Encountering Peace: What if the talks fail?

The solution that answers the national interests of both sides and their aspirations will remain the two-states for two-peoples solution – that will also not change – it will only become more difficult to achieve.

Security barrier 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Security barrier 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Is the current glitch in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations a sign of breakdown or part of the normal ebb and flow of any difficult negotiations?
Breakdowns, threats of leaving the table, the resignation of negotiators – these are all common tactics employed in negotiations, particularly those with a set time to them. If nine months have been pre-determined as the time line, then why produce an agreement in anything less than that?
The last days, hours, even minutes on the ticking clock are the best moment to squeeze additional concessions from your opponent before signing on the dotted line.
Crises in the peace negotiations are entirely predictable and should be entirely understood as part of the process. However, this does not mean that there are not genuine causes for the current breakdown. There are, they have been provided by both sides, they should be expected and nonetheless avoided because they are also potentially dangerous.
The United States as the convener and mediator of the current round of talks should definitely be prepared to put its bridging proposals on the table.
The US must be willing to use its influence and power, hard and soft, to provide the means for guaranteeing the implementation of the proposed agreement in all of its aspects. The bridging proposals by definition will propose compromises to the positions presented by both sides and both sides will have to make significant concessions for there to be an agreement.
If the parties, one of both, refuse to accept the US bridging proposals, the US better be prepared with “Plan B,” because without it there will be a genuine crisis with potentially enormously harmful consequences.
Some ideas have already been floating around. There is a possibility for another interim agreement. Personally, I think it is a bad idea, but if it will mitigate violence, it should be strongly considered. There is the possibility of beginning to implement agenda items that have already been agreed to, such as a water agreement, a new economic agreement, or other aspects that are probably on the table now and should be advanced.
THIS WOULD move us away from the principle “that nothing is agreed until it is all agreed.” This has been the guiding principle of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations until now, but it does not have to remain the guiding principle.
If we can agree on some issues, let’s see which of them can also be brought into implementation phase. This is one way of creating a better negotiating environment that could help to enable agreement on the more contentious issues.
As we approach the midpoint of the nine-month period allocated we should also begin thinking about the scenarios that failure of the negotiations could lead to. We should be doing this even the more so because there are very few people on both sides who can imagine success from the negotiations.
Failure to reach an agreement will only increase the real need for an agreement.
Palestinian demands for independence and freedom will not disappear. Israel’s need for real security will not be answered by the absence of an agreement. Most likely Palestinian nationalistic demands will increase, as will Israeli security needs.
When Secretary of State John Kerry said that failure to reach an agreement could lead to the next round of violence, he was not sanctioning the use of violence nor was he threatening. That statement reflects the real possibility whose undercurrent we are already witnessing.
It is quite clear that Palestinian society and its leaders do not want another intifada.
The pain and suffering of the second intifada are still very vivid memories (on both sides). The deaths of thousands of people, the destruction of billions of dollars in property and infrastructure, and the total loss of law and order that was the outcome of the second intifada for Palestinians must be avoided at all costs.
The second intifada produced absolutely no positive political results. Violence will not help to create peace.
Violence did force Israel to withdraw twice in the past – from Lebanon and from Gaza. The end results of withdrawal in response to violence and without political agreements led to political disasters for Israel, the Palestinians and the region in both cases.
So everything must be done to mitigate violence. This is completely clear. But what can be done that will achieve that result?
For one, we must ensure that the Palestinian economy will not collapse. The next round of violence will be born from the failure of negotiations and launched from the frustration and despair of a collapsing economy.
It is important not to misread this – Palestinians are not interested in a better, more prosperous occupation. They want their freedom and independence, and money will not buy off their national aspirations or national pride.
The economy has the power to delay, but not to postpone forever the eventual emergence of the next round of violence.
The Palestinians are most likely going to move the conflict arena into the international community. This is what Kerry meant when referring to Israel’s growing isolation. The world will largely support the Palestinians, as long as they refrain from violence. The main arena will be the United Nations and its many agencies and institutions. The support of the world for justice for the Palestinians will be ever-present.
ISRAEL WILL most likely respond by using means of retaliation against the Palestinian leadership and the people. Israel has many tools it can use. It could prevent the flow of Palestinian labor into Israel. Israel could freeze the transfer of customs and VAT taxes that it collects for the Palestinians. Israel could reduce the flow of electricity in the West Bank which is now almost 100 percent dependent on this source of energy. Israel could prevent gasoline and diesel fuel from entering Palestinian areas. Israel could disrupt the flow of building materials and other goods.
Israel has total control over the Palestinian economy and it could that control as a means of pressure. But that could also easily strike the match that will light the explosion of the next round of violence.
Israel could also try to use the international arena as the place to set the parameters for the next attempt to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. A UN Security Council resolution that would embody the principles of the two states for two peoples solution into international law would serve Israel’s interests as well as the Palestinians.
That resolution could also contain the principles for protecting Israel’s interests, its need for defensible borders and the right of self-defense which is already embodied in the Charter of the United Nations.
The decision makers on both sides and in the international community who are concerned and working for peace must spend some time and energy pre-empting the violence by proposing constructive steps that can, despite the potential failure of this round of negotiations, move us forward.
The conflict is not going anywhere – neither are the Israelis nor the Palestinians.
The solution that answers the national interests of both sides and their aspirations will remain the two-states for two-peoples solution – that will also not change – it will only become more difficult to achieve.
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.