Savir's Corner: What if the answer is yes?

The two leaders, Netanyahu and Abbas, should meet on a monthly basis and negotiate the most difficult issues – Jerusalem to Ramallah is a 15-minute drive.

Netanyahu speaking at AIPAC 2014 (photo credit: screenshot)
Netanyahu speaking at AIPAC 2014
(photo credit: screenshot)
The policy content of the framework for negotiations with the Palestinians is being constantly watered down to gain the approval of the anti-heroes: Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas. Each of them, in his turn, is warning the Americans that position A or B or C is totally unacceptable by faction 1 or 2 or 3 in their allegedly fragile coalitions.
This is how a typical conversation with John Kerry probably goes: Kerry: “Mr. Prime Minister (or President), on this issue (insert here the reading of a complex legalistic and ambiguous paragraph barely understood by the participants in the talks).”
Netanyahu (or Abbas): “Yes, I am committed to make the difficult, historic decisions, but with the wording of this paragraph, you have to understand me, I will face impossible opposition and risk my political future…” The Americans, who are well-meaning, generally take the whining of the two leaders into account. By now the framework may be so watered down that when published, except for ideological supporters and oppositions, nobody will fully understand the detailed meaning of it, especially after the barrage of reservations that will follow from both sides.
And yet, such a framework, if indeed it is approved, will become a watershed in the Middle East peace process, for several reasons: • It will be the first time in the Middle East peace process that the United States has defined written principles and positions on all permanent-status issues.
• It will constitute the basis for permanent- status negotiations, no matter what the reservations may be.
• It will, with time, force the parties to be more realistic in the negotiations, putting an end to Greater Israel and Greater Palestine from the River to the Sea.
Instead the parties will have to negotiate a border close to the 1967 lines with agreed land swaps. It will become clear that a negotiation on Jerusalem as a shared capital and a united city must take place. This demands much Israeli realism.
Palestinian realism will have to sink in, by understanding that the real right of return of Palestinian refugees will be to the new Palestinian state.
• The framework will make clear to the parties that the permanent-status agreement will be the end of all mutual claims and the end of the conflict. In this regard a mutual recognition between two nation-states will be a target for the conclusion of the process.
• Perhaps most important, the new basis for negotiations will reflect not only an American position, but an international consensus. Both parties, with time, will find it very hard to escape the principles of this consensus – an end to occupation and settlements, and to terror and rejection.
• The upside of this international understanding is that Israel and Palestine will be able to negotiate security and economic incentives from the United States and Europe; and, as for Israel, normalization of relations with the other Arab countries.
This eventual framework is therefore not only a formula to continue negotiations; it will become an important basis for the resolution of the most disputed issues of this century-long conflict. One cannot expect much more at this stage, not only because of the hesitancy of the leaders, but also because the real historic compromises on all these issues are negotiated at the very end of the process.
Therefore, beyond the importance of the content of the framework, are the modalities of future negotiations and the environment in which they will be held.
Much attention must be given by the parties – especially in the United States, the godfather of this effort – to the modus operandi of the upcoming talks.
First, it must be clear that no unilateral act affecting the outcome of these negotiations by either side will be tolerated.
This is true for expansion of settlements.
The eastern border of Israel, for the first time, is being negotiated in order to be internationally recognized. After the full agreement, Israel will be able to build, within the agreed-upon land swaps, as much as it wants in the settlement blocs.
The Palestinians must curtail their natural instinct to ask for United Nations intervention and imposition of statehood.
The underlying premise for successful negotiations must therefore be that the outcome has to be agreed upon by the two parties. This is a very difficult task that will necessitate historic decisions on both sides, courage not escapism, compromise not imposition, social legitimacy not political elitism.
The negotiations must be held in a positive environment, putting aside the traditional blame game. Leaders must learn that peacemaking is not the continuation of conflict by different means. Their rhetoric can be of pedagogical value, in order to affect a real change of mindset in public opinion.
Israelis, in order to make peace, have to cease to see Palestinians only as terrorists.
The Palestinian leadership should therefore speak out with understanding of Israel’s legitimate security concerns.
Palestinians have to cease to see Israelis only as humiliating occupiers. Therefore the Israeli leadership should speak about its intention to put an end to the occupation.
Both peoples have to get used to a different discourse and mindset.
The permanent-peace negotiations have to aim not only at a new political arrangement, but at a real reconciliation between the two peoples. Not only must problems be resolved and difficult compromises made, but hate, racism and vengeance must be buried in favor of mutual respect, mutual dignity and equality. This is essential for the sustainability of peace.
This is possible as the people on both sides of the border are not that different in their aspirations and fears.
Therefore the new peace negotiations must be of an inclusive nature, including the people of Israel and Palestine, unlike the former treaties that were of an elitist nature. Inclusion means to cater to the interests of the people, their socioeconomic well-being and their ability to reap the opportunities that the globalized world has to offer – peace which is “for the people” and “by the people,” by involving civil society in the peacemaking.
People need to be asked – what is it that you personally want out of peace? It is also the people’s duty to express themselves (the pro-peace constituency must be as energetic and active as the enemies of peace).
It is therefore suggested to add a sixth permanent-status core issue: people- to-people relations in order to work together to move the relationship, with time, from occupation and rejection to equality and cooperation in all walks of life. This will not happen without a serious approach toward resolving the other core issues, on the basis of the new American plan. It is time to get serious about peacemaking, rather than just scoring points in public opinion.
The talks should have a clear deadline by which an agreement is to be reached – January 1, 2015, after which more detailed talks and implementation can take place.
The year 2015 should be the year for the establishment of the Palestinian state, in peace and security with Israel.
The two leaders, Netanyahu and Abbas, should meet on a monthly basis and negotiate the most difficult issues – Jerusalem to Ramallah is a 15-minute drive.
The divide will not be bridged unless the two leaders work hard to develop a common language and at least some degree of mutual trust.
A secret back channel is of great importance, as trusted and good negotiators have to strategize together about creative compromises, far from the limelight. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian Authority prime minister Abu Ala (Ahmed Qurei) would be best suited for this task, given their experience.
Subcommittees for each of the core issues outlined in the framework should be established. They should include professionals, rather than politicians, also in the fields of economics and security.
From the very beginning, the parties need to present positions in writing. Oral arguments are of no value and are generally used to escape from an agreement.
During the negotiations, confidence- building measures from both parties should facilitate progress. Israel should reclassify part of Area C of the West Bank as Area B to favor Palestinian economic development. The Palestinians must put an end to all official incitement and enhance the anti-terror cooperation.
As for prisoner releases, this should await the final agreement, upon which all Palestinian prisoners should be released, as is the case in every peace treaty.
The American involvement is of prime importance; with US Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Martin Indyk attending the talks (to be held on an ongoing basis), Secretary of State John Kerry visiting the leaders, and President Barack Obama holding a series of summit meetings with Abbas and Netanyahu.
A package of incentives for the two sides should not await the conclusion of the agreement but be negotiated in parallel, between each party and the US and the EU, respectively, on upgrades of security and economic relations.
A dialogue between the Arab League and the US should take place about the normalization of relations by the Arab states with Israel and a new configuration of regional and economic cooperation in the immediate aftermath of the agreement.
All in all, these important negotiations are about creating a new architecture for the region and they must be structured accordingly. We tend to focus with anger on the past, yet we cannot change it. We can, however, change the future – we not only can, we must.
The writer is honorary president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
Barbara Hurwitz edited this column.