Encountering Peace: Negotiating atmospherics

Building peace requires negotiators reach best deal possible; that becomes more possible when both sides demonstrate same amount of positive will, actions.

Kerry in Bethlemem November 6, 2013 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Kerry in Bethlemem November 6, 2013 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
We don’t really know how to relate to the conflicting reports in the media about the peace talks.
The leaks from the Palestinian side are constantly reporting that there is no progress. They further claim that they never agreed to a release of prisoners in exchange for Israeli settlement building.
The leaks from the Israeli side are talking about new Israeli conditions such as annexing settlements which are outside the settlement blocs or building a wall along the Jordan River.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni continues to refuse to comment, only noting that they have all agreed that the only official statements will come from the US side. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told the Fatah revolutionary council that there has been no progress and that the talks are deadlocked.
Now there are also new rumors about an impending American plan for bridging proposals to be put on the table in December or January.
Leaks, statements and announcements are all part of the negotiations.
The use and misuse of information is a common practice in trying to apply pressure on the other side. The negotiators are not immune to public pressure and to atmospheric altercations fabricated to create a sense of crisis.
The public statements and actions taken by both sides do have an effect on the talks and right now it would not be far-fetched to assume that mood inside the room has turned sour. The announcement of new settlement building, home demolitions in Jerusalem, talk of plans to allow Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, deeply affect the rise of pessimism among the Palestinians.
Palestinian calls that al Aqsa is in danger, the celebration of terrorists released from Israeli prisons, rumors of the negotiators resigning and threats to end the talks have the same negative impact on the Israeli side.
Together they all have the potential power to lead to violence and to explode any chances of reaching a negotiated agreement.
Secretary of State John Kerry’s most recent visit and round of talks with both sides is certainly aimed at snapping the whip (or a magic wand) at both sides to get them to calm down and refrain from statements and actions that could end the talks before their time.
There is too often the sense that each side is doing a favor to the Americans (or to the other side) just by agreeing to negotiate. Israel and Palestine are only doing a favor to themselves by agreeing to negotiate.
It is in the national strategic interest of both sides to be in the room and to reach a negotiated end to the conflict.
It is time that both sides begin to act according to its own interests.
There are certain axiomatic certainties that must be understood, internalized, memorized and articulated by both sides. These include: • The only solution to the conflict is two states for two peoples.
• Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people and Palestine is the homeland of the Palestinian people.
The minority populations in both states must be guaranteed full freedom and equality.
• All the permanent status issues need to be resolved in order for there to be peace, including borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees, mutual recognition of national rights, ending incitement and fostering a culture of peace.
• The capitals of both states will be in Jerusalem. Jerusalem must remain an open city with access for all.
• All people will have full and free access to all of the Holy Places and sites.
• If there is no security there will be no agreement. Each side must take 100 percent responsibility for providing security and for fighting terrorism and violence.
• Israel has very legitimate security concerns that the Palestinians must accommodate or there will be no agreement.
• Palestine has very legitimate concerns regarding its sovereignty and ending the occupation, without this there will be no agreement.
• Security cooperation between the parties is an essential element of the agreement.
• Due to the lack of trust between the parties and because of past experience there must be trusted third party monitors verifying implementation of the agreements.
It would be very helpful if each side would take a few action-oriented steps that could help to improve the negotiating atmosphere, rather than the business-as-usual statements and actions that further destroy trust.
Those steps do not have to be completely reciprocal and mutual, although knowing the parties they will probably not be done until the Americans negotiate an agreement on their undertaking.
The negotiations do not have to take place as a kindergarten classroom arguing which side has to take the first step. Steps taken independently that could improve the atmosphere would pay off inside the negotiating room and therefore do not have to be dependent on reciprocity.
A clear statement by Netanyahu that Israel is seeking a full comprehensive agreement and not a longterm interim agreement could be an easy step to make.
A clear statement by Abbas that the Palestinians are seeking a full comprehensive agreement that would put an end to the conflict and all claims by the Palestinians (something he has already said in the past) could be a reciprocal step that would have positive impact.
Greater Israeli cooperation and attention to concrete plans for Palestinian economic development is both a Palestinian need and interest and an Israeli need and interest. Much can be done to advance the Palestinian economy though cooperation.
An invitation by Netanyahu to Abbas to address the Knesset and an invitation by Abbas to Netanyahu to address the Fatah central council – these are also possible and positive. A mutual agreement to transmit Israeli television news once a day with Arabic subtitles and Palestinian television news with Hebrew subtitles could create a situation whereby both sides might become more considerate of what the other side thinks when the view each other’s news.
There are many examples of positive steps that could be taken. Building peace requires that the negotiators reach the best deal possible. That becomes more possible when both sides demonstrate the same amount of positive will and actions to positively influence the atmosphere outside of the negotiating room.
The author is co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press.