Encountering Peace: The days after tomorrow

Negotiators often get lost in the task of negotiating. The details consume their attention – and this is necessary. It is essential that the agreements are explicit and understood in the same way by both parties.

Kerry, Livni, Erekat press conference 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
Kerry, Livni, Erekat press conference 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
In Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement of the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on July 29, 2013, he stated: “Going forward, it’s no secret that this is a difficult process. If it were easy, it would have happened a long time ago... many difficult choices lie ahead for the negotiators and for the leaders as we seek reasonable compromises on tough, complicated, emotional and symbolic issues. I think reasonable compromises have to be a keystone of all of this effort. I know the negotiations are going to be tough, but I also know that the consequences of not trying could be worse.”
Kerry is certainly correct, the negotiations will be tough. Israelis and Palestinians are seasoned negotiators. They have been at it now for 20 years. The negotiators know each other very well and they know the issues which are being negotiated even better. But as hard as negotiations will be, the real difficulties over the past years were not the negotiations themselves, but rather the decision-making part.
The Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are not going to suddenly discover things they did not know until now. In historical retrospect, it may be possible to conclude that Israelis and Palestinians enjoy the negotiating part, it is making decisions they have difficulty with.
There will probably not be too many new and creative ideas on the table that have not been there until now. Each side will try to convince the other to accept more of their own positions that were rejected until now. Each side will try to get a better deal than was offered in the past.
There will not be major dramatic changes in the offers this time around.
The main difference will have to be that this time the leaders will finally have to make decisions and finalize an agreement.
It will undoubtedly be hard for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to make those decisions. That is why the Americans are at the table. The Americans have to find the bridging language and to provide the guarantees and incentives for those decisions to be made. And they have to push the parties to make those tough decisions. However, there can be no imposed Pax Americana; the Israeli-Palestinian agreement must be an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
The other thing that the Americans could and should do is emphasize that in reality the negotiations and the decisionmaking aspects are really the easier part of the process. The real hard work begins the day after an agreement is reached.
The agreement is merely a piece of paper.
A piece of paper is not peace. Peacemaking begins only after the agreement has been signed and, as it seems, ratified by the public on both sides. Only then do we begin the very difficult task of making peace between the people of Israel and the people of Palestine.
NEGOTIATORS OFTEN get lost in the task of negotiating. The details consume their attention – and this is necessary. It is essential that the agreements are explicit and understood in the same way by both parties. There is no room for “constructive ambiguity” because the stakes are too high and too many lives are at risk. The devil is in the details, as it is said (it is also said that God is in the details) and both sides cannot afford for the outcome to be bad agreements – mainly in terms of their implementability.
Each individual Israeli and Palestinian will determine the quality of the agreement in terms of their own political views, but in terms of providing the basis for real peacemaking, we need excellent agreements that properly confront risk management, monitoring and verification mechanisms as well as detailed clauses for dealing with disputes as the arise.
The true test of the quality of the agreement will be the extent to which the parties actually implement their treaty obligations and commitments.
Most importantly, the agreement must provide the basis for creating a new relationship between the parties. The elements of risk management in the agreement will will have to be crystal-clear, particularly on security arrangements and security responsibilities. That will require the existence of clearly defined borders and border regimes, most likely including all kinds of barriers, fences, walls and defense systems. That is necessary and should be expected.
But the agreement should also provide for the transformation of those barriers and walls into bridges that build relations, enhance common interests, and lead us to real peace between the peoples and not just the leaders. Even though most Israelis and Palestinians are probably thinking about the separation paradigm (us here and them there), in a little bit longer-term view, that paradigm is counterproductive to real peacemaking.
The real test of peace is not how we separate, but rather how we will cooperate in the future.
In the Oslo process, people-to-people aspects were defined as “projects” and entered the process almost as an afterthought in one of the annexes to the agreement. The Israeli-Palestinian permanent- status agreement must see the development of people-to-people relations as the heart of the peace treaty. The true goal of peace is not only a technical end to the conflict and aggression, it must be a fundamental change in the way that Israelis and Palestinian view each other and relate to each other.
Creating and fostering a culture of peace is equally important to delineating borders between the two states. Dealing with textbooks and incitement in the media and by public figures is as important to peacemaking as reaching understandings and agreements on Jerusalem.
Developing true economic cooperation which will ensure real prosperity for all of the people living between the river and the sea is just as important as resolving the refugee issue.
Peacemaking is not only redeploying defense forces and setting up military early warning stations, it is about turning a new page that does not undo the past, which is impossible, but rather sets the stage for a new future for both people, especially for the young generation of Israelis and Palestinians.
The negotiators’ task is difficult because they must lay the foundation on which it will be possible for the peoples of this land to reach out to each other and engage each other as good neighbors. The important message for the negotiators is: tomorrow is only your immediate target; your main target must be the days after tomorrow.
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.