Encountering peace: Secret negotiations, increasing the chances of success

Failure to reach an agreement is not in the interest of either side and the consequences of failure or likely to be quite negative.

Palestinian farmer in the West Bank 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
Palestinian farmer in the West Bank 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
These are the facts: negotiations between the government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization are taking place. There are two negotiators on the Israeli side (Attorney Dr. Yitzhak Molcho and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni). There are two negotiators on the Palestinian side (Dr. Saeb Erekat and Dr. Mohammed Shtayeh). There is one US mediator/facilitator (Ambassador Dr. Martin Indyk). The negotiations are being directed and guided by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The majority (perhaps all) of the ministers in the Israeli government are in the dark – they do not know what is going on behind the closed doors of the negotiations.
The majority (perhaps all) of the ministers in the Palestinian government are in the dark and have no idea what is happening behind the closed doors. The agreed spokesman for the talks is the US State Department and Secretary of State John Kerry himself.
Various anonymous sources have “leaked” information about the negotiations. I would venture to say that the overwhelming majority of news that has been published about the negotiations from the anonymous sources is false. I would say (and I don’t think I am wrong) that those who are speaking, don’t know, and those who know, are not speaking.
A rather well known Israeli journalist asked me yesterday if I thought the negotiations were being harmed by the lack of transparency. I think she was surprised by my very decisive answer – no, quite the opposite.
There is no other way to conduct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations given the present political constellations on both sides in the public eye. Neither Netanyahu nor Abbas could carry on any serious negotiations with the other side if they were transparent. They would be spending all of their time negotiating with their own political parties.
If and when they reach an agreement, they will both go back to their constituencies to gain their vote of confidence – either through referenda, votes in the governments or parliaments or even new elections.
Until reaching an agreement, the negotiations must be carried out in full secrecy. Let’s face it, this is not the first time the parties are negotiating all of the issues. Everyone on both sides is quite aware of what the issues are and what the margins of negotiating space that each side are.
If the negotiations are serious, and it seems that they are, all of the issues will be on the table.
There will be no agreement until there is agreement on all of the core issues: Palestinian statehood and the nature of its sovereignty, the delineation of borders between the states and their management, security arrangements, the question of Gaza and its place in the agreement, the future of Jerusalem, the future of the Palestinian refugee issue, economic relations, water and natural resources, fostering a culture of peace and combatting incitement, and agreeing to the end of the conflict and all claims.
Each single issue is complex on its own. Together there are a lot of very complex and difficult decisions that have to be made.
I firmly believe that there are solutions for all of these issues. We have enough knowledge and experience not to make the same errors that were made last time around.
We have the capacity to learn from mistakes and to come up with better ways to ensure the full implementation of treaty obligations. We know that the agreement must be implemented over time and based on measurable and verifiable performance ensuring that each side is living up to its commitments and responsibilities.
Security issues are going to be paramount in the agreement.
I do not support the placement of foreign peacekeeping troops. I believe that the parties must live up to their security responsibilities and there can be no agreement unless those are taken with 100 percent seriousness.
Israelis and Palestinians are going to have to cooperate on security issues more than ever before.
Both sides have an interest to confront extremists and terrorists so that they are not empowered to work against the interests of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.
Israeli-Jordanian security cooperation, which today exists along the Jordan River, will have to be expanded to include the third component of Palestinian security forces making up a trilateral security mechanism on the eastern border.
No agreement will survive continued Israeli security incursions into the areas controlled by Israel, nor the need for Israel to make those incursions. The Palestinian security forces are going to have to fulfill their responsibilities to ensure that no terrorism emerges from their territory.
It would be wise for Israel and the Palestinians to begin to create the system of sharing intelligence information and rather than entering Palestinian towns, cities and refugee camps now to arrest suspects, the Palestinian security forces should be doing the job and if the information is true, the Palestinians arrested should face their penalties inside the Palestinian prisons.
By the way, Palestinian prisons already have hundreds of Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners and even prisoners from the al-Aksa Brigades, which claims affiliation with Fatah. Israel should know now, before withdrawing from more territories and enabling the creation of sovereign Palestinian areas, whether the Palestinian leadership is really serious about making peace with Israel.
This is much more important than any kind of declarations and statements that Palestinian leaders are being asked to make.
There is no doubt that as negotiations progress and agreements on key issues are reached, the political will of the parties to create new realities on the ground will increase. There is also little doubt that improved realities on the ground now could very much improve the atmosphere within the negotiating room making the possibilities for reaching agreements better. This is a kind of magical circle. It is hard to break it and neither side is anxious to take the first step.
There is another approach which could be tried as well – it is called the “if, then” game. Each side could be asked by the American mediator to present a number of “if, then” statements. For example, Israel could say, “if the Palestinians demonstrate 100% effort in security, acting effectively on Israeli intelligence information, Israel will cease its incursions into areas under Palestinian security control.” The Palestinians could say, “if Israel agrees to economic development projects in Area “C” under full Israeli control, Palestinians will end their boycott of Israeli settlement products.”
These are only theoretical examples. The point is that creative thinking is necessary to help to enable an agreement.
Failure to reach an agreement is not in the interest of either side and the consequences of failure or likely to be quite negative.
We must focus on success and put into practice the tools for increasing its chances.
Gershon Baskin is the 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 is forthcoming from The Toby Press.