Savir's Corner: Israel’s demands

Historically, Israel knew how to prepare for the worst. Now it is time to prepare for the better.

Molcho, Livni and Erekat 370 (photo credit: GPO video)
Molcho, Livni and Erekat 370
(photo credit: GPO video)
The debate in Israel over peace with the Palestinians has centered since 1967 on the price we will have to pay to resolve the conflict.
Public opinion polls focus on questions regarding the withdrawal to the 1967 lines, dismantling of settlements, compromises on Jerusalem etc.
Peace is not the price you pay; peace is the absence of war and conflict, as well as the best guarantee for life and prosperity.
While the price for peace with the Palestinians is well known, the return is not. The perceived quid pro quo in Israel is between what we give on the one hand and how much we can trust the Arabs on the other.
This creates a mistaken perception in which Israel gives back tangible assets such as land, and, in return, we depend on the mere goodwill of our neighbors to sustain peace. This is not realpolitik and is based on a condescending attitude that the Arabs have nothing to give us in return. Yet peace must be based on an equation, a structure of common interests.
The price for peace is already defined in the 1967 Security Council Resolution 242 – territories for peace, and today is part of all internationally respected peace plans – a withdrawal to a border, based on the 1967 lines, with mutual land swaps (for the settlement blocs), security arrangements, Jerusalem as a shared capital, and no right of return for Palestinian refugees to Israel. This is basically true for the Clinton Plan, the Geneva Initiative, the Saudi Peace Plan, the Ehud Olmert-Mahmoud Abbas talks and, by and large, the Obama vision of 2011.
Israel never sufficiently defined what the tangible quid pro quo should be.
On the “give,” one must be a dove, as the occupation of another people is not sustainable and is immoral; on the “take,” one must be a hawk, and demand in return cooperative relations that create common interests to sustain peace.
Israel, rather than trying to diminish the price of peace by 1 or 2 percent of the West Bank, will serve its interests better if it defines what peace means, in the equation of territories for peace. We have to define firm demands from both the Palestinians and the Arab countries, and condition the permanent deal on a real transformation in the regional relationship. That is the key to sustainable peace.
From the Palestinians, we must demand the same normalization clauses that we insisted upon with Egypt and Jordan, if not more: full diplomatic relations between Israel and Palestine, with ambassadors in the two parts of Jerusalem, as well as consulates (for visas, not permits), withdrawal and trade relations.
The permanent-status agreement must mean the end to all mutual claims, as well as the recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.
Some ask why that recognition is necessary. It is important for the Palestinians to recognize Israel for what it is, and not just as a fait accompli imposed on them by the world. In parallel we should expect and propose full cooperation (what the Arabs wrongly define as normalization) in the field of shared infrastructure, such as water, energy and tourism. The two states will be sharing a very small land and cooperation is necessary, based on full equality.
While making demands, Israel will have to get used to not imposing its will anymore, as the Palestinians will no longer be an occupied people but our next-door neighbors. The same is true for the Palestinians, who will have to put the occupation behind them and cooperate with Israelis as their next-door neighbors. Such cooperation should include the various government ministries, including the ministries of education, in order to create a joint program for peace education; a difficult challenge after a century-long conflict.
People-to-people relations should have a central place within the negotiations, possibly as the sixth permanent-status issue.
They should include youth exchanges, twinning of cities, international exchanges, business- to-business relations especially in high technology, tourism, media and communication, sports etc.
There will not be much love lost between the two societies, but the goal has to be reconciliation. Both sides have much to gain from it.
This will be based on the creation of common interests that will develop with time between two neighbors. It is not a favor we are doing for each other – neither our withdrawing from Palestinian land, nor their normalization and cooperation with us. This new cooperation must be accompanied by the rhetoric of leaders, calling in Arabic and Hebrew for cooperation, reconciliation and equality. Changes of attitudes are necessary in conflict resolution in order to sustain peace.
Israel has to make similar demands from the rest of the Arab world. The Arabs have claimed since 1967 that their hostility to Israel is a function of the occupation and our domination of the lives of the Palestinians; once this is resolved, the Arab countries will have to put rejection and hostility behind them. We must demand, in exchange for the return of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, that all Arab states establish full diplomatic relations with Israel, an exchange of ambassadors, as well as full consular and trade relations.
The Arab League should be asked to witness the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. A full normalization of relations has to follow, as alluded to in the Saudi Peace Plan (the Arab Initiative).
Peace is the opportunity for the Middle East to advance economically and become part of the globalized world. A framework of regional economic cooperation must be put in place; the European Union started with cooperation on coal and steel, the Middle East should start with cooperation on tourism and irrigation. The Middle East is one of the only regions that does not have a regional development bank; the region’s countries should establish such a bank with a strong regional economic planning unit that will include Arabs and Israelis.
When it comes to economic cooperation, Israelis look at the United States, the EU and Japan; while the Arabs look to the wealthy Gulf. Both have to understand that a good national economy is a function of a strong regional economy. Take tourism: most countries in the region have 2 million to 3 million tourists a year, as compared to southern Europe with about 60 million across Italy and Spain. With everything we have to offer, from the cradle of all monotheistic religions, the birthplace of great civilizations, unique archeological sites and magnificent beaches along the Mediterranean, the missing links for a tourism boom are peace and cooperation.
Regional economic development has to put at the center the well-being, education and employment of the young generation – the generation of change.
Regional cooperation should also be dependent on security for the prevention of war and the fight against terror.
Governments make peace, but it must be for the people. Wars in our region have destroyed economies and societies. Peace is a healing process and must be structured in such a way. Not just a transition between wars, but a new era. An era where economies grow through cooperation, people can develop to their potential to the fullest, especially the young. Peace in our region must therefore be a fundamental transformation, for countries, societies and individuals.
Such a transformation, more than every paragraph of a peace treaty or any inch of land, must be on the mind of the peacemakers and at the heart of our demands.
Historically, Israel knew how to prepare for the worst. Now it is time to prepare for the better. We have to demand it from our neighbors and not less so from ourselves.
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
Barbara Hurwitz edited this column.