They got it right; they got it wrong

I believe that more progress has already been achieved in the negotiations than most people here, on both sides, would have expected.

Jordan valley settlement 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Jordan valley settlement 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu got it right: We cannot depend on foreign troops, even US troops, for our security. Peace cannot be guaranteed by third parties. Security is the most fundamental aspect of the current negotiations, the one that will determine whether or not peace is in fact a viable option.
But here is where Netanyahu also got it wrong.
Security does not exist in a vacuum, nor can it exist if genuine sovereignty is denied to the Palestinians.
The Oslo process totally crashed and its internal rationale imploded when it became apparent to the Palestinians that Israeli withdrawal from territories that in their understanding were to become part of the Palestinian state ceased.
At that point, their side of the bargain, combating terrorism and ceasing to use violence as the means to fight the Israeli occupation, also ceased. The average Palestinian security official, who until creating the Palestinian Authority was a Palestinian combatant, simply felt that without the Palestinian state in site, continuing the security cooperation with Israel meant protecting the settlers and making the occupation sustainable. This is how the second intifada was born.
Netanyahu got it right: Security must be provided by Israel and Israeli troops. But Netanyahu also got it wrong: Without full, genuine Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in the field of security, there will be no security and no peace agreement. But there is no possibility for genuine security cooperation without the creation of a genuine Palestinian state which has genuine sovereignty.
For this to happen, Israel will have to give up its control over everything that happens in the West Bank. No Palestinian leader will ever accept a deal that is essentially a sovereign cage. No Palestinian leader will accept an agreement that enables Israel to continue to control, unilaterally, totally, and without any due process the lives, the movement and access, the economy, and the use of natural resources of their future state. Israel will have to let go.
At the same time, Palestinians are going to have to become a lot more responsible, as partners to an agreement, than they have at any other point in the past 20 years.
The risks are great, no doubt. We do not have the luxury of another interim agreement to test each other. After 20 years and after what was supposed to be a five-year interim agreement, we must reach a permanent-status agreement in which we agree on all of the core issues. The agreement will have to be implemented over time and based on performance.
The parties must fulfill their undertakings phased over time in order to progress from one stage to another.
The determination of progress must be in the hands of the agreed-to third party (most likely the United States). Third party monitors and verifiers of implementation must be on the ground who will determine if the parties have in fact acted according to their obligations in the treaty. They will also be there to deal, in real time with breaches and problems in implementation and disputes as they arise so they will be confronted at the lowest level possible as they occur, thereby avoiding explosions and derailment.
This process of changing the Israeli-Palestinian relationship must begin now, even prior to an agreement. As I have written in this column before, the real hard work of making peace begins the day after the agreement has been signed.
What will enable the agreement to even exist and will even assist in arriving at solutions to the most difficult issues in conflict is the beginning of change in the relationship today on the ground.
Difficult negotiations always open the doors to expressions of anger, frustration and even despair.
The public statements over the past weeks that we have heard from named and unnamed officials regarding the lack of progress in the negotiations, true or false, are dangerous and open the door to violence. Using the media to score points is part of negotiating and should be understood as such.
Nonetheless, both sides would gain a lot more if they used the negotiations period to advance positive messages that lead to behavioral changes that will be the core of the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement – restructuring the relationship from occupied-occupier to good neighbors.
This is not a naïve dream but exactly what happens when conflicts between states are resolved.
Both sides have an interest in this process and one side’s behavior directly impacts on the other’s.
There are many examples of what can and should be done now that I have shared with the negotiators, and I will continue to do so. I believe that despite the pessimistic tones we have heard recently there is still room for optimism.
I believe that more progress has already been achieved in the negotiations than most people here, on both sides, would have expected.
Moving from here to an agreement is difficult, but not impossible.
I remain convinced that Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are the best partners possible for a deal and that they both have what it takes to become true partners. If they heed these words here and begin now to demonstrate the change of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship by building the partnership, the skepticism of the publics on both sides regarding the chances of peace will also change. The two sides will take to the streets and support their leaders to charge forward to make peace a reality.
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.