeli leaders also consider finding ways to speak with some Palestinian leaders who might be sitting in Israeli prisons. The Arab states that have signed peace agreements with Israel can also use their influence with Israel and the Palestinians who can be best assisted in this process within the regional circle of peace.
I have run numerous secret back channels between Israelis and Palestinians in the past decades. People here on both sides say that it is impossible to keep these channels secret. If the participants are truly interested in keeping the channel secret, it is completely possible to do so. I know this for a fact from personal experience.
Secret back channels are the best way to proceed because they provide deniability. They can also be used for testing ideas and proposals on how eventual negotiations could proceed. They also provide a good platform for helping each other shape the messages and actions that have the power to impact more positive public opinion regarding future possibilities of peace.
When it is so clear on both sides that the general sense of the public is that there are no partners for peace on the other side, it is important to begin to break through the walls of despair and begin to plant the seeds of hope. That can be achieved through constructive, well-thought-out, strategic work in secret back channels.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to peace between Israel and its neighbors. He is a founding member of Kol Ezraheiha-Kol Muwanteneiha (All of the Citizens) political party in Israel. He is now directing The Holy Land Bond and is the Middle East director for ICO – International Communities Organization.